Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A full & productive day

Busy busy busy day. First, as many of you know, I am addicted to Dove Milk Chocolate Promises. As many of you also know, I enjoy parties. Today I decided to combine both of these loves of mine AND (hopefully) make some money! A few months ago in the back of some magazine somewhere, I saw an ad for Dove Chocolate Discoveries (http://www.dovechocolatediscoveries.com/) and learned that you can actually sign up to sell Dove Chocolate products, just like some people sell Avon or Pampered Chef or whatever. I could never get excited enough about Avon or Pampered Chef to sell it, but Dove chocolate practically runs through my veins! As a chocolatier, you have chocolate tastings in your home, in friends' homes, etc., the guests order any chocolate products they like, and everyone goes home happy. This month there was a special where you could buy the business kit with enough supplies for your first four to six parties for just $99. I talked to the regional person (my "sponsor") this morning, and she was really nice and answered all my questions. Chocolatiers get a 25% commision on whatever they sell (more if you sell $2,000 worth of products or more in a single month), which seems standard for direct selling companies -- according to this March 15th NY Times article, "Direct Sales as a Recession Fallback" by Eilene Zimmerman (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/15/jobs/15sales.html?_r=1&scp=2&sq=direct%20selling&st=cse), the usual commision varies from 20% - 50%, depending on the company. So I decided to take the plunge! I'll receive my kit sometime within the next 10 business days. So if you'd like to host or attend a chocolate party in the tri-state area (NY/NJ/CT), let me know. :)

Then I had my interview for a special ed teaching job at that charter high school in Brooklyn. They were very organized about it, which I appreciated. I observed a 9th grade math class, met with the special education coordinator for about half an hour, and observed the resource room. For the last 45 minutes, all of us prospective teachers who'd been interviewing for various positions met with the CEO/founder. He was great, talked with us about the school, and even gave details like the salary scale and benefits. I think the next step is to do a demonstration lesson, so we'll see if they liked me enough to invite me to do that. The job would probably be partly collaborative team teaching and partly teaching in the resource room. I like that combination.

Afterwards, I went to Union Square, and while waiting in line for the restroom at the Virgin music store, I read two interesting articles in Marie Claire magazine. One was by this woman who spent four months in jail on Rikers Island because she was convicted of financial fraud, even though she really was more of a victim of it herself. She talked about how the inmates grouped themselves by the housing projects they come from, and the physical fights that happened sometimes, and how she tried to make the best of it by helping other inmates -- apparently she even taught one of the women there how to read. I wish she'd written more about that, actually. She summarized how she made the best of the situation and helped people in only one or two paragraphs. The other article was about the Mosuo, an ethnic minority who live in Luoshi, a small, rural village in southwestern China, and how they are one of the few truly matrilineal societies. The men don't own anything; all money, land and lineage are passed down from mothers to daughters. And in their language, there are no words for war, rape, or jail.

Maybe I should start subscribing to Marie Claire.

To end my day, I went to a children's book writing forum at the New School, since I've written a nonfiction children's book I want to try to get published. The agent and editors who spoke were so informative, and they even gave out their e-mail addresses. During the Q&A I got to ask about biographical non-fiction books for children, since my manuscript is about a civil rights activist who is not a household name but should be. They said a narrative nonfiction manuscript about someone who hasn't already had a lot of books written about them would probably have a good shot of selling -- good news for me!

All in all, a very satisfying day.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Good news & money

"Is this someone calling about good news or money?...No?...Well then, good-bye." (CLICK)

That's from this funny movie from the '60s, "A Thousand Clowns" -- not available on DVD, but on the recommendation of my dad I watched it when it was on PBS a few weeks ago. I thought of that line when my boss from the tutoring agency left me a voicemail last Tuesday, because she said, "I want to talk to you about two things -- I have another case for you if you're available, and I want to give you a raise." Good news AND money, all in one message! When I called her back, I learned that my tutoring pay has been increased by $5 an hour, retroactive to March 1st (!), and I agreed to start tutoring another student for TEN (!) hours a week (!!), beginning April 1st. I'm going to see how long I can do it, though, because this is a pre-school student with cognitive and social delays, and I've never worked with a pre-schooler before, so I don't really know what to do with her. At least I'll be working with her while she's at pre-school, so I won't be alone. Hopefully seeing her IEP (Individualized Education Plan) will shed some light.

This Tuesday I have an interview at a charter high school in Brooklyn -- I gave them my resume at that charter school job fair a few weeks ago. *fingers crossed*

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Love (or at least commitment) is in the air

Three famous couples who had so far avoided getting engaged or married have finally done just that. I never thought Calista Flockhart and Harrison Ford would get engaged, because they'd been together for seven years (after meeting at the Golden Globes in 2002), she already had a kid (whom she adopted as an infant when she was still single), and he is twice divorced. But apparently they got engaged over Valentine's Day weekend (http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,20267173,00.html).

