Sunday, December 20, 2009

The toughest week: part 1

Last week was HARD.

Rough part #1: Being sexually harassed at a group of seventh grade GIRLS (!). Yes. Who would've predicted THAT? I've blogged before about how my playwriting class has devolved into mayhem -- even though it's only 11 kids, six of the girls (I secretly think of them as the "Nasty Six") should never be in the same class ever again, because they just goad each other into worse and worse behavior. Last Tuesday as they were (allegedly) working on their plays, one of them asked me if I was married. "No," I said distractedly while I went through some papers, "I have a boyfriend."

"YOU have a boyfriend?" they marveled incredulously, as if I were so repulsive they couldn't grasp the concept. Then they started asking me all these questions, innocuous ones at first: what's his name, do you have a picture of him, how did you meet. This, by the way, was the first time I ever lied about how the Nicest Guy in the World and I met (on I never mind telling other adults, but I knew instantly that they would have a field day with that information. So I lied and told them we met at a friend's party.

But then their questions quickly descended into outright sexual ones. "Do you kiss your boyfriend?" "Are you still a virgin?" "Do you give your boyfriend head?" That last one shocked me so much, I thought I must not have heard it correctly, so I said, "What?" And she REPEATED it! No matter what they asked, I said, "That's really inappropriate and disrespectful. I'm not answering that. You have an assignment you should be doing." But they would just laugh their heads off and ask me something even worse. And honestly, I didn't know what to do. Administration has been on us to keep the kids in class and not kick them out unless it's a safety issue, and I didn't feel threatened physically...just emotionally! So I just took it for the rest of class until it was finally time to go. I was dreading class the next day, but luckily it was cut short due to an assembly. They asked if I'd brought in a photo of my boyfriend, which of course I hadn't, and when I said no, one of the girls said with a smirk, "No photo of your imaginary friend?" They don't believe the Nicest Guy in the World exists, I guess. This time they didn't get into the sexual questions, but probably only because the period was shorter than usual.

But the next day I was helping in one of the seventh grade math classes, and a group of kids on the side of the room kept looking over at me, whispering and laughing, so I knew they were insulting me in some way. I don't really care one way or the other, except that they weren't getting their work done, and they were distracting me and the kids I was helping. Then one girl from my playwriting class detached herself from the group, walked over to where I was standing, dropped a paper at my feet, and slowly walked away. Thinking she was just littering, I called her back to pick it up, which she did with a big smirk and handed it to me. It said, "Ha ha ha lolsz SHE GOT NO NECK = Ms. Artichoke." Which is kind of funny, because I actually have a very long neck -- these kids can't even make fun of a person correctly! Unless it's some kind of sexual reference I'm not aware of (I'm getting the distinct impression that some of these 12-year-olds know more about sex than I do).

I knew Mitchell and the other administrators would probably be pissed if I kicked anyone out of class, but I felt I had to nip this in the bud immediately. I can't do my job and actually teach the kids I need to teach if half the class is laughing at me to such an extent that it's distracting. So I immediately took the girl who dropped the note and the one who wrote it out of class. I did it calmly, but they were NOT happy about it. I brought them to my room for the rest of the period to have them do the math there, and the note-writer finally settled down and did some work. But the girl who had showed me the note, the one who's in my enrichment class, started crying and carrying on about how she shouldn't get in trouble because she hadn't written the note. Without permission she ran into Mitchell's office (no one was in there -- all the administrators were at a leadership meeting), and I watched as she called her mother -- which was great, since it saved me the trouble of dialing the numbers myself. ;o After she sobbed to her mother, I got on the phone, and told her not only about the girl's behavior in class that day, but also the things she'd said to me on Tuesday. "She was asking me really inappropriate and disrespectful questions, like 'Who is your boyfriend?' and 'Are you still a virgin?'" I explained.

At that, the girl burst into fresh sobs and hollered, "That is not true! I never asked who your boyfriend was!" Which I thought was really funny -- THAT was the question she objected to? But she admits to asking me if I was still a virgin?? Talk about being a few sandwiches short of a picnic.

Her mother was appropriately mortified, apologized on her daughter's behalf, said she should definitely know better and asked to talk to her daughter again. But again, she ran out of the room without permission, back to my room, where she wrote this statement:

"In playwriting I agree that I give Ms. Artichoke attitude. But I didn’t ask Ms. Artichoke if she have a boyfriend? And is she a virgin and do she suck boys penis. And ask her about her sex life. And her relationships. It was Inez. And Debony. Me and Karla be laughing at it. And they be sayin she got no neck – Janique, and others."

After lunch, Mitchell finally got out of the leadership meeting and talked to them, and sent them back to class. The girl who wrote the note saw me in the hall later and apologized. But I didn't see the girl from my playwriting class again that day, and she was absent on Friday.

So on Thursday after school, I went to the special ed director and asked her if she could be in the room with me during playwriting this coming Tuesday, because this group of girls is basically sexually harassing me and I don't feel comfortable being in the room alone with them. She asked me to tell her the whole story, and when I did, she practically fell off her chair. Which was nice to see, actually, because while on one level I like her, on another level she can be a little by-the-book and robotic, so it felt good to actually get a reaction out of her.

"Well, that IS sexual harassment, and we take that very seriously," she said. She called the principal that very second in her office and told her I would be filling out a discipline report about the incident, which I did that night.

I also told two of the people who work in the office about the whole thing, and they were so appalled about Inez, the girl who'd asked (twice) 'do you give your boyfriend head?', that they called her mother and talked to her themselves! "Inez is a Christian!" the woman in the office said. "She lives above a church. Her father is a deacon!"

Whatever they said must've gotten to her, because she came to my room the last period of the day on Friday practically trembling, saying how sorry she was, promising she was going to change her ways and stay away from 'bad influences' (the other five of the Nasty Six, I assume), and asking my forgiveness. She even hugged me!

The whole incident was so bizarre -- like an episode from "Mean Girls," except they forgot I wasn't another seventh grade girl they could push around but an actual teacher. Thank God this class ends on January 6th. Not a moment too soon for me. Unreal.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

If you don't have anything nice to must be blogging!

I'm sorry I haven't put up a new entry in so long. I really don't like my job lately, so blogging about it only makes me feel like I'm whining. More kids keep joining my playwriting enrichment class and it has descended into chaos. They talk so much we can barely read a scene aloud. My advisory class still sucks, too. I'm not sure which is worse: being blatantly ignored even when you're standing right in a kid's face telling them to stop talking and do their work, or dealing with the rudeness and disrespect they engage in when they do acknowledge your presence. Kids are cutting class, hiding in the bathrooms, hanging out in the stairwells, and when they do go to class, so many of them are so incredibly rude to teachers. How dare we ask them to learn, right?

When we were evacuated a couple weeks ago after someone (an adult) caused nauseating fumes by cleaning paint brushes with gasoline (don't ask), I chatted up the sub who was in for the science teacher that day. He said he has subbed in almost every charter school in the city, and our school is the only one where, when they call him to sub, he truly hesitates, because our kids' behavior is so awful. Isn't that interesting? Same types of schools, same city, same population, and yet our students' behavior is that much worse.

But then I turned around and chatted with Jill, the long-term English sub, and *she* said, "I've worked in schools where the kids screamed 'f--- you!' right in my face and threw objects at me, and these kids don't do that."

I felt like saying, "Give them time." ;O Actually, one student did whip a pencil at me a month or so ago. It hit me in the back, but still. I brought him to the office and he was talked to, but I don't think anything else happened.

Last Thursday the dam finally broke and I cried in front of Mitchell. Mortifying. The board suddenly wanted all this data last week to show the kids were learning something, so we had to give them this diagnostic test in English, and they were NOT happy about it. I helped proctor the test, which took almost two periods for each class, and the one seventh grade class was not very good about it, even though their history teacher, who they generally like, was in the room with me. Just stupid stuff like banging on the desk, whistling, trying to talk. But I walked out of there thinking, I cannot do this again with the other seventh grade class, with only the long-term English sub to back me up -- not during the second-to-last period of the day, when I was overtired and hadn't had any periods off except my 25 minute wolf-down-my-lunch time.

I rarely ask for help, but I tried to ask this time. I tried the mature, professional approach first. I went to my direct supervisor, the special ed director, and told her my concerns: the one seventh grade class had been just barely OK with their regular teacher and me both in the room, but I feared the second class wouldn't take it seriously, especially with just me and the sub there. I asked point-blank if someone else could come in and help us proctor, but she basically said no, to just "set the expectation" that they should take it seriously. Um, I can't even get them to let me finish a sentence! But I just said, "Oh. Okay." She said I could talk to Mitchell about it if I wanted, but clearly she wasn't going to help me.

So I went to Mitchell, and he basically said the same thing. "There are going to be two of you in there, right?" he said. Yes, one of whom is a sub they don't take seriously, I tried to say in a polite way. It became clear he wasn't going to help me either, and I finally broke down and started crying. Well. THAT got his attention. Suddenly someone else was found to help proctor the exam. Suddenly he and the special ed director wanted to know how theycould offer me more support. But it shouldn't take going to them in tears -- or in anger, as other teachers have done -- to get that, should it?

