03 December 2008

Learning: It's not just for social studies anymore.

During a discussion in the library of how my seniors may end up in jobs they cannot even imagine today, as preparation for their research projects on career possibilities.

Librarian: So how do you picture the job market changing in the next twenty years?


Librarian: Is it possible that some careers you plan on might not exist twenty years from now?

(Finally, slowly, a lone hand.)

Jennifer: I mean, that's a really tough question to answer. We don't have all sorts of time to sit around and think, like Locke and the rest of them from the Age of Enlightenment did. All they did was think, and I can't imagine they ever envisioned something like the internet, for instance.

(All heads swivel toward Jennifer.)

Me: Jen, did you just refer to Locke in my class?

Jennifer: Yes.

Me: John Locke.

Jennifer: Yes. John Locke.

Me: L-o-c-k-e.

Jennifer: Yes. I like to use what I learn when I can.

Me: Hmm. Cool.

29 October 2008

Voices from the backseat: A little soothing mousse will do ya

I wish some of my students were as interested in their work as they are in my appearance. Each year, it seems that some feel they must comment on the way I look, often in a complimentary way, but occasionally with suggestions for improvement. This year, Grace seems particularly concerned that my hair is not as full and luxurious as she prefers.

On a bus ride home from visiting the State University College at Plattsburgh

Me: So how was the food today?

Blanche: It was scrumptious.

Me: Scrumptious?

Blanche: Scrumptious.

Me: I thought it was delectable.

Judith: What does that mean?

Me: The same thing as "scrumptious."

Grace (trying to fluff my rain-dampened hair from the seat behind me): You really need to add some volume to your hair.

Me: Judith, is she petting me?

Judith: I'm not sure.

Me: Jeez, Grace! My hair was a lot bigger before it got rained on!

Grace: I know. It's all right. I'm just trying to do what I can do.

Me: Hmmm.

Next day, as I sit at my computer before class begins

Grace (suddenly appearing behind me): So you didn't take my advice, I see.

Me: What advice?

Grace (as she pulls my hair back and fluffs it gently): About giving your hair some volume.

Me: I have a feeling you want me to spend more time on my hair than I'm willing to.

Grace (still fluffing, but more vigorously): Nope. You just need to work on it a little.

Me: I'll get right on that mousse, okay?

Grace: That's all I'm saying. A little mousse.

Me: If I get mousse, will you stay awake during class?

Grace: I can't promise that. You're not boring. It's just that your voice is so soothing . . .

Me (in a studiously low, soothing tone): O, Grrrrrrrrrraaaaaaaaaccccccce. I will trrrryyyy to give my hair volllllluuuuuummmmme if you try to stay awaaaaaaaaake. Deal?

Grace: Hmmm. Okay.

15 October 2008

Besides, every time I learn something new, it pushes some old stuff out of my brain.

As I try to use an LCD projector for the first time in three years . . .

Me (muttering to myself): . . . so this plug goes here, and then I have to . . .

Elizabeth: Miss Huth?

Me (on my knees under a table): Uh huh? Hang on. I have to plug this in.

Katherine: Um . . . Miss?

Blanche: Are you sure that goes there?

Me: Yes. Absolutely. Of course.

Katherine: But the light isn't on, and the computer monitor is blinking.

Me: Yup. S'posed to do that.

Katherine: Hmmm. I don't think so.

Me (tightening connections): There. Right?

Katherine: Oh. Yup. It's stopped blinking.

Elizabeth: So why isn't the projector light coming on?

Blanche: I mean, the light is supposed to be on.

Me: Um, I know.

Blanche: I'm just sayin'.

Sara: She's fine! She'll get it!

Me: Thank you, Sara. I appreciate your support. And may I just say that if I had had access to an LCD projector during the last three years, I would have this new one set up in no time. It's lack of practice.

Katherine: Do you want me to get Mr. G.?

Me: Mr. G.? Ha! I can do this myself!

Elizabeth (under her breath): Yeah, maybe by the end of the class . . .

Me: Hey! I'm right here!

Elizabeth: I mean, I have great faith in your ability to make this thing project onto the screen.

Me: That's better. Thank you. And look, that's the little button to turn it on.

Thomas: So . . . there's no light.

Me: And your point?

Thomas: Well, there's supposed to be light.

Me: Thank you. Yes. I know.

(Elizabeth, Blanche, Sara, Katherine and several others posit theories on why there is no light.)

Katherine (cautiously, after several minutes): Um, did you turn on the main switch?

Me: What?

Katherine: The main switch on the side of the cart.

Me: What swi . . . ? Man. No. Jeez.

(Blanche flips the switch and the projector shoots out a beam of light partly onto the wall but mostly onto the ceiling.)

Me: May I just say that I do know how to use technology? I mean, I do have an iPhone . . .

Sara: It's okay, Miss Huth. We know it's been a while.

Blanche (patiently): So now we have to lower the projector so it projects onto the screen, not the ceiling. See? You have to unscrew these little legs in front . . .

Me (heavy sigh): Oy. So this is what I've become. . . Look, I at least know how to do that.

Katherine: It's okay. We know. Now let's look at that SUNY Plattsburgh website, okay?

10 October 2008

Kentucky road trip essentials: GPS, sandwiches, and twenty-three 17-year-olds to share the driving

Some of my students have a hard time visiting colleges they might want to attend, so I provide them with opportunities to visit five or six different colleges over the course of the year. On Wednesday, we visited the State University of New York at Cobleskill, a great ag and tech college fairly close to home. Many of my students have attended Cobleskill over the last few years, and I am always impressed by the care the admissions staff takes with my students.

Today, I began class by asking my students what they thought of the school.

Me: So is anyone going to apply to SUNY Cobleskill?

Katherine and Douglas: It smelled like cows/It was just like a petting zoo.

Me: Really? What trip did you two go on?? And, by the way, that doesn't answer the question I asked.

(Rest of class murmurs agreement.)

Katherine: Well, it did smell like cows. And there were cows there.

Me: Uh huh . . . So how about we hear from someone who liked the college?

Katherine: But I did like it! It was peaceful, too, and I know I could get some work done.

Me: Oh. Okay. Traditionally, if you mention that a place smells like cows, most people don't take that as a positive. . . . so what else did you like about the campus? The programs?

Grace: The coffee was delectable.

Me: Really? Delectable? Wow.

Grace: Yes. Delectable. But the ice-cream was mad fake.

Me: Okay. Food quality is certainly one thing to consider when applying to colleges, but what about the possible majors? Or what the EOP director was telling you about?

Blanche: The dorm room was mad small.

Me: Actually, it's pretty large for a college dorm.

Blanche: Miss? I'm definitely applying, though. I really liked it.

Katherine: Me, too.

James: We should take a trip to that college with the free tuition.

Me: Hmmm. The one in Kentucky? That's an overnight.

Amanda: Yeah! We should do that!

Me: Honestly, the idea of doing an overnight trip gives me chills . . .

Thomas: Miss? What are you saying? That you don't have faith in us?

Me: No, I actually have great faith in you, but I'm also a realist.

(Class laughs knowingly.)

Me: Besides, that would be an expensive trip.

James: Naw, Miss, you can drive, and we'll pack food to eat.

Thomas: Yeah, and I"ll bring the GPS!

Amanda: We could take turns driving!

Me: O, good lord!

James: And we'll just drive through the night.

Michelle: Yup. We need to get on planning this right now. We can leave on some Friday.

Me: Hmmm. And when you say "we" you mean "me" (pointing to myself), right?

Michelle: Well, yeah.

Thomas: Hey! I got you covered with the GPS!

07 October 2008

Study halls said to breed OCD in some, slovenliness in others, study reveals

It is a rare and lucky teacher who has a classroom all to herself. At least at the secondary level, all of us, share classrooms. Granted, I am one of the lucky ones who teaches all of my classes in the same room; therefore, the room I'm in is considered to be mine. However, the reality is that at least four of us use the same room for various classes and study halls throughout each day.

Unfortunately, study halls are notoriously messy things; the teacher in charge is usually bored, and so are the students. Things happen to rooms during study halls that would not happen during an academic class (we hope). If, god forbid, a substitute is in charge of the study hall, there is no telling what damage might occur.