I also never thought Bruce Willis would get married again, since I read an interview with him in PEOPLE Magazine three or four years ago where he said he felt no need to settle down, he already had three kids and wasn't looking to start a new family, etc. But last weekend he married his 30-year-old girlfriend, model Emma Heming (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-1164038/Bruce-Willis-marries-Demi-double-16-years-younger-Caribbean-ceremony.html). They've only been dating for a year, though, so I wonder if it will last.

And most surprising of all, David Letterman finally married Regina Lasko, his girlfriend of 23 YEARS, last week! (http://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/chi-0324-david-letterman-ftmar24,0,1870943.story) I really never thought they would get married -- I mean, if it hasn't happened after 23 years and one kid together, you figure it's just not happening. He had married his college girlfriend in his 20s but ended up getting divorced after seven or eight years, and he seemed really burned out on marriage after that -- he dated Merrill Markoe, who wrote for his show, from the late '70s until the mid-'80s, and they never got married.

Never say never, I guess.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Conference of the Birds

I'm still in a "dry patch" when it comes to church. I've gone to a different Catholic church in the neighborhood a couple of times -- good for a change of pace -- but I still feel like I'm watching everything from the bottom of a well. I know I should go back to St. Bart's in Manhattan, but it takes me over an hour each way and I already feel like I live on the subway during the week ,what with all the traveling to my teaching and tutoring jobs. So on Sundays it's really nice to be able to walk to church. Since I fidget through most of it, though, I suppose it kind of defeats the purpose. I'll get there.

Spiritually speaking, I'm actually getting more out of my Mysticism class. I loved reading about the Sufis, the mystic branch of Islam. I can totally see the appeal, not just of Sufism but of Islam in general. During our last class, we read this beautiful parable, told in the book "Ways of Being Religious" by Gary E. Kessler. Kessler explains it's from the climax of "The Conference of the Birds," a mystical epic written by Farid al-Din Attar, a Persian Sufi poet who lived from 1120 - 1230. In the story, a large group of birds listens as a man is told that to achieve union with God, he would have to go on an incredibly long and arduous journey, crossing "seven oceans of light and seven of fire." Hearing this, the birds despair at how difficult such a journey would be for them. Many of the birds feel such sorrow that they die right then and there. But the rest decide to try. Their hard journey takes years and years, and thousands of them die along the way. By the end, only thirty birds make it to "the sublime place."

When these 30 birds arrive, they explain, "We have come to acknowledge the Simurgh (God) as our king. Through love and desire for him, we have lost our reason and our peace of mind...We cannot believe the king will scorn us after all the sufferings we have gone through. He cannot but look on us with the eye of benevolence!"

But the Chamberlain (the gatekeeper) tells them that "thousands of worlds of creatures are no more than an ant at the King's gate. Return then to whence you came, O vile handful of earth!"

The birds are shattered, but they are still "on fire with love," so they argue: "The friend we seek will content us by allowing us to be united to him. If now we are refused, what is there left for us to do? We are like the moth who wished for union with the flame of the candle. They begged him not to sacrifice himself so foolishly and for such an impossible aim, but he thanked them for their advice and told them that since his heart was given to the flame forever, nothing else mattered."

Finally, the Chamberlain,who had been testing the birds, opens the door, drawing aside one curtain after another, revealing a new world. The birds feel such peace and detachment from everything, they begin to realize that God is present! Their past is swept away. And then:

"The sun of majesty sent forth his rays, and in the reflection of each other's faces, these thirty birds of the outer world contemplated the face of the Simurgh (God) of the inner world...They did not know if they were still themselves or had become the Simurgh...In a state of contemplation, they realized that they were the Simurgh and the Simurgh was the thirty birds...And perceiving both at once, themselves and Him, they realized that they and the Simurgh were one and the same being. No one in the world has heard of anything to equal it." (Attar, "The Conference of the Birds")

The professor pointed out that this is a story of imminence rather than transcendence. The birds always had God within them; they just hadn't known it. And God is not only inside each of us. God is also in the faces of the birds, the seekers, looking at each other. We find God together. In each other. In community.

That's why I keep going to church. I can't be "spiritual but not religious." Sometimes I can feel it by myself, but for me, the most spiritual I've ever felt has always been in communion with other people.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Job interview next week!