So. It was incredibly embarrassing, but it was effective. One of the other teachers graciously, courageously tepped in to teach my advisory class last period, since my weepiness had just barely stopped at that point. I brought my laptop and worked in the back of Mitchell's office that last period, listening to the myriad crises that presented themselves: one student claimed all her school books had been stolen; two others were taking a long time to finish their diagnostic tests; another had lost her locker key, couldn't get into her locker to get her winter coat, and Mitchell couldn't find the master key. All those ridiculous but time-consuming issues are probably why it's only the squeaky (i.e., weeping or enraged) wheel that gets the grease around there.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Demonstration lessons

We've had the same long-term sub, Jill, for English for the past four weeks. But although she can sort of keep her classes semi-civilized (no easy feat with our crew), our principal isn't crazy about her pedagogy. They actually had Jill teach a formal demonstration lesson one day last week, and I didn't even realize it was a demo lesson, which isn't good -- you should really pull out all the stops and at least attempt to teach an amazing lesson when you're being observed.

Since then we've had two other potential candidates come in and teach demo lessons. And none of this one period in-and-out stuff -- Mitchell makes them teach ALL DAY LONG ("Is he trying to drive candidates away!?" one of my colleagues asked). Last week, when Juan, the discipline administrator, was observing, the kids were well-behaved, of course. But I was in the class that afternoon when he wasn't there, and the kids were terrible -- they wrote false names on the name cards he handed out, called across the room, yelled out, horsed around. They treated the guy as if he was a sub, and you know how badly seventh graders tend to treat subs!

But at least that guy soldiered on and completed all his lessons. This morning we had another candidate, a woman, come in to teach her demo lesson all day long. I wasn't in the room when it happened, but according to one of the other teachers, she had such a hard time that in the middle of her lesson this morning, she ran out of the room saying, "I can't do this!" and sobbing. (!!!) I'm telling you, these kids are a tough group. I'm lucky that before I was hired, I was only asked to teach a demo lesson to a group of four students. The only time I taught a demo lesson to a whole class was last Jaunary at a charter school in Brooklyn, and let me tell you, those kids were as good as gold. I did the name card thing, too, and they all put their real names; they were so quiet; they paid attention; they listened. I'm sure it was because half a dozen bigwigs were in the back of the room observing me, but I'm still glad. If it had been a horrible experience, I would've been terrified ever to teach a sample lesson again.

I have to hand it to the long-term sub we have now for math: Nicole came in last week and taught demo lessons for two days in a row, all day long, without pay, and then they finally offered her the long-term sub position, with the understanding that if the administration likes her, they'll hire her full-time come January. So far I like what I see -- she sticks to clear lessons that follow the basic lesson plan of modeling, guided practice, and independent practice. And she relates to the kids well, despite their behavioral challenges. It's much harder to find an experienced, certified math teacher mid-year than it is to find an experienced, certified English teacher, so I predict they'll end up hiring Nicole permanently.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Talking into the wind

I had a really rough day with my advisory class last Thursday. It's only eight boys, but they're giving me a run for my money. A couple weeks ago I thought, since negative consequences aren't working, let's try being positive. I took a folder, drew a circle, and divided it into pieces. I had them guess what it was, which they did pretty quickly -- a pizza. I said every time they were all listening, on task, doing the right thing, I would color in a slice, and once the whole pizza was colored in, we would all go out for pizza one day during advisory.

They seemed enthused. However. I have not been able to color in one slice. Not one! Because there is never even so much as a two-minute period where they're all listening and doing what they're supposed to be doing. Even the kids who are usually well-behaved are starting to slack off and not listen. Last Thursday we were in the library, where the other special ed teacher meets with her group of sixth grade boys, and the gym teacher was there with her girls that day because the gym, where they usually meet, was being used to take class pictures. By the end of the period I raised my voice with them. All I was trying to do was play a game with them, and they couldn't even all listen to the directions. So embarrassing. I sent three of them to Mitchell (the vice principal), one of whom refused to go, so Mitchell came down and we spent 15 minutes after school talking to the kid. The next morning I called all their parents. During the staff meeting Friday I suggested we make a space on the report cards for a grade or comments on the kids' participation and behavior during advisory. Maybe then they'll actually take it seriously. I hate that they're getting worse; that a potential reward doesn't make them act any better; and that they don't respect me. That's how it feels, anyway. Like they don't care what I have to say, even when I'm trying to play a game with them, and that it's acceptable and even funny to disrespect me. It's like I'm talking into the wind.

On Friday, Mitchell interviewed a possible candidate for the math teaching position. Cori, the math specialist, sat in and got to ask a few questions. The woman used to be a doctor (!), but then decided to become a teacher, and she has a couple years of experience teaching math to urban at-risk kids, though Cori said it sounded like she worked mainly with small groups, not entire classes. But she seemed promising enough that they may ask her to come back to teach a sample lesson. I wish they would get someone decent in there quick, because the current long-term sub has zero classroom management skills, and even if he did, his lessons are really not that good. I'm scared to think how much these kids are falling behind. :(

Monday, November 9, 2009

Duty for the prevention of making out

Last week, all of we teachers who have daily recess duty received the following e-mail from one of the administrators:

"It has come to our attention that some of our students are engaging in inappropriate activities during middle school recess, such as 'making out.' Please be sure we are actively supervising the playground by spreading out and monitoring students throughout the entire playground."

Um, okay. Of course during recess that day we all asked each other who had seen kids making out -- and none of us had! So who knows where they got that little tidbit from. But now, instead of each of us standing in a certain area of the playground and supervising, we all have to walk around the entire playground constantly to ensure the kids are keeping their lips to themselves.

Prevention of make-out sessions: just one more service we offer!

I finally made it to the podiatrist after school today so he could examine my ankle. He sold me some ready-made orthotics to put in my shoes which feel GREAT, really supportive, and he even showed me how to wrap my left foot with this Ace bandage type of material for extra support. (That was the closest I've ever come to feeling like an athlete -- getting my foot wrapped!) I could get custom-made orthotics, like I used to have, but they cost $450 and are not covered by insurance (!), so hopefully the regular orthotics will do the job.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Playwriting triumph!

Two weeks ago, my playwriting enrichment class almost made me cry. But today, they were wonderful! I had them do an improv activity where I gave them a few lines of a scene -- one was between a mother and daughter, another was two friends, and another was a principal and a student -- and they had to read the four lines given, then improvise the rest. They did an amazing job! They really stayed in character and went down a few different avenues before finally either solving the conflict (2 scenes) or reluctantly giving up (1 scene). The special ed director happened to be in the room doing some work, but she started watching and was so impressed, she went and got Mitchell, the vice principal! He walked in during the last scenario, which happened to be between a principal and a student who had been misbehaving in class, and BOTH of those students have been sent to Mitchell's office for once they realized Mitchell was watching I think they got a little intimidated and resolved the conflict kind of abruptly. But they were clamoring to do more! Afterward I had them write down their opinions of how the scenes went, and then they started writing some of the dialogue down. It worked out so well! Wow. It's such a relief not to dread teaching this class anymore. :-D

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Open Communication

Our professional development session last Friday was really interesting. A couple of days before, the administration had asked us to answer two questions, anonymously, in writing: 1) What does teacher support at our school look like now, and 2) What SHOULD it look like ideally? Then at the beginning of professional development, everyone's answers were read aloud. Similar themes emerged: teachers are feeling isolated, there's a lack of planning and co-planning time, support from administrators can be hit or miss, there are too many non-instructional duties, professional development is not as tied to our needs as it could be, etc. It was great, actually. I admire the fact that the administrators not only asked for our honest feedback but really heard it. Better to talk about the tension and low morale than to let it fester.

Friday was actually pretty fun because we had a Halloween party in the afternoon! We played music and had all kinds of snacks, even non-healthy ones :) and the kids changed into costumes: Michael Jackson, Darth Vader, old-time gangster, angels, cops, etc. They had a great time. Toward the end of the party I took my turn supervising the Horror Chamber, as I dubbed the room where they put all the kids with behavior, uniform, and/or lateness violations who weren't allowed to attend the party -- and let me tell you, they were NOT happy about it. Hopefully it will motivate them to get their act together before the Harvest Dance in November, or they won't be able to go to that, either.

My left ankle has been killing me lately. I start out fine every Monday, but by Thursday I'm hobbling around like an old lady. I have very flat feet and used to wear specially made orthotics (sp?) until they disintegrated from overuse ten years ago. But now that I'm on my feet so much at work in dress shoes (they're flats, but still), I think I need to get new ones made and actually wear them every day. Maybe the doctor will give me a note that I can wear my sneakers at work?

Speaking of ankles, the P.E. teacher is finally off disability and is coming back to work tomorrow. Hooray!

The kids are off this Tuesday for Election Day. Teachers have a professional development day, but we don't have to arrive until 8:30 AM and we get to leave at 4:00 PM! Maybe we'll even get a whole hour for lunch, too. :-D

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

I take one day off & look what I miss!

Weeks ago I predicted that the weeks between Columbus Day and Veterans Day would be too long for me to work without a break, so I put in for a day off yesterday -- and I'm so glad I did. Yesterday morning, as soon as the math teacher showed up to work, Mitchell showed her two letters he had put in her file, one about not having her lesson plans on the database, and the other was something about her advisory class (probably for cutting out early all the time and making other teachers watch her students). Apparently when Mitchell showed her the letters, she got really mad and said she'd had it. She walked out at 8:30 AM, leaving no one to cover her classes, so other teachers had to cover for her until they finally got a sub in mid-afternoon. And they thought we couldn't afford subs before -- now we're down ANOTHER core teacher.

The other news is, last Friday after work, some of the teachers went out for drinks at a nearby bar. Two female elementary school teachers got into an argument about who had the better class, and they ended up getting into a fistfight over it -- yes, a FISTFIGHT! So now they're both suspended without pay for a few days. Although I abhor violence, the idea of primary school teachers coming to blows did make me chuckle. You have to laugh, right?? :O

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Recess and enrichment. Ugh.