Today was a case in point. When I returned to my classroom after a study hall had used it, I found the following:

1. Nine pens under a student's desk. I mean, nine pens. They all work. I tried them. And then I put them in my pen can.

2. Two balled up and dirty kleenexes on the chair at my desk.

3. A half-empty seltzer bottle at my computer.

4. A graphing calculator.

5. A travel mug

6. My other chair on the opposite side of the room

7. Two newspapers spread out over five desks

8. A picture of genitalia in black Sharpie on one of my desks

9. My pile of New York Times articles divided into two piles scattered over a table.

And so I spent the first two minutes of my class cleaning up the study hall mess. Oy. If only study halls were useful things used for, I dunno, studying perhaps.

24 September 2008

Directives from the ceiling, stars in the closet and feet on the ground

(A voice from the ceiling interrupts a lively discussion of how to improve college application essays)

Disembodied voice: If you are assigned in-school suspension and walk out, you'll be suspended for two days. Some of you are going to ISS without being assigned, and if that happens you will get two days' suspension as well. You must be accompanied by a parent when you return, or you will be escorted off school property . . .

Me: Who goes to in-school without being assigned??

Grace: I know, right?

Disembodied voice: . . . you will not be allowed to return to school.

Donald: So much for talking about going to college . . .


Me: So I'm recommending that you check out AdmissionsAdvice.com to confirm what I've been telling you about your college application essays. You really need to make sure that they communicate some aspect of who you are that your grades and test scores won't show. We'll continue working on your rough drafts tomorrow. Any questions?

Alyssa (waving her hand in the air): Clay Aikens is gay! He came out yesterday.

Me: Alyssa, um, I don't think I actually called on you. And I don't think this has anything to do with college application essays . . . so . . . What??

Alyssa: And Lindsay Lohan has a girlfriend.

Me (to Jessica, as I point to my forehead): Is that frown line back? The one that happens when I'm confused?

Jessica: Oh yeah.

Me: Just checking. Alyssa, I'm very happy for them all.

Charles: And back to the discussion of our essays . . .

(Even later . . . )

Me: So how many of you got an idea for your essay from the brainstorming activity?
(Two hands go up out of 24)

Me: So how many of you wrote your brainstorming thing vertically, like a list?

Charles: Vertically? Um, I wrote complete sentences.

Amanda: Me, too.

Samantha: Yeah.

Katherine: Yup. Complete sentences.

Me: What? How many of you did your brainstorming in complete sentences?
(22 out of 24 hands go up)

Me: Why? I told you specifically that it should NOT be complete sentences, that you should just write whatever pops into your mind related to the topic.

Charles: That's just the way we roll.

Me: Oy. Yes, I am rolling my eyes at you, Charles. Let me get this straight. I tell you NOT to write complete sentences, and you do. If I tell you I WANT complete sentences, I get little bitty fragments with no punctuation. Huh??

Jacob: I think that's the way our minds work. We want to do the opposite of what people tell us to do.

Anna: Miss? I think it's because we have messy lives so we naturally try to put them in order, in sentences.

Me: I think I'll go with what Anna said, if you don't mind.

23 September 2008

Teacher punishment: Fire drills. Student punishment: Reading the New York Times

(Fire alarm rings as the class is two paragraphs into a four-page New York Times article about Berea College, a Kentucky college that provides free tuition to its low-income students )

Various student voices: Oh, thank goodness! About time! Woo hoo!

Me: Hey! I'm right here!

James: We're too tired to suck up right now.

Me: Hmmm. Too bad.

(Later, the fire drill over, the article read and written about)

Me: So did anyone write that they'd be interested in going to Berea?

Darren: I wouldn't go there. The education isn't good.

Me: The article doesn't discuss that, but why do you think this?

Darren: If the education is free, then it can't be worth anything.

Me: So. If I gave you a Jaguar, you'd turn it down?

Darren: What?

Me: If I gave you a fancy car like a Jaguar, you'd turn it down because it wouldn't be worth anything?

Darren: No, that doesn't make sense.

Me: Exactly. The Jag still costs a lot of money and is valuable, but I'm giving it to you. I'm just not making you pay for it. The free tuition is a gift to you. Just because it's a gift and doesn't cost you anything doesn't mean it's not valuable.

Darren: Ohhh. I guess. That makes sense.

Me: That's why I get the big bucks.

John (quietly to Donald ): You know, I bet she does.

Me: Only some days . . .

(In the hall)
Student: Did you hear about that fire last night?

Other student: Yeah! I heard the sirens!

Student: It was on my street. Man, seeing that house burn was hot!

(As the New York Times articles are being distributed)
Audrey: Miss? Are we reading New York Times articles as punishment? You said that last year's class had to read these after they lost all your books.

Me: Of course not! You haven't lost my books yet, so this is fun, not punishment.

17 September 2008

And other skills to file under "miscellaneous"

(During the last two minutes of the day, as Gerald takes his do-rag and snaps it in the air like a wet towel)
Monique (laughing): Do it again!

Gerald (as he obliges): Why are you laughing?

Monique: I don't know! I want to learn that!

Me (watching enthralled as the do-rag cracks in the air): Geez, Gerald. That's pretty good. Notice, however, the very wide clearance we've given you.

Gerald: Oh yeah. Don't worry. I practice a lot.

Me: I believe it. Nevertheless, I think we'll all stand back a ways . . .

Monique (still laughing): Man, I want to try that!

Gerald (as he coaches her on the proper technique): And then you snap your arm back like that.

Monique (as her attempt results in a mere rustle of nylon in the air): I need to practice, I guess.

Me (as Gerald now displays variations--snapping it ceiling-ward and floor-ward alternately): So this needs a name. What do you call it?

James: Do-rag whipping.

Me: That's pretty good.

Gerald (thinking for a second): Do-rag ninja.

Me (et al., laughing in agreement): That's perfect!

Monique: Now you need to do this on YouTube!

Darren: Hey! You should include this on your resume!

Me (head in hands as others enthusiastically agree): Oy. Perhaps not. We'll see . . .
Bell rings.

13 September 2008

A room without a view: Or I wonder what accountants dream of?

If I had stopped to think about it, I would have realized that I was overdue for a teacher dream. Although I went the whole summer without one, I woke up this morning, my first weekend after my first full week of school, straight from the throes of a fairly typical teacher dream.

My retired friend Gary was back teaching English, and he was telling me quite enthusiastically about his plans to begin the year with Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. We discussed this for a few minutes, and when he disappeared to teach his class, I decided to find my class. At this point, this turned into one of my more typical teacher dreams where I'm supposed to be somewhere but I either don't know it or can't find it. This time, I couldn't find my room.

I spent most of my dream wandering around a huge building filled with people that looked like a cross between my former school and my current school. I kept running into people I knew who seemed to know where they should be. I kept waiting to hear the dreaded, "Mrs. Huth, please report to your class" over the PA system.

In my dream, my room was AB21, a computer lab that is actually across from my real classroom, AB16. I felt frustrated that I couldn't find my familiar room in this familiar building so finally, I asked someone where my room was. The person I chose was a former department chair, infamous for her enthusiasm and optimism. She stood in the center of a beautiful room beneath a skylight and in front of a bank of floor-to-ceiling windows. The light streamed in, and I remember thinking that my room, the room I was looking for, was somewhat like hers.

When I told her that I couldn't find my room she smirked at me and told me my room was #3 Crosswoods. She added that that was where they put teachers who would teach eight classes in a row. I asked, Who in the world would do that? She said that they didn't know they were teaching eight classes in a row because they couldn't tell what time of day it was.

I eventually gathered, from random responses from those standing nearby, that while I was teaching my morning classes somewhere else, all my colleagues had met to choose their classrooms. Because I was the only teacher who hadn't chosen, they gave me the room no one else wanted.

I remember feeling vaguely unhappy as I mulled my room situation for the next year. I pictured a small, dark room with no windows. How else could those teaching in the room not be able to tell what time of day it was? Nevertheless, I also remember thinking, Oh well, at least I like my kids. They'll make the lousy classroom seem better.

And then I woke up. Hmmmm.