One of the schools I met at the Charter School Job Fair e-mailed me -- I have an interview next Tuesday for a special education teaching job! It's a charter high school in Brooklyn. It has been around for a few years now, and they have 600 students, about 9% of whom are entitled to special education services. It sounds like there's a whole special education department (I'm being interviewed by the department head), which is reassuring. When I worked as the special ed teacher at a charter school in the Bronx eight years ago (before the crazy principal fired me on Halloween), I WAS the special ed department, and I really didn't know what I was doing. I only have two full years of classroom teaching experience, so I need co-workers I can learn from.

Even though this school is in Brooklyn, it will still take me an hour and 10 minutes each way to get there. The school day is a full eight hours and starts at 8 AM, which means if I get the job and have to be there at 7:45 AM every day, I would have to leave my apartment at 6:20 AM (must allow 15 minutes of "what if there's a subway problem" time). 6:20 AM -- OUCH. I'd have to get up at 5:40 AM, so I'd have to go to bed by 9:40 PM every night just to get 8 hours of sleep. Ugh. I have never been a morning person, so that has always been one of my least favorite things about teaching -- having to go to bed and get up so, so early every day.

But right now I don't have to get up early at all, and I'm thoroughly enjoying it while it lasts!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Charter school job fair

I went to the charter school job fair at Columbia U. on Saturday. It was crowded! But we're all certified to teach in different areas, so I wasn't in direct competition with at least half of the other candidates, or so I kept telling myself! Only one woman from one of the schools was snotty. I purposely approached her table because there was no line, only to have to wait a couple of minutes for her to finish her extremely important conversation about the new diet she's on, and how it's about being healthy, not losing weight, unfortunately, because wouldn't that be nice if it happened, blah blah blah. When she finally stopped talking and acknowledged my existence, we talked for a minute and she said, "Well, we are looking for a special education teacher but only for kindergarden and first grade." Then she took my resume, looked at it, and said in a snotty tone, "Wow. This is really confusing." I had talked to people from half a dozen other schools by then, and none of them had said my resume was confusing. Humph.

But most of the schools were very nice. One Brooklyn school in particular said they definitely need special ed teachers for the fall, that they give resumes from job fair candidates a higher priority, and that I should expect a call soon. Yay!

The only problem is that many charter schools have extended school days and extended school years, to give kids who are behind more learning time. I tried to avoid those schools. Am I a terrible person?? It's just that, for me, teaching is difficult and draining and challenging enough when you have a 6 hr and 50 minute school day, 180 days a year. When I taught 8th grade in Texas, the kids' school day was 8:05 AM - 3:35 PM every day (7.5 hours!), and I would be grading and planning all evening and on weekends, and I STILL never felt like I ever caught up. I was 23 years old and could barely do it. I just don't think I could do it now. One of my friends from when I did Jesuit Volunteer Corps was visiting NYC over the weekend from California, where she's now teaching 7th grade. She said she grades and plans every weeknight until at least 9:00 PM, but she's made a rule that her weekends are her own. She's a lot smarter than I was when I was her age! I didn't make that rule and therefore completely burned myself out. No more.

I will re-do my resume yet again, though. It's just so tough for me to organize a resume in a way that makes sense, because my experience is wildly all over the place: teaching kids, publishing, teaching adults, administrative assistance, fundraising, tutoring. The longest I've ever worked anywhere was 2 years and 5 months. Not the most typical career path. But it hasn't been boring, that's for sure!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Out of the mouths of babes

The 13-year-old boy I tutor: "I had a dream last night I was a Jedi."
Me: "Really?"
Boy: "And I was fighting myself."
Me: "How did you do that?"
Boy (as if obvious): "Well, I had cloned myself."

Oh. Of course!

* * *
A high school junior in the resource room: "Your voice sounds low."
Me: "It does?"
Junior: "Are you a smoker?"
Me: "No."
Junior contemplates this for a minute, then declares: "It sounds like you've been inhaling helium backwards."

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

My interview at the new high school in Brooklyn

Yesterday I had my interview for an immediate full-time special ed teaching job at a high school in Brooklyn that just started this schoolyear with 100 ninth graders. It took me an hour and twenty minutes door-to-door to get there by subway, and it was *freezing* out. But I followed my directions from the train station, walked up to the huge brick building, and...had to go through a metal detector. (!) The school is housed on the top floor of a large high school that has performed so poorly, it's being phased out and will graduate its last class in 2011.