The kids have come up with a couple of new "games" during recess. Game #1: They slap each other until one or more of them falls down. They claim it's not "real" slapping and doesn't hurt ("We're just playing! Why you gotta take away our fun?"), but it looks like a lawsuit waiting to happen. Game #2: They tie things like scarves around each other's necks and drag each other around. During our staff meeting after school on Friday, we were coming up with ideas for how to put a stop to this, like making kids caught playing these "games" sit out for the rest of the recess period -- a 'recess detention' of sorts. Then Juan made this weird speech about how, when he was at the mic at the end of breakfast shushing kids and telling them to line up for class, someone from the public high school we share the building with came up to him and asked, "Do you feel alone?"

"I don't feel alone," Juan said. "I saw that teachers were going around getting the students' attention and helping me get them lined up. But that was his perception, and no one can do this by themselves." Then he made some soccer analogy about how when he played soccer, he would watch the action and his dad would tell him he had to get into the game, and he said he sees a lot of watching but we teachers have to intervene.

Then he got a phone call on his cell and left. The room was silent for a minute, until another teacher said, "Um, so does he like the recess detention idea or not?" And I thought angrily, what was the point of that little passive-aggressive speech? That he feels like we teachers are not doing anything to help? I wanted to say that I *DO* intervene -- on Thursday I must have gone into the fray five times during the 25-minute recess to try to make the kids stop slapping each other. But when I walked away, they were back at it within minutes. Maybe, I wanted to add, we're watching more and doing less because when we try to stop the kids from touching, slapping, and hitting each other, and they REACH AROUND US to continue doing it, it's a bit discouraging, not to mention dangerous. We already have one teacher still out with a badly hurt ankle because a kid, oblivious to the fact that we were trying to get them to stop playing basketball and line up, ran into her and squished her foot. We don't need that to happen to anyone else.

Oh, and Mitchell told us the principal told him we're blowing through our budget for substitute teachers, and if we keep hiring subs every time teachers are out, we could get to January, have half the staff out with the flu, and have no money left for subs. So now when a teacher is absent, the rest of us are going to have to cover his or her classes during our free periods, though Mitchell said he would balance it so we would still have at least one prep period a day. One of the teachers who was there last year told me afterwards, "That's really weird. We had a teacher quit on the second day of school last year, and another teacher who quit during the second week, and throughout the whole schoolyear we still never had any problem paying for subs." I thought it was strange, too -- I mean, aren't we SAVING a lot of money not having to pay salary and benefits to the English teacher who quit?

Enrichment started last week. Teachers came up with interesting, cool classes that are different from what the kids usually take during the school day, things like drumming, arts and literary magazine, community service, etc., the kids picked their top three choices, and we slotted them into a class. It takes place during the last period of the day, two days a week. I decided to offer Playwriting. I walked into the first day of Playwriting class on Tuesday, all excited, thinking, Great, it's only half a dozen kids and playwriting was their first choice -- they'll be really into it! It'll be a lot of fun!

Wrong. It was a disaster. We had literally been in the room two minutes when one girl asked another, "Why did you sign up for this?"

Looking totally bored, she said, her voice dripping with contempt, "I thought it would be cool, but I guess not." She had been in the room FOR TWO MINUTES -- she hadn't even given it a chance. I had to send one girl out to Mitchell's office because she was so disruptive. And Wednesday was even worse. Five of the six kids were blatantly rude, disrespectful, and out-and-out mean to me. They were getting personal, when I was nothing but nice to them. I was shocked. I ended up raising my voice -- I didn't say shut up or get personal back with them or anything, but I did raise my voice -- which I know I shouldn't have done. But there's only so much time I can be attacked before I get angry, no matter how young my attackers are. I've decided to give it another try for four more class periods, maybe start each period with a play in front of us and get into reading it right away, with each kid taking a role, and then moving into the writing portion of the class. And if they're still horrible, I'm going to ask Mitchell if I can disband the class, reassign each of them to a different enrichment, and just help out another teacher who has a larger enrichment class. I don't get paid enough to be verbally abused. No one does.

The ironic thing is, we took all the seventh graders to the Museum of Natural History on Wednesday, and it went really well. The kids behaved pretty well, and they were going around filling out the answers on the scavenger hunt sheet the history and science teachers had given them. So they know how to behave like normal young adults; when they're in school they just choose not to, I guess.

Friday, October 16, 2009


What a day. Our first resignation of the schoolyear.

Don't worry, it wasn't mine (!), nor the math teacher's, surprisingly enough, since she's said things to Cori like, "These kids make me want to leave teaching after 14 years!" and "I hope to be out of here by Christmas." It was the seventh and eighth grade English teacher who quit. But we all knew she hadn't been happy at the school. There were the little signs, like her coming in late half the time and never doing the mornings duties of helping to supervise Tai Chi and breakfast, like the rest of us (except the math teacher) do. I also remember she left our professional development in Long Island a day early because "she'd had enough," according to what Cori heard. And before school even started, the other special ed teacher told me she was trying to help the English teacher plan because she was already feeling overwhelmed -- in August! The other special ed teacher and the literacy specialist were not exactly impressed with her lessons, either, and I have to agree. Her idea of teaching seemed to be, "Open your vocabulary books and do the exercise on page 3." Not all the time, but a good deal of the time, which was worrisome. It makes me wonder what her demonstration lesson was like -- all of us who got hired before the schoolyear ended had to teach a sample lesson before our interviews. But she might have been hired over the summer and not had to do one. And our principal's interview process is not exactly thorough. For me, I did my demonstration lesson, which the special ed coordinator observed, got positive feedback from her, and went in to talk to the principal. She basically just told me a little about the school, I asked her a lot of questions, and then she offered me the job. I honestly can't remember her asking me a single question! It was weird.

Anyway, Mitchell already made arrangements for a sub for next week, and he's hoping to find a long-term substitute A.S.A.P. while they take their time to interview deeply and carefully so we find hopefully find someone who's a really good fit and not have to go through this again. I feel bad for him because he was hired in mid-August and had no say in the hiring procedures (such as they were) -- but now he has to deal with the aftermath.

Ah well, at least the weekend has arrived. T.G.I.F.!!!

Monday, October 12, 2009

A pencil in the eye

Last Friday, two of the most annoying seventh grade students got suspended for two days. One of them, during the middle of class, made a catapult out of rubber bands and shot his pencil into the air -- right into another student's eye. :O The poor kid had a big red splotch on the white of his eye, the kind you get with a broken blood vessel. And the other student got suspended for doing something similar -- he was just lucky enough not to hit anybody. Both of these kids are in my advisory class, so at least that should be a somewhat more orderly class for the next two days.
Also last week, while they were busy continuing to play basketball during recess, blatantly ignoring our calls for them to line up for lunch, a couple of the larger boys ran into the P.E. teacher -- and on top of her ankle. Now she's out until at least next week with a torn ligament or something. Never a dull moment....
Last Friday during professional development we were finally given time to meet and talk about what's going on in class, which was GREAT for me as a supposed "co-teacher." Mitchell has also put together a regular schedule of one period every week where the core teachers and I can all meet, so hopefully that will help me feel/become more like a co-teacher and less like someone who wanders in as the behavior police.
Tomorrow's Tuesday already. I LOVE three-day weekends!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Open House Night

Tonight was Open House Night. Out of 48 seventh grade students, only five had parents show up. That's barely 10%! I'd thought we'd get at least 15 or 16 -- especially since it's a charter school, so their parents chose it. Kind of disappointing. The sixth grade did a little better, with 10 or 11 parents, but still not as many as I'd expected. What is the average percentage of parents who attend Open House Nights? I wonder.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Post from Bizarro World

The most absurd day. This afternoon the math teacher kicked six seventh graders out of class at the beginning of the period for being disruptive and asked me to take them to my office (which I share with the math/reading specialists and the other special ed teacher). I asked her if she had a hand-out for them to do or anything. "We're doing adding integers," was all she said. O-kay. I copied the Do Now of four problems she'd had on the board, grabbed a math book and took the kids downstairs.

Fortunately, Cori, the math specialist, was in there because it was her prep period, and she immediately put aside her work to co-teach the Troublesome Six with me, which was REALLY nice of her. ("Adding integers? That's all?" she whispered to me at one point. "That's all the teacher told me about," I whispered back.)

That seventh grade class had a double (two periods of math back to back), so toward the end of the period, Cori and I brought them back upstairs for their second math period. As we were watching them walk back into class (some more quietly than others), who should come up to us but the Millionairess! Yes! The woman who founded the school with millions of her (and her late husband's) own dollars!! I'd heard stories about her but never met her in person; I was beginning to wonder if she truly existed. But in fact she does. She had two men with her (handlers??), and she asked us how things were going.

Cori, ever positive, chirped, "Oh, fine. It's just that now that we're in a bigger space than last year, the kids are still adjusting to making good transitions between classes."

"But they've been in school a month," the Millionairess said, peering through the window in the classroom door. I looked, and to my horror realized that two boys were in the back of the room beating each other over the head with their notebooks.

"Oh no," the Millionairess said. Here it comes, I thought. But this is what she said: "That plant in the back looks VERY thirsty."

Cori and I stared at the boys whaling on each other next to the plant, then at each other. Was this woman kidding?

"Oh yes, it needs to be watered," one of them men said after he, too, peered through the window.

"Those are great plants because if you forget to water them for a while, once you do they'll perk back up in 20 minutes," the other guy added.

"But still, it shouldn't get to that point. That plant needs to be watered," the Millionairess frowned.