10 September 2008

Tell them they don't suck: Or how to build self-esteem among teenagers

I must assume that teachers respond similarly to the question that inevitably occurs early in the school year: How's it going? or How are your kids? or How are are your classes? Mostly, we respond with guarded optimism: Oh, they seem good! or Oh, they seem fine. or Well, they're freshmen (or 6th graders or kindergartners) after all. We understand that those first few days of school are gloriously different from the rest of the year.

If we are lucky (and have been around the block 21 or so times), our new students know us by reputation from cousins, siblings, aunts or uncles who had us back in the day and who (we hope) didn't hate us. Perhaps even thought we were entertaining. Or useful. Or not lame. If we are lucky and experienced, we enjoy the first few days of classes as a time to move quickly from point to point with classes we don't yet know. Since we don't know our students, we don't necessarily have to worry about them. We don't have any details, complications or background information to confuse our focus on the classwork at hand. No bad test scores, no unreadable essays, no phone calls home from the previous day to contend with. No history. Yet.

To be honest, it is a simple but boring time.

Finally, on about day four, they begin to emerge as known quantities with names and personalities. Monique is the one who looks sullen but breaks into a beautiful smile when I concur that being on drill team should be considered an athletic activity. Grace is the one whose mother I worked with for a few years and tells me that she knows I'm always patient. Dolores asks good questions about applying for college. Josh is very serious. Kevin asks me if I'm always calm and quiet. Darren makes me laugh when he tells me a story about a friend of his and former student of mine from last year. They become more comfortable, especially when I talk about applying to college. Instead of merely nodding at me when I speak to them of my hopes, my plans that they all attend college, they begin to honestly assess their chances and express their fears.

Me (moving around the room as they work on creating their résumés for college applications): You had a question?

Kevin: Not really. I just wanted to say that I suck.

Me: Um, why is that?

Kevin: Because I don't have anything to put on my résumé. I didn't play sports. I didn't belong to any clubs. Nothing.

Me: Well, um, did you have a job?

Kevin: Yeah, but that doesn't count.

Me: Sure it does.

Kevin: Oh. Okay. I'll put that down.

Judith: Miss? I suck too.

Me: Judith? What? Why do you suck?

Judith: Because I don't have anything either.

Me: Judith, you don't suck. Neither does Kevin. In fact, no one in this room sucks. We are incredibly un-sucky. And you all have something to include on a résumé.

Judith, Kevin, George, et. al: But . . . what about . . . yeah, but . . .

Me: None of you suck, okay?

Judith, Kevin, George, et. al (slowly, reluctantly, with a heavy sigh): Oh . . . o . . . kay . . .

Me: It will be fine. Now find a club to join.


Student: Miss? I listed this as community service, but what if they ask me why I did it?

Me: Um, I don't think they'll ask you that. But why are you wondering?

Student: Because I don't think I can give them a good answer. Maybe I shouldn't include it.

Me: Colleges like to see community service on a résumé. What's the problem?

Student: Well, I had to do the community service. . .

Me (patiently): And . . . ?

Student: . . . because I was arrested.

Me: Oh.

Student: See?

Me: Well, you don't have to tell them why you performed the community service. I don't think they'll ask.

Student: Really? Oh, good!

Other student: Miss? Should I put a job on my résumé if I got fired?

Me: Um, have you thought about joining a club here at school?

25 June 2008

My own private Rapa Nui

School is strangely quiet now. We are finishing grades, completing paperwork, cleaning rooms and in some small way, preparing for the fall. I'm essentially done today, except for turning in my keys and attending graduation on Friday. Other years, I would probably still be trying to finish everything, but this year, for some reason, I finished early and fairly painlessly. I'm enjoying the quiet and using it to plan for changes to my senior English class next year. And I'm reading the New York Times. A lot. To find articles to use next year because my students lost all my books when I was out. And drinking lots of coffee. Often.

In the midst of my googling a comparison of Fender and Gibson guitars, I was startled to see a student rush into my room. Rush is not exactly the right word. Surge is probably more like it. I've had him for two years now, and he always enters my room the same way: Right shoulder first, head down a little, surging sideways and surprisingly quickly over the threshold and straight to the bank of windows at the other side of the room. As if forcing himself through invisible combatants. As if the end of the room is the only thing that will slow his momentum.

When he reached the windows, a wave hitting a rocky shoreline and rolling back out to sea, he surged gently back to my place, back toward the door, to finally hover behind me, just out of my peripheral vision.

Douglas: So you're all done!

Me: Yup. I just finished cleaning my desk.

Douglas (pacing behind me over my right shoulder): Looks good!

Me: Thanks.

Douglas: Which head would you like?

Me: Um, excuse me?

Douglas (presenting me with two pretty much life-size photocopied cut-outs of his head, neck and a tiny bit of t-shirt collar): Which one do you like?

Me: Um, I like them both, but may I have this one?

Douglas: Sure! Let me just trim it a little bit.

Me: No, that's okay. It looks fine! Thanks!

Douglas: Now you can hang me on your wall! You'll have to find a place!

Me (as I clip the head to my bulletin to my left and directly behind my left shoulder):How about if I put you here for now? I'll rearrange it in the fall.

Douglas: That looks good. Now I'll always be watching and you'll remember me.

Me (as he surges back out the door, ostensibly to deliver the remaining "head" to a colleague):Of course I'll remember you . . .

17 June 2008

Whoa, slow down there maestro. There's a "New" Mexico?

I've found myself with an unhealthy interest in my site meter. In particular, I enjoy checking the search words visitors have googled or yahooed to end up at my site. Unfortunately for them, this little blog never helps them with their search.

The most popular search by far is for "the noise next door," a punkish group from England, apparently. Little did I know. My blog's name refers merely to the occasional noise emanating from classrooms surrounding my very quiet one. If the visitor is British, Canadian or Indian, he is probably searching for this musical group. I suppose I should listen to them sometime.

The second most popular search is a fairly new phenomenon. If the visitor is from Florida, Texas, Tennessee, Georgia, New Mexico or Arizona, I can be pretty sure that he is looking for information about "tractor tattoos." Oy. Really? Hmmm.

Another popular search is for "fish scale purses." Those searching for "Mary Poppins spoons" end up at the same entry.

While it's easy enough for me to question why someone might be interested in learning about "fish scale underwear," "what black people smell like," "tattoo texting" or (most disturbing) "paying to be shot," I have to accept this fact: I'm the one writing about these topics. Okay, I may not even be aware that this is what I'm writing about, but nevertheless, search engines send people to me looking for information about things that are very strange, possibly illegal and certainly, at the least, in questionable taste.

It's enough to make me read my entries with an eye to potential search phrases. An entry I wrote on 16 June for my father mentions "wool skirt," "knee socks" and "Camelot" from Monty Python. I eagerly await the possibilities.

15 June 2008

On second thought, let's not go to Camelot. It is a silly place.

When I was in high school, my father used to joke about how his fantasy daughter would dress. She would wear wool skirts, knee socks and (I think) cardigan sweaters. I can't quite remember if penny loafers were part of this.* Unfortunately, the teenage daughter he ended up with favored Levi 501s with flannel shirts over T-shirts that said, "Swimming suits me."

On the surface, we seemed to be opposites: his academic interests were in science and math, and his strengths were in all subjects; my interests and strengths were in English and history. He was third in his class of over 700 (that nameless position, which our family coined "goobetorian" just for him); I was somewhere in the middle with a pretty solid B+ average that could have been much better had I worked harder. He was gregarious; I was shy.

As we both get older, I realize that he may have given me more than I noticed as a teenager and that ultimately, we are more similar than not.

When I say something that makes my students laugh, or when they make me laugh, I see my dad's sense of humor. Because of him, I can appreciate the broad, the ironic, and the just plain silly, and I'm grateful for the time we spent watching Monty Python and Laugh-In, even when I didn't get all the jokes.

When my son or daughter protests about my paying for something and I tell them that "it's all the same money," I hear my father telling me that as he pays for our plane fare to visit or refuses a contribution toward a restaurant bill.

