Statistics and crime map…
Mar 15 Published in Remembrance, Reflections by Purple
This is a continuation of my journal from my 2001-2002 school year. Please read the previous posts to give this entry context. I apologize that the posts are coming in bigger chunks. I’ve been very busy with other writing-related activities—a book signing and panel in February for my murder mysteries, as well as a push to finish the sixth book for the series. My literary novel also made the first cut in Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Contest, moving from the initial 7,000 entries to a field of 1,000. J
Exchanging essays with another teacher is an invaluable experience. It provides insight into what at least one colleague is teaching and, for me, stimulates a lot of reflection about my own teaching.
Mark shared with me the materials he created, borrowed and used to prepare students for the observational essay. He has done a thorough job in preparing his students for the prompt, a much more thorough job than I did. I hope that my criticism doesn’t spring from professional jealousy. His students are scoring better, and deservedly so, on the rubric.
However, the more of the essays I read, the more they bother me. In responding to the essay prompt to write “about a weird or unusual person, place or animal,” the vast majority, if not all of his students, chose to write about a person. Time and again the person dressed bizarrely with frequent mention of mismatched socks, talked in a weird way (often to himself), and walked oddly. Sometimes I feel the students simply took the five-paragraph frame and plugged in previously discussed ideas, without any real person, place or thing in mind. In short, I suspect some of them didn’t do any actual observation at all. Either that, or they tweaked and/or exaggerated the real person to make him or her fit into the requirements of a five-paragraph essay.
The argument that students need the structure first seems valid, and yet this writing is somehow dishonest, and that, to me, is the ultimate crime. Do we want to teach our students to write dishonestly so that they can score well on a rubric or pass a test?
So, I’m looking at the fine materials and excellent teaching that Mark’s done and I’m trying to figure out what should be done differently as I construct a packet to teach the observational essay.
On Sunday my husband and I went on our usual harbor walk and stopped at Twin Lakes Beach where we hang out. It’s a locals beach with a couple of nets for volleyball and lots of small crafts pulled on to the sand. Only a small strip of five or six shops line the beach, including O’Neill’s and Save Our Shores. We stopped in the El Palomar Café to see when they were going to extend their hours for the summer season, and the girl we spoke to was a former student, Xochitl’s older sister. She has been working there for a long time, but we’ve never seen her because she works in the mornings. She was filling in for someone on Sunday.
The Six-Month Anniversary of 9/11 - Monday
I forgot the essays I had left to read at home! I couldn’t believe it. I called my husband and he drove them out to Watsonville for me. My hero!
Actually, it was a fairly productive day. After weeks of nagging, I finally got the computer technician to fix the cable on the ancient Mac in my classroom and I can now access the grading program I’m using. I got my sub plans together for my visit tomorrow to Aptos High. One of my colleagues reported that “God” is “ninety nine percent sure” we can stay in our rooms.
Amanda has been being nicer. She showed me her quincinera announcement. I opened the interlocking Roman numeral ten and Roman numeral five to read the time and place.
“Although you’re not invited,” she said.
“Not to be rude,” she added. “It’s for young people.”
She doesn’t know when to stop.
“I’ve been invited to quincineras before,” I informed her.
When I told the class who the sub would be, Amanda announced, “Not her. I hate that lady.”
Apparently when she had subbed for me back in October, she’d attempted to kill a bug and Amanda had decided the bug should not die and had probably tried everything short of artificial respiration to save it. The substitute had gotten irritated with the performance and had made Amanda toss the bug outside.
I have a theory, “bred of an airy word” (to quote Shakespeare). I think Amanda liked Mark and she stopped liking the class and started acting out when he left. Why do I think this? Intuition. I remember when we were performing our myths. Amanda was absent when groups were chosen and she ended up in a group with Mark and me. I think she didn’t mind because Mark was in the group.
Elizabeth had a stomach ache again. I’m beginning to wonder if she could be purging. “I’m just addicted to candy and I get sick if I eat when I’m not hungry.”
Apparently her parents are concerned. She’s supposed to be going to a doctor.
The Visit to Aptos High
The visit to Aptos High started badly. The freeway exit to Freedom Boulevard was backed up. Once I edged up to the four-way stop, there was no space to turn into the far lane, the one I needed to be in to enter the high school. So, I did what I had to do. I turned into the near lane, zoomed to the front of the line, and weaseled my way in front of a school bus.
The traffic crawled bumper to bumper up the forested hill to the official entrance to campus. It turned out that a campus supervisor had been asked to check parking permits. He was stopping each vehicle.
About the time I reached the checkpoint, the administration, which had ordered the check, realized how unworkable the plan was, probably as a result of parent or California Highway Patrol complaints.
The too-quickly-implemented, not-thought-out plan seems so typical of public schools. Why not randomly check for permits? Why not put several campus supervisors on permit-checking duty?
The traffic mess may have been a blessing in disguise. I didn’t know that Aptos started fifteen minutes earlier than Watsonville High School. The snarl of traffic meant everybody was arriving late, not just me. The fifteen-minute-earlier start time offsets the advantage I’d get from the shorter commute.