After Cori and I reassured her we would remind the math teacher to water her plants, they walked away. And not a moment too soon, because it was too hard to keep a straight face anymore. Cori said, "I thought she was going to ream us out over those boys smacking each other around, but --"

"-- all she cared about was the plant!" I said. We could not stop laughing. Was I in some some of alternate universe??

"That epitomized perfectly the problem with this school," Cori said. "Caring more about the aesthetic than what the kids are actually doing!"

And she's right. I almost feel like, if that's our FOUNDER's attitude, what hope do we have!? Good grief!

Thursday, October 1, 2009


Things were better this week. And not just because, thanks to Yom Kippur, it's only a four-day work week. ;) Mitchell and the rest of the administration are back to being more positive. He actually wrote this great e-mail last Friday with the subject "thank you," and he thanked every single teacher by name for some specific good thing that they'd done. I thought that was nice.

Random things about this week, since I'm too tired to really think coherently:

I called two parents this week about misbehavior, leaving a voicemail for one and speaking directly to the other.

We're going to start offering enrichment classes (electives that we teachers each develop ourselves) the last period of the day, and since Mitchell is swamped, I volunteered to make up the survey for the kids to select their first, second, and third choice for which enrichment they want to take. Even though it took some time, I really had fun writing the survey and finding a way to describe each enrichment class so that they would all sound like the most amazing class in the world.

Tomorrow we have to finish and turn in something called our SMART Goals, which I'm not finding very useful, and our teacher self-assessment and individual goals, which I'm finding much more helpful. I have a meeting with the special ed director next Wednesday to discuss my self-assessment and my goals. Hopefully it will help me improve, so I'm looking forward to it...

...even though she came in and observed for most of the seventh grade English class this morning while they were being rotten. Well, not *exactly* rotten, but enough kids were talking and fooling around so often that the lead teacher and I had to keep re-directing them and re-directing them, so I'm sure she'll bring that up during our meeting on Wednesday. I just hope she has some useful suggestions on how to deal with them, because some of those seventh graders just make you want to tear your hair out -- or *their* hair out! It's affecting instruction, or the lack thereof. Yesterday I had to finish up class with the "bad" seventh grade English class (the one that gave me such a hard time last week) when the other teacher had to leave and deal with a student who purposely pushed her as he walked out the door for a time-out. They were terrible, as usual, but I didn't let it get to me. Now, whenever I feel my blood pressure rising, I think, Two years from now, will they even remember this particular moment? Will I? And I just let it go and keep doing the best I can.

But also yesterday, I pulled three sixth graders out of study skills class because they needed extra preparation for their math test today. I helped them answer practice problems on the dry erase boards, and at the end of the period as I helped one student with his last problem, I turned around to see that the other two kids, having finished, were writing "Thank you, Ms. Artichoke!" (except they used my real last name, of course) all over the board, along with half a dozen hearts! Wasn't that sweet? They even spelled my name right. Teaching can be a thankless job, but yesterday, I was officially thanked by three of the people who matter most: my students. :)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

My job: punishment for doing something terrible in a previous life?

Extremely discouraging couple of days.

Apparently on Tuesday as the kids were being released to go home for the day, there was an incident with a middle school student allegedly pushing one of the elementary school teachers as they (the students) came barreling down the stairs. There are two sides to the story, though, from two different teachers (not to mention the student), so who knows what really happened. On Wednesday, Mitchell (the vice principal) was out sick. That afternoon he sent an e-mail to all of us saying he was sorry he couldn't be with us but he'd woken up feeling "absolutely awful" (note that he didn't specify whether he meant physically or mentally!). In the rest of the e-mail he reamed us out for the staircase incident and for not walking our kids all the way down five flights of stairs and seeing them out of the building when we release them for the day -- even though we were NEVER told we had to do that. I'm lucky because my class meets in the cafeteria on the first floor, so when that final bell rings, I'm like "peace out" and they walk right out of the building. Have you ever heard of a junior high where the kids are lined up to go to every class, and are even walked out of the building? But some of them act so immature, I can see why Mitchell feels we have to do it.

Anyway, he ended the e-mail by saying teachers who shirk their cafeteria duties, recess duties, walking their kids out of the building duties, etc., will have a letter put in their file. I am so sick of this "letter in your file" crap. They did that to Cori for the exploding pen vandalism incident, and one of the teachers from last year said it became almost a running joke that they were putting a letter in her file every month for one negative thing or another. It reminds me of the old "this will go in your permanent record!" threat. It's so demeaning.

Honestly, if teachers are sometimes tempted to shirk their duties once in a while, maybe it's because they're endless! Besides actually teaching for five to six periods per day, we have to supervise Tai Chi (20 minutes), do homeroom/morning meeting (25 minutes), breakfast duty (25 minutes), pick kids up from breakfast to line them up and bring them to class (5 minutes), recess or lunch duty (30 minutes), and escort the kids out of the building at the end of the day (5 minutes). That's almost TWO HOURS EVERY DAY just on non-instructional duties. That can't be normal, can it??

I wonder if the administration is even getting discouraged, because it seems like every e-mail we get from Mitchell or any of them anymore is scolding us for something. Earlier this week I'd sent Mitchell an e-mail saying the planned schedule of team meetings that he'd sent out was a great idea, does it start this week or next? No response. The next day I found these cool activities I thought would be good for the advisory classes, so I e-mailed them to him. No response. I know they're as overwhelmed as we are, if not more so, but it's not helping morale.

Then yesterday the English teacher e-mailed Mitchell and me saying she had to leave today at 3:00 PM for a doctor's appointment, so she would need coverage for her seventh grade English class and her advisory class. I hit "reply all" and told them both that since I was planning to be in there anyway to do some vocabulary review games and a vocabulary crossword puzzle, I was fine with covering the class solo. But then the teacher told me this morning that Mitchell wrote back only to her and said that was good, but he still wanted another teacher in the class with me. I was like, ??? First of all, why? I'm a certified teacher. It made me feel like he thought I wouldn't be able to handle the class by myself, even though I said I would be comfortable with it. I mean, I *should* be, according to the co-teaching model we special ed teachers are supposed to abide by. Second of all, why didn't he include me on the e-mail, too?

So one of the sixth grade teachers offered to help supervise during that period, since she had a prep period, but then the reading specialist said she had been planning to push in that period anyway, so we decided it would be her and me. I'd thought it would go great because I'd been in both of Andrea's seventh grade math classes that morning, and they were SO well-behaved, I thought she must have slipped tranquilizers in their breakfast. Juan wasn't even sitting in the back of the room, and they were still really good. Even the usual suspects were pretty quiet. So I thought, Wow, English class will be a breeze.

Well. THANK GOD Mitchell said he wanted two of us in the room. It was hell. They -- were -- HORRIBLE. Absolutely awful. The science teacher had, for some insane reason, given them balloons in the class right before mine as part of some demonstration, so they were popping balloons in the hallway and screaming before they even got to class. Also, somehow they'd heard and gotten excited about their old sixth grade teacher being with them that period, so the reading specialist and I were NOT who they wanted to see. a game?? No way. They couldn't even quiet down enough to listen to my instructions about the crossword puzzle. They were getting up out of their seats, calling across the room, laughing at nothing, speaking totally disrespectfully to us. Even a few of the kids who aren't usually a problem were being completely rude. And I felt even worse when one of the handful of well-behaved kids raised his hand and quietly asked if the people who were following directions could at least play the game? I had to say no, because how would they have heard anything over the din??

I was thisclose to crying by the time the period finally, mercifully, ended. But I had to pull myself together because I still had a whole period of advisory to teach. Woo-hoo!

Needless to say, I felt completely and utterly miserable by the end of the day. If Mitchell thought I couldn't handle the class by myself, well, he was right. I couldn't even handle it with another teacher in the room. And I don't even feel comfortable asking for suggestions or support, because I'm petrified any potentially negative thing I admit to will get written up in a letter in my file.

But during advisory class, we went around and said our "rose" (good part of our day) and our "thorn" (bad part of our day), and one student, who'd gone to another advisory group the past week but then got switched back to mine today, said happily, "My rose is that I'm back in your advisory group now!" Even in the depths of my misery, he made me smile. I wanted to hug him.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Less stress is best

Today was a lot less stressful than I expected. Both the English teacher and the history teacher were back today, for one thing. And for another, I walked into math class with dread in the pit of my stomach -- only to find the kids sitting straight in their seats, absolutely silent, like little angels. For a couple of seconds I couldn't figure it out. Had she just screamed at them a minute before and scared them? Her screaming usually just makes them louder. Then I got to the back of the room and saw Juan, one of our administrators, sitting there observing. The kids like, respect, and fear him all at once -- I think he's the only staff member who has worked at the school since the first day it started a few years ago -- so they were completely well-behaved in front of him. If only he could sit in on all of Andrea's classes. ;O

It was a lucky day in other ways, too. For example, I took one kid out of English class and made him stay in the hall for a couple minutes as a time-out, because he kept talking, laughing, and messing around -- and the vice principal happened to walk by. "Why are you out of class so much?" he demanded. "It looks like we have to call your mother and have her come babysit you in class so you learn how to behave. Let's go call her now." And he stalked off, taking the kid with him. Well-played!

Cori told me one of the administrators sent her an e-mail saying that a (negative) letter would be put in her file regarding the exploding-pen vandalism incident that supposedly happened under her watch during indoor recess. Shouldn't they put a POSITIVE letter in her file about how she took over Amy's math class one period last week with no notice?? Unreal.