When I imagine a life beyond my job, I see my dad learning to paint, learning to ski, learning to play banjo, remodeling an old Victorian house, an Adirondack camp, figuring out how to build a backyard skating rink, a deck, a pergola, a dock. I see him sitting on a boat with a book in his hand, walking to the post office. I see him enjoying the people around him, offering help, friendship.

As I learn, slowly, how to handle life's surprises, I see my father appreciating the ironic, the absurd, the difficult, and handling them without anger, dismay or despair.

I actually have a picture of myself wearing a plaid wool skirt, knee socks, penny loafers and a sweater. It doesn't really look like me. Somehow, Dad always made me feel he appreciated me despite our seeming differences--no small feat when the daughter of a science teacher had trouble passing her Chemistry Regents with a 65.

*My father has since pointed out that the preferred shoes were saddle shoes, not penny loafers (16 June 2008).

09 June 2008

They shoot horses, don't they? or Two horses walk into a bar . . .

Dan: Lemme tell you a joke.

Me: Oh lord.

Dan: It's a good one. Two horses went into a barn . . .

Me (interrupting): Bar or barn?

Kevin: I'm leaving if this joke has the word "neigh" in it . . .

Dan: Barn. So the one horse says, "Did you hear that George is in the hospital?" The other horse says, "So, how's he doing?" The first horse says, "Oh, he's stable."

Me (to Kevin): I think I would have preferred hearing the word "neigh."

Kevin: Oh yeah.

Dan: Hey! I almost got low blood sugar last night from thinking that up!

Me: What?

Dan: I had to get up in the middle of the night to write that one down!

Me: Wait. You wrote that one yourself?

Dan: Yeah.

Me: Hmmm. I hate to say it, but I think I have to give you a tiny teeny weeny increase of props for writing it yourself.

Kevin: No, I don't think you need to do that.

Me: Kevin, believe me, it hurts to say that, but I do.

Dan: Hey, thanks, Huth!

Me: Dan, that doesn't mean it's a good joke or anything.

Dan: Yeah, but if it had been really bad, it would have gotten the "Huth eye roll."

02 June 2008

You know what I blame this on the breakdown of? Society.

During a discussion of a New York Times article on curbing truancy with electronic monitoring systems, with an eye toward creating a persuasive argument, and as the more vocal members of class voice their opinions about how the chronically truant adversely affect the lives of those who diligently attend school--

Joe: I mean, those kinds of kids, the ones who are truant, they're not going to change just because they're wearing a GPS.

Jess: They might. If I had to wear one, I'd change.

Me: It is true that attendance does not necessarily equate academic success . . . I'm thinking that while Justin certainly is here in body, he's so busy texting right now that he has no clue what we're discussing . . .

(Justin sheepishly looks up and pretends to put his phone away.)

Roger: If the tracking device was really big and obvious, then it might make a difference. Like if it were around their necks . . .

Me (interrupting): What?

Roger: . . . with spikes to stick into their necks . . .

Me (interrupting again): What??

Joe: Naw, you don't need spikes. You just need to make them stand out, so everyone would know they were truancy problems.

(Tired groans from the rest of the class)

Me: So, you're suggesting a way to make it obvious that this group of kids is a problem, right?

Joe: Right.

Me (tilting head, scrunching mouth thoughtfully): So . . . we need a way to identify this particular group as a problem . . . (thinking some more) . . . I think the neck-thing would be difficult to manage . . . What if we tried something else . . . something simpler . . .

Adele (under her breath): Oh, lord . . .

Alex (under his breath): Wait for it . . .

Me: How about making all the truancy problems wear something to make them stand out somehow? We could make them wear, I dunno, a brightly-colored star or something on their clothes . . .

(Adele, Hosna, Alex, et. al. variously snorting and attempting to suppress laughter)

Me: . . . something so we could all know that these kids are different from us and that we, those who regularly attend school, are better.

(Exaggerated sighs and heavy eye-rolling from the truancy lynch posse.)

Me: Ah, yes. That's why I get the big bucks. And just remember why we're reading all these articles now . . .

Class: . . . because all your books disappeared when you were out . . .

28 May 2008

Oh boy! Sleep! That's when I'm a Viking!

Last night I had one of those dreams where I thought I had a great idea for a blog post. In my dream, I wrote about some hilarious thing that happened in one of my classes, and I remember thinking, "God, this is pretty darn funny! Erin will read it to Anna, and they'll both laugh!" Then I thought, "But this is a dream. Did this really happen? Will I remember it tomorrow?"

Today, I find myself with no memory of the post's content, and no sense of whether it really was based on reality. Oh well. Duh.

I spent today listening intently to my classes, hoping for writing fodder, feebly grasping at moments of levity, incongruity and insight, all of which slipped from me as I answered the intercom, or gathered back work, or had to leave my room to make way for another teacher.

I finally gave up.

Because I am a person firmly grounded in reality I will offer today's statistics in lieu of my fantasy post.

6: Number of Saturdays until I visit Nora in Venice.

5: The average number of seniors absent from each class today.

4: The number of phone calls I made (in between classes) trying to arrange to pay my son's tuition for the fall.

3: The number of seniors who told me they don't think they'll graduate this June because they still haven't passed a Regents exam they should have passed in 10th grade.

2: The number of students who showed up to mod 8 whom I hadn't seen in a week and a half.

2: The number of former students who came back to visit me with excited reports about their first year in college.

2: The number of beers I drank on my deck when I got home from school.

1: The number of seniors who told me they're pregnant.

1: The number of seniors who told me they're about ready to drop out of school even though graduation is on June 27th.

1: The number of former students' obituaries I found in today's paper.

1: The number of boxes of already-opened granola bars I received because they "tasted like bark, and I know you like to eat healthy."

All in all, it was a good day. Or at least it was a normal day.

22 May 2008

Will you be my mommy? You smell like dead bunnies . . .

Random discussion before class begins
Quinci: So Boo-Boo is bigger than you, right?

Yogi: Yeah. My brother's a lot heavier. And taller. That's why everyone always says, "Hey! Boo-Boo can't be bigger than Yogi!"

During a class discussion of a review of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Me: So the first Indiana Jones movie came out in 1981.

Cheryl: Wow. That was a long time ago. How old were you? 16?

Me: You just got some extra points. No. I was 20.

Quinci: 20. Wow. My mother is younger than you.

Me: Hmmm. Yes. Well, anyway . . .

Guy: So you're . . .

Me: Yes. I'm dumb old. Wait. Should I say "mad old" instead?

Jamie: Yeah. "Mad old" sounds better.

Me: Okay. So. Back to the review . . .

Cheryl (interrupting): So was that Indiana Jones movie in black and white?

Another random discussion during the last two minutes of class
Cheryl (to Yogi): Does your house smell like curry?

What? Why?

Guyanese people smell like curry.

Yogi: My house doesn't smell like curry.

Breenah: White people smell like spaghetti.

Cheryl: And when it rains, they smell like wet dogs.

Me: What? Wet dogs?

Yogi: I don't know about that.

Me: What??

Quinci: What do Pakistani people smell like?

Cheryl: Curry.

Yogi: Does everyone smell like curry?

Breenah: No. Black people smell like must.

Quinci: Hey! I don't smell like that.

Breenah: Well, just the boys, and if they don't shower.

Me: Wait a minute. I smell like wet dogs??

Yogi: No, you don't. Cheryl just thinks everyone smells like curry anyway.

Me: So why don't I smell like curry??

Cheryl: No, I mean, white people have pets, and when it rains, they smell like their . . .

Yogi (interrupting): Do you just look at people and see them as food? I bet you do.

Cheryl (laughing): No, I mean, maybe . . .

Yogi: See? It's true! She does!

Me: Wait. I smell like wet dogs? And spaghetti? Why can't I smell like curry?

No, Miss. You smell fine. But we'll say you smell like curry if you want us to.

13 May 2008

Me fail English? That's unpossible.

Mark: How long is this movie review supposed to be?

Me: I told you on the assignment sheet I gave you yesterday, and which is sitting on your desk right in front of you.

Mark: It's easier for you to tell me.

Me: No, it's actually not.

Jen: So we're writing about two movies? Comparing them?

Me: What? No. Look at the assignment sheet, which I distinctly remember going over in class yesterday and which you have in front of you. It says write about one movie that you choose.