I met the principal, who was nice, but not Mr. Rogers-nice like he'd seemed on the phone. Which is good -- if you're running a high school, you have to be at least somewhat strict. I observed a global studies class first period. It was a CTT (Collaborative Team Teaching) class, which means anywhere from roughly a quarter to a third of the kids in the class are classified as special ed, so a regular education teacher and a special education teacher team-teach the class together. They were teaching a lesson on Mesoamerica, and doing a pretty good job. But they had the door open, and I could hear this DIN out in the hallway -- it sounded like students just standing around talking, calling out to each other and laughing. I kept thinking someone would make it stop, but no one ever did, and it was so LOUD, the teachers finally had to close the door.

Then I observed an English class, and the students spent most of the period using laptops to work on a writing project. But they took a while to settle down, and though some of the students were actually writing, some of them were sitting around talking. One student next to me didn't write a word -- he surfed the internet on the laptop for the entire period. And again, sometimes it just got so noisy! It made me anxious.

When the principal interviewed me afterward, he said that both the classes I observed had first year teachers, and they needed more assistance with classroom management, and with scaffolding instruction (whatever that is -- I'll have to look it up). Again, he was nice, but I just don't think I could handle working there. At first I thought, maybe it's just that high school kids aren't for me, but I've been fine working at the high school in Queens. The two schools are so different, though. At the school in Queens, no metal detectors, for one thing. And students and their families have to be with-it enough to choose to apply there, to audition, etc. It seems very ethnically and racially diverse, but I get the feeling the students tend to be mostly middle and upper-middle class. The other day, for example, two of the boys in the resource room were talking about how different pizza in Italy is from pizza in the U.S. -- they had both been to Italy. The school in Brooklyn is so new that I couldn't find any statistics for it, but I'm sure the school it shares a building with has a similar population, and at that school 95% of the students qualify for free lunch. It's a tough population, and I just don't have enough experience as a teacher and a classroom manager, especially in a gritty urban school, to feel like I can do the job justice.

I had a real comedy of errors getting to my Queens high school job after my interview in Brooklyn, by the way. First, I came up out of the subway and was walking to the school when I tripped and fell hard on my left knee. Because of the snow and ice? Of course not. It was the clearest, most dry sidewalk I'd walked on all day. I tripped over, apparently, nothing. A nice woman walking by grabbed the newspaper I'd been carrying before it could blow too far away, and asked if I was all right. I said yes and thanked her, and then limped on my way over the Queensboro Bridge -- on the side without a walkway. If you happened to be driving across the five-lane highway over the bridge yesterday and noticed a woman in a black coat staggering along the snowdrift at the edge of the road, trying desperately not to get hit by a car -- yes, that was me. At least the pain in my knee and the concentration required not to end up as roadkill made me forget the biting cold for a few minutes. ;O

Anyway, this weekend I'm going to the 7th Annual Metro NY Charter School Career Fair (http://www.charterschooljobs.com/) -- hopefully I'll get some interviews out of it!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Doing the beautiful

Mysticism and Esoteric Tradition in World Religions. That's the name of the continuing ed class I'm taking right now. (Another good title would be Comparative Religions 2: The Mystic Years. ) I'm really enjoying it. On the first night, the professor defined mysticism as union with the absolute reality -- in other words, pure being. She talked about how mysticism has similar features among the different religious traditions, and the idea that there's a 'collective unconscious' leading to those similarities.

"There are no final answers about mysticism or religion," the professor said, "but that doesn't mean the questioning is not worthwhile." She then read this quote from "Letters to a Young Poet," written by the poet Rainer Maria Rilke in 1903: "Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms, or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer."

I love that.

This week I stumbled onto the most beautiful phrase while reading a selection for class on Sufis (the mystics of Islam) from William C. Chittick's book "Sufism: A Short Introduction." Chittick explains that Islam has three basic dimensions: "submission" (islam), "faith" (iman), and "doing the beautiful" (ihsan). "Doing the beautiful" -- isn't that a wonderful expression?

Chittick writes: "The Prophet Muhammed...said that doing the beautiful is to 'worship God as if you see Him, for even if you do not see Him, He sees you'...It is the Sufis who take doing the beautiful as their own special domain...Both mercy and love are said to be the cause of creation. According to the great Sufi theoretician Ibn Arabi (d. 1240), the divine mercy that gives rise to the universe is existence itself. The very act of bringing things into existence is an act of gentleness and love. The same point is made in terms of love in a saying constantly quoted in Sufi texts: 'I was a hidden treasure,' God says, 'so I loved to be known. Hence I created the creatures that I might be known.'"

Makes a strong case for a benevolent God, doesn't it? You don't usually create something just to hurt it or destroy it. Chittick goes on to say that "human love makes itself known in sincerity of devotion to the One God. The greater the love, the greater the degree of participation in the divine image, and the greater the degree of human perfection. Hence 'love' is often taken as a synonym for doing the beautiful."

Doing the beautiful. I can't wait to read more about it.