And the only other bad news: today during advisory, I did an activity with the kids where they had to give a thumbs up if they agreed with a statement I read, or a thumbs down if they disagreed. The last statement was, "I like me," and only one kid, Jonathan, put his thumb down. "I hate myself," he said matter-of-factly. And he wasn't kidding around -- he was serious. He's a nice kid, well-behaved. He said he used to get into a lot of fights, so it seemed related to that. I said, "But you seem like a peaceful person. You don't fight anymore, do you?"

"I guess not," he shrugged. But he said he still hates himself. He's 12! Doesn't he realize he has YEARS ahead in which to hate himself?? Ha ha. But seriously, I'm going to talk to the social worker about him. Maybe he's depressed and no one has realized it? :(

Monday, September 21, 2009

Isn't it too early in the schoolyear to call in sick?

The English teacher and the history teacher were BOTH out today -- I hope they were just slightly under the weather, and that they're not about to quit or disappear. I was in one of the 7th grade English classes today with the substitute, and the behavior was discouraging, although they did finally settle down enough to read an article aloud, and some of them actually answered some of the questions at the end. I was in one of the 7th grade math classes today, too. The teacher introduced an incentive program where, when kids are on task and behaving well, they get tickets they can eventually redeem for prizes and other incentives. But by halfway through the period she was discouraged and yelling at kids again. I don't know. I'm still getting my bearings with this whole special ed "push-in" thing. I try to deal consistently with the misbehavior, but it's amazing how hard it is with so much else going on. Classroom management was always a challenge for me, which is part of why I went back for my special ed degree, since I like working with small groups better. And anyway, I'm only in each teacher's class a few times a week, so if they can't manage the class on their own, we're all screwed. Sigh. This morning the assistant principal sat in on the sixth grade English lesson and, at the end, asked if the lead teacher and I had discussed my role in the classroom -- I think because the lead teacher taught the whole lesson pretty much on his own. Tomorrow the math specialist and I are both in the sixth grade math class, and we're going to break the class into groups and each teach the lesson. Hopefully it will go well. I haven't used this much math in ages!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

I CAN raise my voice

Thursday was something else. Dragged myself in for our staff meeting at 7:15 IN THE MORNING (!!!), and then it was kind of disappointing because we emerged after half an hour with only two definite decisions:

1) We should call the parents of the kids in our advisory class by the end of next week to touch base and introduce ourselves, which I think is a good idea.

2) We have to line the kids up in the classroom first and then walk them to their next class, rather than line them up in the hall, because that’s when they get into trouble – yelling, touching each other, general mayhem. Honestly, I think requiring them to line up is part of the problem. I can understand walking them to classes that are four flights of stairs away, like theater or dance (although it’s still ridiculous to have to walk junior high school kids anywhere). But all of their core classes are on the same floor – literally next door to each other. If the teachers dismissed them by row or by table, it would pace them so they’re not all out in the hallway all at once. Another problem, as one of my co-workers pointed out, is that some teachers don’t feel ready for the kids to come in – they’re still preparing – so they make them wait out in the hall even after the bell has rung, and the longer they’re hanging out in the hall with nothing to do, the more that chaos ensues. We specialists are supposed to walk through the halls ‘supervising’ during this time, but I feel invisible -- kids will literally reach around me to grab each other. For the first time yesterday, I didn’t feel safe, so I just got out of the way and gave up. The trouble-makers’ lack of intimidation around adults and authority figures is shocking.

Anyway, those two issues could have been handled in an e-mail instead of making me get up at 5:20 AM.

Then I went to one of my co-worker Andrea’s seventh grade math classes, only to find most of the class clustered in the front of the room and three kids off to the side, goofing around. Andrea said something to me like, “I’m teaching the lesson, but those turkeys don’t want to learn. If you want to try to work with them, go ahead.” I winced. Referring to the kids as “turkeys” is probably not going to make them behave any better. Just sayin’.

So I tried to get something done with one of the boys, and Cori, the math specialist, came in and worked with the other two. Then Cori realized another boy had been in the room a while as punishment for acting up in another class, so I took him to class, but it took a while because he had study skills with a teacher who floats, so it took us some time to find the room.

I returned to class after it ended, so Andrea had already lined the kids up and let them go. The other seventh grade class was in a line waiting to get into the room, so when the bell rang signaling the period was starting, I began to let them come in.

“Wait, I want to greet them each individually and hand them their worksheet,” she said, so I stopped them. But then she just wandered around the room, straightening out the desks and stuff as the minutes ticked away. By the time she went to the door with her worksheets, pandemonium had broken out, one kid shoved another kid, and that kid hit a girl who fell on the floor, hitting Andrea hard in the leg. The girl got up and complained her back hurt, but she said she was OK. Andrea wasn’t, though. I let the kids inside as she tried to take a minute and pull herself together, but then after the kids were in, she turned around and her eyes were wet.

“Go take a break,” I told her. “I’ll take care of them. Just go.”

She whimpered, “Thank you” and fled in tears. I got back inside, handed out the worksheets and managed to calm the kids down enough so I could hear myself think. Then I looked down at the lesson and waves of panic washed over me. It was on integers and rational and irrational numbers. Which is which, I thought frantically. I’d heard part of the lesson the period before, and I’d glanced at the material in the math book for a couple minutes that morning, but I hadn’t refreshed my knowledge nearly enough to be able to teach it with any sort of competence or confidence.

And then, like a miracle, Cori walked in. I whispered to her what had happened and said, “My math skills are just not up to teaching this lesson.”

“No problem,” she said, and for the next 40 minutes, she taught the lesson so expertly, it was like she’d designed it herself. The kids still talked too much, and we had to shush them every so often, but she got through the whole lesson, and those kids learned rational and irrational numbers (as did I). Watching her, I thought, What a pro. I already liked Cori a lot: she’s such a positive person, she brings up issues without whining, she takes her job seriously but never to the point of losing her sense of humor, she never complains. After she took over that class with such ease and professionalism, my admiration of her, already high, was magnified a thousand times.

In the middle of class Andrea wandered in, glassy-eyed, sat at her desk for a few minutes playing with her cell phone, then disappeared again. By the afternoon, though, she was back to teaching her classes.

At lunch, I told Cori how awesome she was. She laughed and said, “Well, I would’ve wanted someone to do the same for me. But I’m worried because Andrea used the ‘q’ word before class even started.” Andrea had told her that these kids made her want to quit teaching after fourteen years. “I wanted to say, ‘No! You can’t quit! Otherwise they’ll probably make me take over your classes, and that’s not what I’m supposed to be doing!’”

The next time I saw Cori, during my prep period a couple hours after lunch, she looked uncharacteristically befuddled. We’d held recess inside that day, which means the kids go back to homeroom and sit around for 25 minutes until lunch. Cori’s homeroom meets in the art room when there’s indoor recess. Apparently some vandalism occurred – a student purposely exploded a pen or something (?), and smeared the ink all over the room, staining the floor -- there were even ink footprints on one of the tables. So Joan, the principal, called Cori in and grilled her, asking how this could have happened during her recess without her knowing it. Cori said she didn’t think it had happened under her watch, because she would’ve noticed. “I mean, I was three or four minutes late to recess, so unless something happened then – “

“Why were you late?” Joan asked.

“Um, I was watching Amy’s class after she broke down in tears?” Cori said. But she still would’ve noticed the ink everywhere, so she thought it had to have happened the following period.

But, the next thing she knew, she was on her hands and knees in the art room trying to scrub the stains off the floor. Can you believe that? By the end of the school day they’d learned who did it and had suspended him, and Cori was running around collecting work for the kid to do while he’s out. She joked, “I think it’s more of a punishment for me than for him. I got to scrub the floor and run around collecting work for him, and he gets to have two days off!”

As soon as I heard that, I immediate wrote a formal e-mail to Joan and Mitchell, the vice principal, telling them how Cori took over Andrea’s class in such an amazing and professional way. I figured she would never brag about herself, so I should brag for her, especially in light of the hard time Joan gave her that afternoon. I’m sure the whole pen incident happened either when the kids got into the room unsupervised, or under the art teacher’s watch. I have homeroom with the art teacher, and I like her a lot as a person, but her classroom management technique seems to be to just shout over the kids. It’s so loud in there, a pen could literally explode – heck, a bolt of lightening could strike – and no one would even notice.

Speaking of loud, I got caught reaming Quigley out during my advisory class last period. He – never – shuts – up! He’s like that in all his classes, as far as I can tell, though he was in particularly rare form yesterday. I was just trying to give directions for an activity for five minutes, and he kept talking. When I tried to re-direct him, he just laughed and kept talking, making comments, fooling around. It’s so disrespectful. I want to ask him, do you talk to your parents that way? They’d probably be mortified if they saw his behavior.

On Wednesday I sent him away to sit at a separate table and not participate in the activity, since he was being so talkative and disrespectful. On Thursday, I screamed in his face instead (!). No, I didn’t actually scream. But oh boy, did I raise my voice. I reamed him out for a good 30 seconds (“Even now you’re talking! When your lips are moving that means you’re talking, and instead you need to be listening!”), telling him in no uncertain terms he needed to respect me by listening and not interrupting when I speak, just like I respect him by listening when he has something to tell me.

Just as I finished reaming him out, I looked over and saw Mitchell, along with one of my students, Shawn, standing in the doorway staring at me. “I just wanted to let you know I’m borrowing Shawn for a little while,” Mitchell said. “And tomorrow I’ll speak to whoever was causing *that* disturbance.”

So he totally backed me up, but I still thought, Oh, no, what did he really think?? I wasn’t screaming or out of control or saying anything inappropriate like “shut up,” but my voice was raised, and I did let the anger come through. And I don’t like doing that. I would love to be one of those teachers who can control a class without showing anger or raising their voice.