Jen: So it does it have to be one we did in class?

Me (taking a deep breath): Any movie that you choose. It could be one we saw during class, or it could be one you saw on your own, in a theater or at home.

Jen: But I didn't see all of Stranger Than Fiction last week. I was absent, remember?

Me (taking a deeper breath): That's why the assignment can be about ANY movie you want to write about.

Anthony: I bet you're having us write about a movie because we didn't read the book you left when the sub was here and they all disappeared.

Me: That's a good guess, Anthony.

George: But Miss, five to seven paragraphs is mad long. I can't write that much.

Me: Don't worry about the length right now. Just get started on one point and get that part roughed out. Besides, paragraphs can be all different lengths . . .

George (interrupting): No, they're supposed to be three or four sentences long.

Me: Where did you learn that??

Kira: So how long is this supposed to be?

Me (head buried in hands, groaning audibly): Read the assignment sheet again, please.

George: Miss, why do you stress yourself about us? You should just let us take the easy way.

(Murmurs of agreement from other parts of the room.)

Me: Hmmm, let me think about that . . . . um . . . . no.

George: Miss, I'll be honest with you. I've just been doing the bare mininum this year.

Me: Thanks for making that clear.

11 May 2008

Because of skunk mittens, spelling tests and guitar chords

My mother likes to tell the story that she knew she was supposed to be a teacher when she gave a spelling test for the first time. Somehow, she knew that she was meant to teach, which she did for many years. While I had no similar portent of my destiny, I have to believe that I became a teacher, in large part, because of my mother.

She also has helped determine who I am in other ways:

Because I stood beside her in our kitchen in Rochester watching her make a pie crust, using the backside of a fork to crimp the edges, I know how to bake.

Because she knit me hats and scarves and especially skunk mittens, and even more importantly, patiently showed me how to do it, I knit and have been able to teach this to my own daughter.

Because she carefully and kindly corrected my writing assignments, I am a confident writer.

Because she wanted to ski, I learned how to ski and skate and love the cold winter months.

Because she was a beautiful and strong swimmer, I learned how to swim. And because of how she taught me to swim, I learned how to teach others.

Because she taught me that being a lifeguard was an important job, I took the job seriously.

Because she was a voracious reader, I love books.

Because she taught herself how to play guitar, I play guitar. When I haltingly switch from C to G, and the song briefly hiccups, I hear her switching chords and hesitantly, quietly, singing at the dining room table.

Because she loved music and always wanted to play the piano, I learned how to play piano and cello and bassoon and drums and guitar.

Because she loved horses, she let me learn how to ride and eventually have a horse of my own.

Because she thought Caroga Lake was the most wonderful place in the world, the camp there remains my favorite place as well.

Because she let me up-end furniture and drape blankets over it, I learned to imagine other worlds.

Because she let me make peanut butter, onion and Worcestershire sauce sandwiches, I feel free to experiment with flavors when I cook.

Because she made me pancakes for supper on Fridays, I love breakfast anytime.

Because she let me use scotch tape on the windows, I know that any mess can be cleaned up afterward.

Because she didn't make me wear a white dress and veil for my first communion, I learned that we don't always have to do things the way everyone else does.

Because she always saw the best in her students, I try hard to do the same.

Because she is a strong woman, I know that I have strength when I need it.

In these ways, this incomplete list, I understand who I am and how and why I came to be.

09 May 2008

I heard that Ramon got a horse and carriage

Today is the day of my school's junior/senior prom. It is a day of magic and beauty and anticipation and multi-colored fake fingernails and head scarves covering rollers and elaborate, humidity-sensitive do's and discussions of whose stretch Humvee is the longest. It is a day that my district requires all potential prom-goers to attend school for at least half the day--until 10:40 a.m. It is, as all teachers of juniors and seniors realize, a wasted day.

Morning classes are full, but those in attendance are too busy worrying about hair appointments, dress fittings, manis, pedis and limo rentals to really pay attention to any class assignment. After 10:40, classes are empty. The only students who remain are those with really strict parents or those who are not attending the prom. My children, with four proms between them, remained at school the entire day of each prom day. I hope they have forgiven me. Partly to make it up to my lovely, long-suffering and understanding children, Erin and Tim, I always try to plan a useful lesson for prom day despite the loud and regular protests of my students.

A very short play about the futility of teaching, not just on prom day

(The class buzzes hopefully, quietly discussing the slight possibility that I might give them a "free day.")
Me: Haven't you learned by now that I'm not accepting lame excuses like the prom as a way to avoid work? Haven't you managed to avoid enough work this year?
Dan: We've done plenty of stuff this year. We should get a day off. I mean, we read Hamilton, and everything.
Me: What??
Dan: We read Hamilton.
Me: What?? . . . Hamilton? . . . . . . (as a sudden and horrible possibility slowly dawns) . . . . . by William Shakespeare?
Dan: Exactly.

28 April 2008

Texting, tractors and tattoos

During a discussion of a New York Times article on technology in the classroom, my students shared some insight. They prefer to text (while attempting to hide the phone under the desk, leaning against lockers, slouching down the hall and most scary of all, while driving a car) to making an actual call.

Why? I asked. I am a person who (despite the fact that I touch-type really well) texts with an index finger while holding the phone rather delicately in my left hand. And it annoys me to have to omit punctuation, which I do because I'm too lazy to look up the way to include it.

Because, Quinci told me, we don't know how to end phone calls. It's mad hard to do and makes us uncomfortable.

Don't you think, I asked, you should know how to do that? It's not that hard. It's part of being polite and learning the social graces.

No. It's mad uncomfortable. Plus, you can lie when you text and they won't hear it in your voice.

A short play about my cell phone

Kevin (to me): I think your phone is vibrating.
Me: Oh, that's okay. Just ignore it.
Sherelle: What if it's your husband?
Me: It's okay. He'll figure out that I have class and I'll call him back.
Sherelle: But you answered the phone yesterday! Just because he was out of town and you were worried about him!
Me: I know. He's home now. It's fine. Besides, you all had a fit when I answered my phone at the beginning of class DESPITE THE FACT THAT I'M A GROWN-UP.
Sherelle (to the class): What if he's stuck under a tractor? What if he needs your help because he's just stuck under a tractor?
Me: What? Lord . . . he's not stuck under a tractor.
Sherelle: But . . .
Me: And if he is stuck under a tractor, it's too late for me to help him anyway. So let's try to focus on this reading . . .

Finally, an even shorter play about tattoos

Quinci: I'm going to get a tattoo on each wrist that says carpe diem.
Katie: What? What is that?
Quinci: It means "seize the day."
Guy: Watch, you'll get Alzheimers some day and look at your wrists and be like, what? is that my name? carpe diem?

23 April 2008

And it's not even my birthday.

Small gifts I received today from students, and a big gift from a friend:

From Dan: A series of bad jokes that made me groan first thing in the morning. (Well, this actually happens every day . . . )

From Jess: A small sailboat folded out of notebook paper labeled "S.S. Huthy."

From Andre: Closed curtains that I couldn't otherwise easily reach.

From someone in mod 1: A slightly dirty kleenex left on a desk.

From Elizabeth in mod 3 English 12: Good news that she was able to complete her Tuition Assistance Program form and therefore complete her financial aid application to the college she will attend in the fall, Russell Sage.

From Eric, mod 6 English 12: A copy of a New York Times article about credit recovery, today's discussion/lesson, with a drool spot.

From mod 8 English 12: A truly thoughtful and mature discussion of the same New York Times article, with only two attempts to sidetrack the lesson, neither of which was successful.

From Gary, my friend: The promise that he would spread the rumor that I was a dangerous person to be reckoned with, that he would tell people, "Don't mess with Huth. She'll cut ya."
(I'm still not sure what prompted this, but sadly, I like it.)

From Katie: A great, if inadvertant, joke, when confronting the word "anonymity."
("Miss?" she asked. "Isn't that where Nemo lives?" As I tried not to laugh, she started to laugh herself and said, "Oh, no. That's . . . " and the entire class said as one, "Anenome." Two minutes lost from class, but well worth it.)