Things went smoothly for me after that. I instinctively chose the right building to be the office. I found Diane, trapped in the room where she said she’d be because the teacher who taught in the room first period hadn’t shown up yet and Diane couldn’t leave the students.
After talking with Diane for a while, I visited a Creative Writing class, taught by a former Watsonville High student that I knew. She was showing a film and had plenty of time to answer my questions.
I visited another class and walked around the wooded campus, sucking in the fragrance and noting all the chirping birds. Still, even though the neighborhood is middle and upper middle class, and the grounds are nice, there was plenty of litter on the steps leading into the campus, and all the buildings have the same grungy look as ours.
Some of the strikes against the high school, besides its earlier start are a shorter lunch, no book room, and the fact Diane may not be there next year. She is feeling the need for a change, too. She will be applying to the New Teacher Project.
The two biggest reasons to change to Aptos High are the more diverse student population and the escape from restructuring hell. Aptos is approximately forty percent Hispanic. The rest of the population is mostly white although there was a noticeable other: Asian, black, . . . . The student population reminds of the way Watsonville was when I started teaching there nineteen years ago. I really enjoyed that mix.
As far as the restructuring hell goes, well it is rather like the parking permit checks.
Return to Watsonville - March 13, 2002
When I entered my classroom, I immediately noticed it. No white board markers. No board erasers. I looked in the lectern. No white board cleaner. I checked my bag of prizes for students. Emptied. Someone had walked along the front of the room and stripped it.
I read the note from the substitute.
The last 2 minutes I let students stand up—someone took all the board markers, eraser, pencil sharpener. Also about 50 red rubber bands I had taken away from Edgar 4th period. I called campus supervisors and gave them the list of students in class.
Brandon. I just knew it. The sharpener had not been taken that day. It disappeared a couple of days ago. I’d talked to Brandon about it, because one of the other students had ratted him out. I simply acted like I knew who it was, and the other student, who is honest and not too bright, said, “Yeah, Brandon stuck it in his pocket.”
I’ve suspected Brandon before of being the person who kept ripping off the roll of Scotch tape. The theft is so peculiar. There’s nothing personal about the stuff he takes. He’s never touched my purse.
When the substitute and I talked, she said a “big kid with bushy hair” was “up by the board.”
It may be circumstantial evidence, but I’m ready to hang Brandon. I’ve written out the discipline referral asking for suspension. However, I’m going to attach a note requesting that A. Brandon be asked to return all the items or to pay $40 to cover the expense and B. Brandon be removed permanently from my classroom.
Brandon didn’t show up today. The campus supervisors probably took one look at the class roster and fingered him. Brandon, I’m sure, has a fairly thick dossier by now.
Thursday - The Ongoing Saga of Brandon
I went to Student Services to drop off the referral on Brandon and there he was sitting outside the office.
“You are the very reason I’m here,” I told him.
I didn’t stop to chat. I’m tired of being his advocate and NO ONE, and I mean NO ONE, double crosses me without stirring my vengefulness. I am no Gandhi or Mother Teresa. They say of us Taurus that we are patient; it takes a lot to antagonize us, but once we see red, watch out.
When the secretary had a chance to talk to me, and I said whom I’d come about, she motioned me into one of the offices.
“Are you Brandon’s sixth period teacher?” She started to thumb through referrals impaled on a paper holder. “Is this your referral?”
“Oh, no, I’ve come to add another one to the stack.”
Hooboy, I thought. Brandon must have gone on a rampage.
There’s a Student Study Team for Brandon on the twenty-eighth, but I wonder if he’ll make it until then.
When I was in the mailroom, another teacher informed me that my Site Council proposal was approved. Now I have to find two days to write curriculum on how to teach the writing of autobiographical incident and observational essays.
In the midst of all of this, teaching goes on. I’ve been having my students contemplate the yin/yang symbol and how that connects to the friar’s speech in Romeo and Juliet: O, mickle is the powerful grace that lies in plants, herbs, stones, and their true qualities. For naught so vile that on the earth doth live, but to the earth some special good doth give. Nor aught so good but, strained from that fair use, revolts from true birth, stumbling on abuse. Virtue itself turns vice, being misapplied. And vice sometime’s by action dignified.
We’ve been working on incorporating quotations in paragraphs, then paraphrasing and then illustrating the meaning with examples. The frame would begin like this: In Act __, Scene ___, of title, character verb, “Quote.” On Wednesday, the students wrote on the last line of the Friar’s statement.
Today, motivated by the rapidly approaching Santa Cruz County-wide High School Poetry Contest, I had the students look at the following poem, which I think connects beautifully to the idea of finding harmony or balance with opposites:
Swift Things Are Beautiful
Swift things are beautiful:
Swallows and deer,
And lightning that falls
Bright-veined and clear,
Rivers and meteors,
Wind in the wheat,
The strong-withered horse,
The runner’s sure feet.
And slow things are beautiful:
The closing of day,
The pause of the wave
That curves downward to spray,
The ember that crumbles,
The opening flower,
And the ox that moves on
In the quiet of power.
Day is good.
The sun brightens,
And the clouds go away,
The flowers grow,
And the sun goes down.
Night is good.
The stars glow,
And the comet
The planets grow,
And the moon goes in.