But on Friday Mitchell caught me in the hall to ask my thoughts about how this morning assembly went, and then he grinned and said, “Well, after yesterday I do know that you *can* raise your voice.”

I sort of half-smiled sheepishly, and he added, “But you know what? It was good -- you were firm. You made it clear that at that moment, you were the authority figure and his job was to listen.”

Whew, I thought with relief. So he was sincere when he backed me up. I told him how Quigley drives me crazy, and he said, “You’re not the first person who’s told me that!”

“His behavior doesn’t even seem sincere half the time,” I said. “I think he’s actually a good kid, but he wants to show off to impress his friends. He’s always looking around to see their reactions.” Which is normal at this age.

That, however, does not make it any less annoying.

The good part of my afternoon was in the sixth grade English class, helping Joe, who’s a good kid, no behavior problems, but he learns so slowly – he’s basically at a second or third grade level in both reading and math – that he’s supposed to be in a special class with only 12 students per teacher. But we don’t offer that at our school, so I have to get in there as regularly as I can. The English teacher did a neat activity where he played about an hour’s worth of music – different songs from the ‘60’s to now – and the kids had to write about memories any of the songs triggered or anything that came to mind. He’d prepared a list of prompts for the kids in case they got really stuck, and Joe did wonderfully. I helped him read the list, and in the end he picked eight prompts that interested him and wrote a couple sentences for each. He really tries, and I really like working with him.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Today after our usual morning Tai Chi (which I really like, by the way, at least when the kids are quiet enough that I don’t have to worry about shushing them), the vice principal sat them down and told them he’s already gotten calls from a few parents concerned about the behavior of some students at the school. “By being loud and causing a commotion when you walk from class to class, and by disrespecting your teachers by continually disrupting lessons, I hope you don’t think you'll make us all quit,” he said. “We love each and every one of you too much to allow that to happen. We want you to succeed.” Then when I was in the hall this afternoon, I saw him with one of the seventh grade classes lined up against the wall, scolding them, “Some of your parents have already called me with concerns about this behavior. It’s not acceptable.” And I thought, geez -- why on earth would anyone want to be a vice principal!? I don’t know how he has the energy or the stamina. Whatever they’re paying him, it’s not enough.

One of the few teachers who was at the school last year told me, “I’m surprised parents are complaining -- so far things are SO much better than last year. It’s like night and day.” Which makes me glad I missed last year. ;O The one seventh grade class I was in today actually went pretty well -- all but a couple of the students were on task and engaged. This one kid, Quigley, would not shut up, though. I have him for advisory last period of the day, and he was the same way there. I made him stay after school for a few minutes and write about why he kept getting into trouble and how his teachers could help him. He wrote, "By stop getting me in trouble for no reason. I got in trouble because of nothing." So I re-phrased the question as, why do you keep talking when your teachers are talking? How can they help you stop? He wrote, "Because teachers ignore me when I raise my hand. By not ignoring me and making my arm hurt." We talked about how his teachers appreciate it when he raises his hand, but we can't always call on him all the time -- other kids need a chance to speak. Who knows if that helped or not. We'll see how he is tomorrow.

The sixth grade already went on a field trip yesterday – some sort of Outward Bound type of thing with rope-climbing, trust falls, etc. Sounds like exactly the kind of trip I would’ve hated in sixth grade! But it went extremely well. One of the teachers who has been teaching for 37 years said it was the best field trip he had ever been on. “You talk too much, we know that,” he told the kids. “But the way most of you treated each other and helped each other out, it really inspired me and warmed my heart.”

Today when the sixth grade science teacher was explaining scientific laws and scientific theories, one of the kids raised his hand and asked out of nowhere, “What’s Einstein’s theory of relativity?”

I’m trying to get a read on that sixth grader Tre (the one who, when asked to write about who he really is, wrote, “I am an alien in a human body"). Half the time he’s just sitting around, unprepared, not writing anything down, and chatting with the kids around him. But today, when he was doing that and the teacher called on him, he knew exactly what was going on in the lesson and could explain it. The other day when I saw him in the hall, he asked, “If you could have any superpower, what would it be?”

“Invisibility,” I said immediately. (I’ve probably thought about that question too much.) “Because then you could go anywhere and do anything, and no one would be able to tell. What about you?”

“The ability to have ALL the superpowers,” he said. Tricky!

Monday, September 14, 2009

All this drama (and that's just the teachers!)

As the special education inclusion teacher, I'm supposed to push in to classes and only pull kids out rarely, so I share an office (really a small classroom) with a few other specialists. One of them told me last Thursday about how a few of the teachers were using our office as a teacher's lounge, and "one of them was putting make-up on at your desk!"

I looked at my desk. It was clean -- so, honestly, someone putting on make-up at my desk is really the least of my concerns. Some teachers float and don't have their own rooms, and because the building was under construction over the summer we don't even really have a conference room set up, so if they want to use our room, I don't begrudge them that. Really, don't the kids bring us enough drama without us adding to it??

This woman definitely has a thing for "everyone and everything in its place." She carefully taped labels with our room number on every item in the room, for example -- even the garbage can. I'm afraid to borrow so much as a pen from her for five minutes out of fear she'll accuse me of stealing. Then yesterday I e-mailed notes from the special ed kids' IEPs to the general ed teachers -- things like if they need extra time on tests, preferential seating, etc. I almost didn't include this teacher on it, since she's a specialist who does pull-out instruction, not a core teacher, but I CCd her and the other specialist on it anyway.

Well, that was a mistake. When I came in this morning, she didn't even say hello, just gave me the stinkeye and said, "Who told you to e-mail all that information out? Did that come from the special ed director?"

"No, I just did it because I thought it was good information for the teachers to know," I said. "I wasn't even sure if you needed it, but figured I'd CC you just in case."

"It's just with confidentiality, I wasn't sure if you were supposed to, so I was wondering where it came from."

"Oh," I said. "I don't know. I didn't ask. I just did it." I had thought of confidentiality, too, but we share each kid's annual goals and short-term objectives on Google docs, so I assumed if that was all right to share electronically, why wouldn't information about whether they need extra time on tests be all right to share? And you know if I *HADN'T* CC'd her on it, she would've found out about it and said, "Why didn't you give me the same information you gave the classroom teachers!?" You can't win with some people.

The kids do bring us plently of drama. Last Friday, one class of eighth graders was so bad with the foreign language teacher -- yelling, throwing things, etc. -- that the vice principal marched them into their homeroom and made them sit there silently with their heads on their desks during their entire recess period. At one point he whispered to me, "I'm amazed they're able to be this quiet!" But they are afraid of him, which is a great quality for a vice principal to evoke.

Today the math teacher lost her cool with one class of seventh graders while I was in there. "Shut your fat mouths!" she said. "Shut up!" she said. And, "if you're not paying attention, that's your choice, I get paid the same either way." And she's been teaching for 14 years! :O I've done some things I regretted when I was a classroom teacher, but I never told a kid to shut up, or to shut his fat mouth. My rule of thumb is, don't say anything to a student that you wouldn't want to hear them say back to you.

On the other hand, they did finally settle down after that and get some work done.

There's this sixth grader, Tre, who really intrigues me. When the history teacher asked them last week to respond to the question, "If someone asked you to define who you really are, what would you say?" Tre immediately raised his hand and asked me, "Can we write ANYthing?"

"Sure, if you think it's who you really are," I said.

He promptly wrote, "I am an alien trapped in a human body." Ah, kids....

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

1 day down. 179 to go.

Today was the first day of school for the students! 48 sixth graders, 48 seventh graders, and 48 eighth graders graced us with their presence today. The vice principal said it was the smoothest first day of school he's experienced. My take? These kids are LOUD. Advisory period turned into a "make labels for your locker and socialize" period this afternoon, since we still don't have the advisory curriculum, and the din that 24 seventh graders can make is amazing, really. It just surprises me how unafraid of adult authority some of them are (completely unlike me when I was their age). I mean, it's only THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL and I already had to give a seventh grader a warning for throwing a little piece of paper while the lead teacher was talking! The seventh and eighth grade math teacher has taught for 14 years, and even she had a hard time getting them all to simply stay quiet and pay attention. She's going to assign seats tomorrow, separating a couple of the especially talky groups, so that should help. One of the teachers from last year said that this year's seventh and eighth graders are used to getting away with talking whenever they want, because for a couple of their subjects last year they ended up with substitute after substitute due to teacher turnover, and their other teachers had given up, I guess, and just talked over them.

The sixth graders aren't like that, though. They're all brand new to the school -- we didn't have a fifth grade last year -- so they were much more nervous than the older kids. Plus none of them know each other enough yet to chat too much. ;) The sixth grade teachers are wonderful with them, too. Although one little girl I met this morning was funny. Her first question to me was, "Do we ever have dress down days?" She was disappointed when I told her no ("It's so boring to look like everyone else!").

As the special ed teacher for half the sixth grade and all of seventh, I'm supposed to "push in" to classes as much as possible, since we have a math specialist and a reading specialist to pull them out for extra small group instruction in those subjects. It's kind of weird, though, because I was told to just make my own schedule, but I couldn't even see the kids IEPs (Individualized Education Plans) until last Thursday when they finally arrived out of storage, and none of the other teachers even got finalized schedules themselves until yesterday. And in the three weeks of professional development we just had, we were given surprisingly little time for planning together.