Finally, also from Gary: My 28-year-old Yamaha FG-335 guitar.*
(After he called me a lazy-ass for not playing anymore, he took it away and had it fixed and reconditioned. It has been unwarped, restringed, and oiled. It is a beautiful thing. If only it sounded beautiful when I played the three chords I still remember . . . and he will not tell me how much this cost. I am afraid, however, that I will be required to play "Smoke on the Water" for him at some point.)

*I received my guitar from my parents for Christmas in 1980 when I was a freshman in college. In this other life, attending a Catholic women's college in hyper-preppy Burlington, Vermont, I happened to be friends with people who were completely insane every weekend, spending Saturday night at whatever UVM kegger was advertised, but who still managed to play for folk mass Sunday morning. And so I began a short period of embracing my Catholicsm. It was a scary time. It was a short time. Nevertheless, I did get a beautiful guitar out of it, which I continued to use fairly regularly until a friend popped a string on it, which I was too lazy to replace. And so there my poor guitar sat, unused, unloved, warping and getting old, in my son's bedroom.)

I should mention that Gary tells me that aside from my being a lazy-ass, he had the guitar fixed for me because I gave him my piano (another gift from my parents. I'm a very lucky girl).

I'm pleased to note that Gary, much less of a lazy-ass than I, has been using the piano to play and to write songs. And it looks lots better in his house. Sadly, more use than it got for years sitting in my house.

What I did realize, however, is that I have no way to tune my guitar now. I will have to call Gary and have him play me a low E.

I will now work on my calluses.

14 April 2008

It's all about perspective and scrub jays

I don't trust people who read self-help books. Or who watch Oprah. To be fair, perhaps these poor souls don't have the luxury of smart, sensible friends, as I do. Whenever I find myself wallowing in doubt, beating myself up or merely thinking too damn much, my friends usually set me straight.

Case in point: I woke up this morning at my parents' home on the Gulf coast of Florida. The sky was blue, the weather was warm, it was spring break. Where was I? Outside enjoying the sun? Appreciating my wonderful vacation time? Nope. I was inside, writing to Nora about how bothered I was that I hadn't felt like writing lately, and myriad other issues. Her response?

"Just dry your hair and go to the beach, Huth."

Ahhh, friends.

While I did not go to the beach until later, I did visit a state park. On the trail, I spotted a scrub jay. As one does with scrub jays (apparently), I stuck out my hand and clicked my tongue a bit. A jay swooped from the brush and landed on my hand while the other watched. After a minute or two, this jay flew off, and the other one swooped in to land on my head. Suddenly, my purpose was clear: I was a perch, an amiable resting spot, a way-station for the convenience of wildlife.

Actually, I felt quite peaceful. And useful.

Later, when I did make it to the beach the sun had just set, and the surf was rough. The wind had kicked up, and if I had been home, I would have said that the clouds looked like they held snow. The sunset-watchers had left, and the beach was empty. I stood there for a bit, holding my jacket close to me.

There is nothing like going to the beach, or having a large blue bird standing on your head, to provide perspective.

01 April 2008

Facts are meaningless. You could use facts to prove anything that's even remotely true!

Today was my first day back at school after being out since March 6. While I was looking forward to seeing my kids, I was not eager to return to the routine of being up before daylight, living according to bells, and the general mess that awaits a teacher who's had a substitute for this long.

Some significant numbers with which to document my day:

115: The number of pages I left my students to read during class.
35: The number of books I left for my students to read during class.
33: The average number of pages that were actually read.
27: The number of students who unabashedly told me they did nothing in my absence because they didn't like the sub.
17: The number of days I was absent because of my husband's heart surgery.
16: The number of days my sub apparently entertained my classes by performing magic tricks.
15: The number of feet a hawk was sitting from my window as he ate a pigeon, neck first.
12: The number of students who actually completed the work I'd left.
11: The number of days until spring break.
9: The number of hours I spent at school today trying to clean up my sub's mess.
9: The number of hours I'll spend tomorrow at school trying to clean up my sub's mess.
8: The number of the "mod" or period where this exchange occurred.*
4: The number of books that I found this morning upon my return.
3: The number of classes I alternately lectured, ranted at and made feel guilty today. I'll do the other class tomorrow. And I'll probably go back and do the same to the other classes as well.
3: The number of dry erase markers that disappeared.
2: The number of hours I'll spend tonight trying to clean up my sub's mess.
1: The number of lamp chops I will make for dinner (it's a big one).
1/2: The amount of a bottle of wine I will consume as I try not to think too much about my students.
*Kathy: Miss! Did you read about me in the paper last week? I was stabbed in the butt!
Me: Um, what?
Kathy: Yeah! So I was at a party . . .
Me (interrupting): Kathy, I'll let you tell this story if you can do it in under 3 minutes.
Kathy proceeds to tell the story in 2 minutes and 47 seconds.
Me (realizing I had, in fact, read this story in the paper): O, lord, Kathy. That was you?!
Kathy: Yeah, and that's why I can't sit still today, even though they gave me a shot of amnesia.

(Later, as they're writing and some tiny discussion pops up)
Me: Hey! Hush now, and keep writing! You took the last three weeks off, and you have no business talking now.
Guy, Cheryl, Sherelle, et. al.: Okay! Okay! We're writing!
Me (sarcastic): Because if the writing is too much, I suppose I could grade you for breathing . . .
Kathy: It would help.

24 March 2008

Remnants, Residue and Right

Today, I put my son on a train back to school, and Friday, I put my daughter on a train back to her home in New York. For a long time, I could never imagine my house without my kids. When my daughter went to college, I remember saying to my husband about our house minus one, "This is not the way it's supposed to be." We were a family of four, and one was someplace else. It just wasn't right.

When my son went to college last fall, I didn't expect it to feel better. And it didn't. We were a family of four, and now we were down to two. We were the incredible shrinking family, and while I realized that we all were going to be fine, that it was the necessary chain of events, that eventually, our family would grow again in wonderful ways, it still just wasn't right. And while I do not hover about my children or mourn their absence, and while I am thoroughly happy that they are able to develop their own lives away from their father and me, I do miss their presence in untold ways.

The reason that I'm considering this now, however, is because they've both been home for about two weeks, an unusual event caused by their father's recent heart surgery. Before this, time together for more than a weekend was rare and required the merging of four divergent school and work schedules.

However, after I put my son on the train today, I returned home to realize that even after they've left, my children always make their presence known.

From my daughter:
Two crumpled kleenexes on the bookcase.
A borrowed-from-Mom St. Rose hoodie, a University of Miami sweatshirt, a pair of shredded sweatpants and a yellow Factsheet Five t-shirt on a chair.
Amnesia Moon, by Jonathan Lethem, and A Long Desire, by Evan S. Connell, on the printer.
A green blanket cum dog lounging spot on the floor by the bed.
A borrowed-from-Mom black sweater astride the other bookcase.
A toolbox holding jewelry-making supplies on the livingroom coffee table.

From my son:
A futon left opened (which, unfortunately, no one here at home is capable of or has knowledge of how to close).
Various and sundry bedding material including a crumpled pillow, comforter, Grammommy-knit afghan and pillows from the loveseat in the livingroom.
An empy Wii game box (game to be found at SUNY Purchase).
A Game Cube.
The 4th, 5th and 8th seasons of The Simpsons on DVD.
The Special Extended Edition of The Lord of the Rings Return of the King.
Ocean's Twelve.
No Country for Old Men.
An A & F bag holding a size 13 Van's Bucky Lasek Navy/STV Navy shoe box.

It does not bother me to clean up these bits and pieces of my children's presence. In fact, I almost enjoy finding their residue, their remnants. Somehow, it tells me that this is still home, that they know it's okay to pack hurriedly the hour before they must make their train, to leave the unnecessary bits out on a chair or a bookcase or a radiator, for me to pick up later. It's fine. And somehow, while I'm happy to know that they are happy to go back to their lives away from here, I'm happy to slowly pick up their bits and pieces knowing that this is the way it's supposed to be, that it feels right.

21 March 2008

Toddlers, cockers and pills

Being home for a few weeks has given me a new set of "dreams in which I realize my shortcomings." Instead of students staging coups, this new dream involves the pills Geof takes after his heart surgery. These dream are much quieter than those involving students and revolt. In the medicine dreams, I simply forget to provide the proper medicine. Or I give too much. Or I lose the medicine. In this morning's dream (not coincidentally after I dispensed the first medicine of the day and went back to sleep), I not only forgot to provide medicine, but I also lost it and even worse, discovered a whole new set of medicine I'd forgotten about and had failed to dispense. As this horrible realization washes over me, I notice that the car I have been driving has turned to a motorcycle in the pouring rain. Not a good thing, since I have no idea how to drive a motorcycle. Plus I'm getting soaked.

At this point, the pill theme disappears, and as I open a door to an attic in a house that isn't mine, three toddlers and two cocker spaniels escape. Somehow, I am able to round them up and stuff them back through the door and close it before their parents/owners appear. At this point I'm awakened by the repetitive vibration of Geof's cell phone on a table, and our nurse-friend, Prestine, is calling him to find out how he is feeling.

As in the student insurrection dreams, I am appalled by my lack of competence. This time, however, there is no public reprimand. Why I'm dreaming about dispensing medicine is clear enough; I'm doing this several times a day, and last night, I gave the 8:00 pills at 8:28. Why? Because I just forgot. Not a big deal, but apparently bothersome enough to appear in a dream.

The toddlers and cocker spaniels in the attic? I'll have to think about them for a while.

19 March 2008

408 hours (not counting weekends)

By the end of this month, I will have missed 17 days of school, the most consecutive days ever (by far) in 20 years of teaching.

7 days more than I took for the birth of my son.

17 days for my husband grudgingly to allow me to help him after heart surgery.

17 days to get caught up on work.

17 days to do the laundry whenever I want.

17 days to miss at least 5 deadly after-school meetings.

17 days my alarm will not ring at 6:00 a.m. but at 8:00, according to the pill schedule.

17 days to appreciate the sort of freedom my retired friends enjoy.

17 days . . .

to receive emails from students: "hey huth we should watch the movie only Farshid and me and Liz are reading the book"

and "Hey mrs huth how is your husband clas is not as fun with out you. Hope yout husband gets sonn take care."

17 days to get calls from my sub, quiet desperation in his voice, asking me to please send in work that my students would want to complete.

17 days . . .

to realize that my home can be anywhere.

to know that my house is one of my favorite places despite its leaky and cracked spots.

to find that nesting instinct returning from so long ago as I try to make my son's room comfortable for my husband and me, as my daughter and I try to find a chair that will allow him to sleep comfortably (and is not too ugly).

to appreciate a house full of my family after months of quiet.

to realize that I can love my job, and leave it. And that when the time comes to leave it for good, that will be fine with me.

to enjoy being taken care of.

to understand the huge difference 17 days can make.

03 March 2008

A very short play about my better qualities, I guess

Scene: My classroom.
I've asked one of my 12th grade classes to tell me about other movies they've seen that fit our discussion theme of the problems characters have fitting into their society.

Christina: Juno has a character who doesn't fit into her world very well. She had a hard time dealing with everybody around her because she did everything differently.

Me: Good point. Can you explain what she did that people disagreed with?

Tom (urgently): Miss Huth, that girl, Juno, reminds me of you.

Me: Tom, you're interrupting Christina now . . .

Christina: That's okay. I can't wait to hear this!

Me: (pause, head tilting, eyes squinting, botox-needing furrow deepening): She reminds you of me because I'm a 16-year-old pregnant girl?

Tom (laughing bemusedly): No. She talks like you.

Me: Hmmmm . . . really? Please do explain.

Tom: She's got a quiet, low voice. And she says interesting things, but not in a simple way. Her vocabulary is way up there.

Josh: Exactly! Like when you turned around what Mike said before, and suddenly we all knew you were right. We just had to accept what you said because we couldn't argue with it. It made too much sense.

Justin: You also remind me of that character in Blades of Glory . . .

(Bell rings.)

01 March 2008

Grizzly Children of Men in America

All students assume that a teacher who shows a movie in class needs to have a break. In this case, students will respond predictably by ignoring the movie (that is, by sleeping or texting through it). Teachers who are wont to use movies as breaks from dealing with class expect this since their relaxation is the primary reason for the movie. They will show any movie they happen to have handy from The Lion King to Fried Green Tomatoes. This is especially common just before a vacation.

I will admit that I have spent the last three weeks showing three movies to my seniors. While I did not need a break from dealing with them as human beings, I did need a break from dealing with them as readers. For some reason, these seniors are some of the most reluctant readers I've dealt with in my 20 year career. So far this year we have painfully managed to complete Hamlet and Things Fall Apart (in addition to a research project in between). Aside from their seemingly random, too-rare flashes of interest, I come away from spending days, weeks dragging students through books frustrated, tired and depressed. Worse yet, I find it hard to remember why I liked the book so much in the first place. Therefore, I created a small film unit of three significant movies: Grizzly Man, Children of Men and In America. Each reinforces and elaborates on a very loose theme we've been following about how humans deal with their society.

When I began the unit, I had no real idea of how the kids would react to the movies. By nature a realist (pessimist??) I predicted they would tolerate the movies but not really like any of them. I thought they would find Grizzly Man too strange and slightly boring (it is a documentary, after all). I thought they would find Children of Men too difficult. I thought they would find In America too quiet and PG-13. Little did I know.

No book, no field trip, no classroom experience has achieved such consensus, and I have no idea why. While students had a favorite movie of the three, all students told me they liked each movie. No exceptions. They all liked each movie.

Even stranger to me is their response during certain parts of the movies. Some, I predicted. I knew, for instance, that In Grizzly Man, they would love the part where Timothy Treadwell, in his strangely high voice, curses the hat-stealing fox. That and where he curses out the National Park Service.

In Children of Men, I predicted they would enjoy the violence, as in the scene in the car towards the beginning. And they did. But the universal cries of despair at the seemingly unclear ending were a surprise.

I had no predictions for In America, however, except that I didn't think they'd like it. First, it's PG-13 whereas the other two are rated R. Second, it's a quiet movie, the most touching, two qualities my occasionally raucous 12th-graders usually seem to lack. Nevertheless, it was deemed the favorite movie of the three.

At various points during the movie, I could hear my otherwise tough, old-beyond-their-years students sniff and stifle their crying. Some actually went for the tissue box on my desk. They gasped in disbelief when the two little girls continued to pound on Mateo's door during their first Halloween experience. Most interesting to me, however, was the universal reaction during the arcade scene when Johnny bets the rent money in order to win an ET doll for his daughter. As if it were the most graphic, blood-spattered scene in a teen slasher movie, they sat, hands over their eyes, unable to watch the horror unfold. The whispers resonated in the room: "Oh, no, he's not going to do that!" "Stop! Just stop now!" "She don't care if you win the doll!" "Dang! No, no!"

They even appreciatively watched the bonus feature describing the making of the movie.

So where did this experience leave me? It left me dreading having to teach more books. It left me wondering why books can't elicit the same appreciation, the same satisfying feeling of an experience shared.

Nevertheless, reality kicked in yesterday during class discussions of the three movies, a debriefing of the experience, in preparation for writing about them. Despite my initial perception that all students liked all movies, the reality was that probably half of any class saw all of all three movies. But they liked the bits and pieces they saw, for sure. So it was sad, but no surprise, when I found myself overhearing small group discussions that attempted to fill in the lousy attendance gaps: "So, the guy in Children of Men, Timothy, right? He lived in New York City. He was in the junkie apartment and his son died. The woman in the boat named her baby after his son."


26 February 2008

They'll be my mirror

How do people without students know who they are? I can't imagine having to judge my appearance or state of mind without their insight.

From Anton: "Do you know that your hair swings from side to side when you walk? It's like the Brady Bunch."
Unfortunately, I understand the reference, that I apparently have the Jan Brady walk that causes her long hair to perkily swing back and forth with the movements of her head. Although my hair is neither long nor blond, I spent the rest of the day concentrating on walking with my head very still. It was not easy. I eventually gave up.

From Katie, Justin, Maurice and Laquaisha, at various moments during the day: "Miss, you look mad tired."
Yes, in fact I did, and in fact, I was.