So today I basically just observed and helped out in the seventh grade math and language arts classes, and the sixth grade math class. Even though I wasn't lecturing the whole class, like the lead teachers were, I went around and answered kids' questions, tried to make sure they stayed on task, etc. I barely saw our principal all day, but our vice principal was awesome, out and about in seemingly all the classrooms, an active presence. But then I felt weird because when I caught him to ask him a question (this was after he happened to come in to two different classrooms and saw me helping out), he asked how things were going, I said things seemed to be going pretty smoothly, and then he told me, "Don't be afraid to jump in."

I was kind of like, "Oh." Because to me, I *had* been jumping in. And today was fairly similar in all the classes -- going over the rules, the supplies needed, the syllabus, etc. So on the way home, I brooded. I like him as a vice principal, and I want him to think I'm going a good job. By Friday I hope to figure out when each teacher's planning periods are so I can schedule times to sit down with them and see what we can do together for our "special students."

Tomorrow is our first morning of whole-school tai chi in the wellness room (don't call it a gym; it's a "wellness room." ;) According to the wellness teachers, some of the too-cool-for-school seventh and eighth graders have been copping an attitude about it, but I'm looking forward to it, myself.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Diane Schuler didn't have cirrhosis

The mystery continues: an article in today's Daily News by Mattew Lysiak, "Diane Schuler's Family: Autopsy Shows She Wasn't Alcoholic," states that the autopsy showed she had no physical signs of long-term alcoholism: no cirrhosis, no pancreatic disease, no erosion of her esophagus ( Tom Ruskin, the private investigator hired by Schuler's family, said, "The autopsy supports the claims of over 50 of Diane Schuler's friends and family members who have never once seen this woman drunk," and indicated he was going to have a team of forensic experts read the coroner's report before deciding whether to exhume Schuler's body for further tests.
This news makes the whole case even more tragic, I think. She probably hadn't been drinking too much for very long, so if it had been a minor accident it could have been the wake-up call she needed for her to get help and fix her life. Remember when comedian Paula Poundstone was arrested back in 2001 for driving drunk to Baskin Robbins with her kids in the car? Her children went into foster care, she went into rehab and joined Alcoholics Anonymous, and after more than a year of being sober, she got her kids back permanently and has been fine ever since.
One person commented on the Daily News story: "Does every person who abuses alcohol have cirrhosis? No. Does every person who abuses alcohol have to have done it over a prolonged period of time? No. Let's accept that alcoholics all started out somewhere...I know plenty of recreational drinkers and pot smokers who will only sometimes comsume to excess."

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Sleeping with strangers

Tonight I'm getting ready for my five days away from home for week 2 of professional development. All of us teachers have to arrive there tomorrow, stay for five nights, and leave on Friday. The place we're staying looks nice, and I'm sure the professional development will be at least partially worthwhile, but the truth is -- I'm dreading it. I think it's a lot for the school to ask us to go away for five nights when we won't even have our own hotel rooms. We're sharing, three people to a room. I need my alone time to recharge my batteries, and I won't have that, so I'm really nervous. I also usually have a personal policy not to spend time socially with co-workers until either they've left the job or I have, and we don't work together anymore. But this week I'll be sleeping with two of them, which upends my whole policy! We'll see how it goes.... :/

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Made it through my 1st week of orientation!

Well, almost. By tomorrow I will have made it through. Today we middle school teachers met in a group, along with the new vice principal (who was only hired a week ago), and it was terrific. As an ice breaker activity we played "two truths and a lie." I wrote that I'd taught for two years in South Texas; that I'm going to a wedding in Tennessee on Sept. 5th; and that I'd hiked 600 miles of the Appalachian Trail. The music teacher looked me up and down and said, "600 miles, huh?"

"Yeah, that's the lie," I admitted.

I like the other teachers a lot. They all seem really committted to the kids, AND to making sure we present a united front and stay consistent so they don't walk all over us! I'm a big fan of the vice principal, too. If he had already been working for the school when I was hired and had been the one to interview me, I wouldn't have had as many qualms about taking the job. He's really smart, easy to talk to, with a great sense of humor. At one point someone asked yet another question, and he said with a smile, "I know a lot of things, none of which you're asking me about. I'll have to get back to you on that." And this afternoon when I pulled out the huge package of Trident I'd brought, he said, "Could I attack you for a piece of gum? I think I still have lunch breath, and it's driving me crazy."

"Sure," I said. "You don't even have to attack me." :)

One of the teachers who was there last year also said he wanted to reassure us newbies that most of the really severe problems last year were actually in the lower school, not the middle school. *relief*

In other news, ABC News has a story here ( about private investigator Tom Ruskin's attempt to trace Diane Schuler's timeline on the day she drove the wrong way on the Taconic, killing herself, her daughter, her three nieces, and three men in another vehicle. Apparently the 12:08 PM phone call she received was her brother, Warren Hance, and they had what was described as a "normal conversation" -- so much for my theory that that phone call had upset her. It wasn't until 12:56 PM, when her 8-year-old niece, Emma, called Warren Hance "in a panic" that Schuler seemed "sick," or as we now know, drunk -- confused, disoriented, slurring her speech, etc. Later her phone was found "on top of a wall by a bridge near the highway. 'It means 99.9 percent sure she got out of the car,' Ruskin later said." It was 25 minutes later when Schuler drove the wrong way on the Taconic Parkway, causing the crash. The article ends by quoting Jay Schuler, the wife of Daniel Schuler's brother: "We had an occasional pina colada at a family barbecue. She was meticulous, safe, I trusted her with my son when I left the country...those three girls before her own children were her life. This is absolutely not the woman they know. [Not] who I trusted my children with."

I still think it's weird that she and her husband brought "the same bottle of vodka" (who knows if it really was) with them every weekend when they went camping. Beer or wine come to mind when I think of camping, not hard liquor like vodka. Whether she was clinically depressed and over-medicated herself with alcohol, or a closet alcoholic whose first major cry for help was her last, she, four children, and three men are dead for a totally preventable reason. I predict we won't hear too much more about this unless there's a civil suit which brings more information to light, or unless the private investigator uncovers something outrageous. Really sad. :(

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Orientation; and Diane Schuler, Part 3

Yesterday was my first day of professional development at my new job and WOW, I am tired! I haven't worked full-time hours since last fall. Even when I had three part-time jobs, it might have taken all day to complete them, but I had free hours during the day in between each of them. The other teachers seem very nice, but I'm nervous. A couple who were there last year told stories about objects being thrown across their classrooms and "nothing working" to solve behavior problems -- and those were the first grade teachers! :O I found out I'll be the special ed co-teacher for the seventh grade and half of the sixth grade, which pleases me -- I especially like sixth grade. I have to admit, I'm relieved I won't have any eighth grade classes. I taught eighth grade my first year of teaching, and it was really hard.

Also, because we are supposed to model healthy eating for the kids, all of us, teachers included, are only allowed to bring "healthy food" into the school building. Even when we're having lunch in the teacher's room, we're not supposed to drink soda or eat anything unhealthy. Is it bad that my first thought was to strategize as to how I can smuggle chocolate in my purse and secretly eat it in the bathroom? If that's not the first sign of addiction, I don't know what is -- I really AM a chocoholic!

In Diane Schuler news, Westchester district attorney Janet DiFiore announced today that neither Schuler's husband, Daniel Schuler, nor anyone else will be criminally charged in the case. Here are the links to the NY Times article ( and the Newsday article ( Not surprising, since she was the one who got drunk and stoned, drove the wrong way on the Taconic Parkway and killed eight people, including herself, so, as the D.A. said, the charges die with her. There's no evidence her husband knew she would drink and drive, as she didn't appear under the influence when they left the campground that morning, or even an hour and a half later when she stopped at McDonald's and then a Sunoco station. But Schuler's family will likely still face a civil suit from the family of Michael and Guy Bastardi, the father and son she killed when she crashed into their S.U.V. The State Police did note that "Mr. Schuler answered many questions from investigators but 'has not been forthcoming, perhaps, about marijuana use'" -- probably because he's a public safety officer and doesn't want to admit to knowing his wife (and he, too??) was using an illegal drug.

Here's a link to an interesting Huffington Post article by Stephanie Gertler, "Diane Schuler's Demons," which theorizes she was severely depressed, and the alcohol unleashed her suicidal impulses(

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Diane Schuler, Part 2

The latest issue of PEOPLE Magazine arrived in my mailbox with a picture of Diane Schuler in the top corner. In the PEOPLE article, her family admitted that Schuler occasionally smoked marijuana to help her sleep but insisted she wasn't a big drinker, that when her brother-in-law mixed drinks at family gatherings she would tell him to throw them out and start over if she could taste the alcohol.

The timeline is that Schuler and the kids left the campground at 9:30 AM; went to McDonald's and left there by 10:45 AM; and it's now being reported that video was obtained of her stopping at a Sunoco gas station/convenience store in Liberty, NY. She pumped gas, then asked the clerk inside for pain relievers. She didn't appear intoxicated. Private investigator Thomas Ruskin, who was hired by Schuler's family, told the Daily News that the guy behind the counter "said she asked him for Tylenol or Advil and he didn't have any - so the question becomes what was bothering Diane Schuler?" ( She called her brother at about 11:45 AM to say she was running late due to traffic but she'd have her nieces home in time for a performance rehearsal they were scheduled to go to, and she sounded fine. She got a call at 12:08 PM, but it's not known from who; no details have been released about that. It wasn't until 12:58 PM that her oldest niece called her dad and told him Schuler was having trouble seeing and that her speech was slurred. In another article, "Driver's Spouse Meets Police About Crash that Killed 8," in the New York Times( private investigator Ruskin says “There is some catastrophic event that is affecting her ability to speak, to see, her ability to know where she is and to make rational judgments. The Diane that they [her family] know does not drink and would never smoke marijuana in a car with kids.”

So she was in some kind of physical pain, and when she couldn't get Advil or Tylenol, she decided to sneak just a little bit of marijuana and vodka to self-medicate -- but she couldn't stop/got carried away because she was a secret alcoholic? That explains why she conveniently "lost" her cell phone after talking to her brother and deciding to keep driving. She was probably thinking that if she could just get the kids home, no one would find out what she'd done.

My friend's husband had an interesting theory that she started smoking the pot first, but it was laced with some other drug that made her go crazy and think that drinking all the vodka was a good idea. But then we realized whatever drug it was laced with would have shown up in the toxicology tests.

But who was that mysterious phone call at 12:08 from? Did she receive some sort of upsetting news, and that, combined with her physical pain, set her off?

Probably the only way we'll come even remotely close to knowing the full story is if Schuler's 5-year-old son remembers anything. According to this article in Newsday, he is still recovering from head injuries at St. Mary's Hospital for Children in Queens ( and hasn't been interviewed at all.

In other news...tomorrow is my first day of work: three weeks of professional development for my new teaching job. Wish me luck -- I may need it.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Diane Schuler

I've been obsessed with the news about Diane Schuler, the Long Island mother who drove the wrong way on the Taconic Parkway on July 26th before crashing, killing herself; all three of her three nieces, ages 8, 7 and 5; her 2-year-old daughter; and all three men in the car she crashed into. Only her five-year-old son survived, with critical injuries. One of the first articles to appear in the New York Times, "Bad Omens, a Fateful Turn and 8 Lives Lost" by Lisa W. Foderaro and Nate Schweber ( noted that "police are awaiting toxicology and autopsy results, but Captain Realmuto said it did not appear that she was intoxicated or impaired by drugs in any way.'" There was speculation that she had undiagnosed diabetes and was in some sort of insulin shock, or that she had had a stroke or some other sudden-onset brain problem.

But as Al Baker and Lisa W. Foderaro wrote in their August 4th article (, "for all the misguided and well-meaning speculation about what may have caused Diane Schuler to drive the wrong way on the Taconic State Parkway 10 days ago, killing eight people in a head-on collision, the real reason was stark in its tragedy and simplicity: She was drunk." Toxicology tests showed that her blood-alcohol level was 0.19, more than twice the legal limit, and that she had used marijuana between 15 minutes and an hour before her death. They found a broken jumbo 1.75 liter vodka bottle under a seat in her minivan. Even sadder and stranger was the fact that her family apparently had no idea she had an alcohol problem. Her brother and sister-in-law, Warren and Jackie Hance, said they trusted her and never had any reason to think their children would be in danger with her. Her husband, Daniel Schuler, swore she was the perfect wife and mother, only occasionally drank, and grudgingly admitted she "occasionally" smoked marijuana, but that there must have been something "medically wrong" to cause her to go on a bender.

There was something medically wrong, all right -- she was a *&^%ing alcoholic! And either she was extremely skilled at hiding it, or her family was in deep, deep denial. I just can't picture the scene in her minivan. She literally must have been swigging from the bottle while she was driving: she still had undigested alchohol in her stomach when she died, and the witnesses at the McDonald's where she and the kids had stopped that morning said she didn't appear intoxicated then (although perhaps she had just starting to drink slowly, then sped it up later?). But wouldn't it be physically awkward and difficult to drive and drink from a huge bottle like that? If she had a flask or something, it hasn't been reported. And wouldn't she think, "Hey, I shouldn't drink from this bottle of vodka and smoke marijuana in front of my kids and my nieces, because they're going to tell their father(s) and then my secret will be out?" I'm trying to think back to when I was 5, 7, or 8 years old -- would I have known that an adult drinking from a bottle of Absolut while driving was wrong? Did she tell the kids it was water? And what about the marijuana? Did she do these things so often when they were in the car with her that they didn't think anything of it until she became seriously impaired? If not, why that weekend? What happened that day that made her suddenly binge? Apparently there are alcoholics who have to drink every day, but there are also alcoholics who can go weeks, even months, without drinking -- but when they do, look out.

Schuler's oldest niece, 8-year-old Emma, clearly knew something was wrong on that day. While Diane Schuler had called her brother at 11:37 AM to say they were running late due to traffic -- and apparently sounded normal to him at that point -- she wasn't the one who called him back at 12:58 PM, as was originally reported. It was Emma Hance who called her father and said, “Daddy, there is something wrong with Aunt Diane and she is having trouble seeing and she is talking funny, she is slurring." The call dropped after three minutes, but Warren Hance called back at 1:01 and spoke to Schuler for nine minutes. After that, she abandoned her cell phone and kept driving, even though Hance said he told her to stay put and he'd come find her (

Also, Daniel Schuler and his lawyer raised questions about where the vodka bottle came from, claiming it could have been on the side of the road and the minivan just happened to crash into it (?). But last weekend, the story changed: "Tom Ruskin, an investigator who is working for the husband, Daniel Schuler, said that Mr. Schuler occasionally drank vodka and that his wife, Diane, was so frugal that she packed the same bottle of Absolut in a bag meant for trips between the family’s home in Suffolk County...and the camper in the Sullivan County campground they had frequented for the past three years. He said a single bottle could last a year for the Schulers" ( Well, hello. Just because Daniel Schuler thought it was the same bottle every weekend doesn't mean it actually was!

The whole thing is just so strange. The woman held down a full-time job at Cablevision, took care of her kids, watched her brother's three kids, no reports of any domestic abuse or police calls to the home, no prior DWI arrests (although interestingly, Daniel Schuler was actually arrested for DWI 14 years ago, when he was 24, as he was driving from one bar to another after downing five beers:

I read somewhere that the condition of her liver would help determine if she had been a hard drinker for years, but no information has been released about that. Marvin D. Seppala, the chief medical officer at the Hazelden Foundation, an addiction-treatment center, theorized that "perhaps Ms. Schuler was experiencing early-stage early that her husband had not picked up any telltale clues. Maybe the crash was an early public symptom that the situation had taken a significant turn for the worse. If so, that early symptom was also, tragically, her last" ( Also, she worked days while her husband worked the 4 PM - 12 AM shift as a public safety officer, so he probably didn't see her much during the week. That would have made it even easier to hide it from him.

The New York Post reported that Diane Schuler drank screwdrivers alone at a local bar, complaining of a bad marriage. But the Post doesn't exactly have the highest journalistic ethics -- they love to quote "anonymous sources" -- and they can't seem to write a story about this case without making a basic factual mistake (getting Schuler's age wrong, or referring to her brother as "William" instead of "Warren"), so who knows if that's true.

Here's an interesting article by Deborah King in the Huffington Post (, which brings up the fact that while drunk driving is decreasing among men, it is increasing among women -- and women are more likely to have kids in the car. Apparently it happens more often than you might think. Scary.

I can't imagine what Warren and Jackie Hance are going through. Losing all three of your kids in an accident is heartbreaking -- and then to find out it was so easily preventable? I just can't even comprehend it.

P.S. Forget everything I just wrote. It was Anbesol, the topical pain reliever you put on your gums! THAT'S what gave Diane Schuler a 0.19 blood-alcohol level, according to Daniel Schuler's lawyer, Dominic Barbara ( Have you ever heard anything so ridiculous? That lawyer is getting on my last nerve.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Pregnant at 52

I was reading an article about the photographer Annie Leibovitz today when I got distracted by the age of her children. The article said she's 59, but she has an 8-year-old daughter and 4-year-old twins. ??? Well, I just looked it up on-line, and while a surrogate mother had the twins, Annie herself gave birth to her older daughter when she was 52 YEARS OLD! Whoa! I can't imagine going through pregnancy and childbirth at that age! Well, I can't really imagine it right now, at the age of 36, but ESPECIALLY not at the age of 51. WOW.

I did a quick search on-line, and the only other celebrity I could find who actually became pregnant and gave birth in her 50s was Elizabeth Edwards, who gave birth to her youngest son, Jack, when she was 50. She and Annie Leibovitz most likely used donor eggs. But according to Wikipedia, "Aracelia Garcia of Sunnyside, Washington astounded doctors when she naturally conceived (without hormonal treatment) all-female triplets in 1999 at the age of 54. She delivered three healthy girls Arianna, Brianna and CeCelia by Caesarean section in January 2000" (

And this mother definitely didn't use fertility drugs: "Ruth Kistler of Portland, Oregon gave birth to a daughter in Los Angeles, California, on October 18, 1956, at the age of 57. The birth predated the advent of in-vitro fertilization (IVF) making Kistler one of the oldest women known to have conceived naturally" (ibid).

I'm getting tired just thinking about it!

Friday, July 31, 2009

I went to California!

The Nicest Guy in the World and I went to San Francisco a few weeks ago to visit an old friend of mine from high school (come to think of it, we've known each other since sixth grade!). Neither of us had ever been to California before, and it was so much fun! We walked through Muir Woods, went to some wine-tastings, ate at delicious restaurants, went to more wine-tastings, took a tour of Alcatraz (factoid: the Birdman of Alcatraz never actually kept birds at Alcatraz, only at Leavenworth), and did I mention the wine-tastings? ;) Although we mostly stayed with my friend, on our last night we stayed at this great hotel in the Union Square section of San Francisco called the Hotel Monaco, which we found through How great was it, you ask? So great, they lend you a "companion goldfish" for the night, if you know to ask for one -- which, thanks to my Fodor's guidebook, I did. I'm probably biased, but I thought my fish was extremely cute. I called him/her Blinky, after the fish on "The Simpsons" (even though thankfully s/he didn't have three eyes like the 'real' Blinky).