From Jahida: "Miss Huth, you'd look better with some red tips in your hair. I'll do it for you."
Although I did not take her up on her kind offer, I have no doubt that I would look better if my hair were any number of different colors.

From Quintel: "You look mad skinny now. Are you working out or something?"
Hmmmm . . . why can't males ever understand that females don't want to be "skinny" ? They want to be "slender" or "slim." I will grant him, in his youth, my assumption that he meant this kindly.

From Amber: "She (me) doesn't want to hear anymore of your stupid jokes! She's got work to do!"
While I was amused by the lame jokes, I did have work to do. Since I was sitting politely trying very hard not to look at my email, I'm not sure how she knew this.

This is just a small selection . . . but from just this week alone, my students have let me know that when I walk like Jan Brady, my boring-looking hair swings back and forth, possibly hiding the circles under my eyes from listening to too many jokes and not doing enough work.

If only they paid as much attention to their classwork.

23 February 2008

Charon at the edge of the river Hudson

Mosh pits are interesting things. Seething, sweating, tattooed cauldrons of latent homosexuality run amok, mosh pits are alternately revolting and fascinating. I recently found myself in the unfortunate position of feeling like the gatekeeper to the mosh pit at a small venue where one of my favorite bands, Flogging Molly, was playing.

My vantage point, right by a small, hip-level wall overlooking the pit and mere feet from the stage, was a prime location. Erin, Geof and I were able to maneuver to and then maintain this position through the two opening acts and finally to the headliner. I, however, was on the end, the end by the stairs leading to the pit.

As Flogging Molly took the stage, I found myself having to reexamine my position in the universe. On my left were my husband and daughter and relative calm. On my right, however, was a rather violent stream of humanity struggling frantically to reach the pit below us (which was down the stairs to my right).

First, I watched. One shirtless, drunken and/or stoned and/or something I'm not even aware of young man decided to stand by me, closely, elbows flailing level with my face. He apparently thought I was invisible. I continued to watch his elbows, his beer bottle, his vacant eyes, along with the "surfers" whose feet were a tad too close.

When he shoved himself into me, hard, in a futile attempt to widen the opening to the pit, perhaps, I made a decision. Standing with my feet firmly planted was not enough. He was not even aware that I was a human being whom he had chosen to shove in a most impolite fashion. To him, I was certainly not even a human being old enough to be his mother (my own daughter standing next to me as evidence of that). I did know that I was annoyed as hell at being shoved, hard, by a sweating, drunken idiot man-child. So in the interest of self-preservation (mostly) I shoved him back, equally hard. In the direction of the pit. He seemed to appreciate it.

For the rest of the night, I found myself standing my ground at the edge of the stairs, a Charon ready to ferry the doomed to the River Styx. As the masses flung themselves into me in a misguided attempt to enter the pit, I helpfully bumped and pushed them away from me and toward where they wanted to be.

Aside from having far too many sweaty, tatooed and drunken bodies pushing into mine, the concert was amazing. I'm slightly ashamed, however, at the side of me that appeared that night, the side that was almost gleefully urging the young, the drunken, the vacant, away from me and into the mosh pit.

21 February 2008

Paying to be shot: Is that why tuition is so high?

The day after the most recent shooting at a college, some of my students expressed concern. They are, after all, seniors whose college applications are being processed right now. For the first time, they are beginning to picture themselves on some campus next year.

Some wondered if any college would be safe. Some told me how sad they felt for the students who were killed or injured, and their families. Some wondered why there were shootings on campuses only now, as if these were manifestations of our troubled, war-focused times. *

One student told me that he was thinking of not going to college next year because he resented having to pay all that money to be shot. (My answer was that technically, he wouldn't be paying to be shot . . . I'm sometimes astounded by the things I find coming out of my mouth in this job.)

When they ask me if they'll be safe next year, my sadly honest answer, the one I believe I must give them is, I don't know. I think so. I hope so. As parent, as teacher, in loco parentis, I want to assure them of their safety, that things will be okay. I don't want them to worry.

I remind them that campus violence of this magnitude is extremely rare. I remind them that much of their safety at college remains within their control, that they should lock their doors, not walk alone at night, be careful about parties and driving . . . They shake their heads and laugh gently. "Oh Mom," they seem to say, "it's so cute that you think we don't know that." So as teacher, as parent, I continue fruitlessly to dispense advice, to try to shoo the scary monsters out from under my kids' beds.

I wonder why the big violence seems more probable than being raped on a date, getting in an accident while driving drunk or being attacked or robbed because of walking alone or leaving a door unlocked. Then I remember what they've already seen: the school shooter who kills 30, the planes crashing into buildings killing 3,000, the thousands claimed by war. Is this enough to skew their sense of the reality of violence? How big do the numbers have to be to be scary? (My guess is at least double digits.)

Certainly every generation grows up with, deals with its own horrible violence, its own war, its own shocking public massacre. This group, however, seems less shocked than fascinated, less frightened than resigned. They are so much older than I was.

*They are occasionally too self-centered to believe that anything significant or interesting happened before their birth in 1990. In 1966, my father's very good friend, Bob Boyer, a visiting physics professor, was one of 14 killed by Charles Whitman on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin, for example. Yet, they somehow believe that campus violence began with their generation, and more disturbingly, that it is de rigueur.

16 February 2008

Movies without answers; futures full of questions

One of the constants of teaching is that students will never ever agree on anything. If I have five classes reading the same book, I might have a general consensus within a class on the book's quality. However, I will never have five classes that agree that the book is good. Or that the book is crap. I won't even have three classes that agree on the book's goodness or crappiness. Such is the nature of teaching. Those of us who do it accept this, albeit with clear annoyance. On the other hand, this reality allows us to choose books with a strange sense of abandon; since someone will always like the book and someone will always hate the book, whatever book, what real difference does my choice make? Ah, such freedom.

Strangely, however, I've finally found one small thing that all five of my classes (and seemingly all students in each of the five classes) agreed upon: that is that the ending of Children of Men totally sucks. Without giving away the specific ending, it will suffice to say that the end (final long shot of the scene quickly cutting to black and then the movie's title) was universally greeted with groans and loud moans of despair: "Noooo! Tell me that's not the end!" "Are you kidding me??" "But what happens??" "We don't know whether she gets to the boat!" "Maaaaannn!" "Jeeeeeez!" "That sucks so bad!"

Now, while I'm grateful that I was able to show a well-respected movie reinforcing our current vague theme of how man deals with his place in society and actually have my students respond, I'm nevertheless puzzled by a couple things. First, why can't they figure what probably will happen next? Second, why is it so important to them to have all the answers laid out?

Perhaps they are so literal-minded that they cannot read the (fairly obvious, I think) figurative clues. Perhaps they don't trust their instincts. Perhaps they would prefer to read Jane Austen or Charles Dickens and have little summaries of all the characters' fates at the end.

Somehow, I don't think they'd prefer to read Austen or Dickens . . . but still I wonder why they need to know all the "answers" at the end.

Me? I prefer the open ending, the lack of answers. Without "answers" the possibilities, while not endless, while still needing to fit within the criteria the author or filmmaker has set, are much richer than with the neatish closing of Austen, Dickens or even say an Animal House that tells us that Bluto Blutarsky goes on to become a senator (or something similarly ironic).

I much prefer to ponder the possibilities without having the answer key pressed into my hands. I can handle it. I don't want to know. I want to imagine. To me, the future looks better without the answers but then again, I'm at a different point in life than my students. Perhaps to them, a future without answers looks pretty scary.

13 February 2008

Snow days are better when you're young

The problem with snow days is that sometimes the anticipation far exceeds the reality. Such was the case today. When my alarm went off at 6:00 this morning, I immediately checked the TV to see whether my school was delayed or closed. We were closed, for the first time this year. I cheered quietly, so as not to wake Geof, and crawled back into bed. When I returned to sleep, however, I found myself dreaming very intense and disturbing dreams. While I often have trouble remembering whatever dreams I have in the middle of the night (or whenever such things occur), those dreams that occur after I would normally be up are easy to remember and sometimes bizarre. At some point, between 6:00 and when I woke up for good just before 10:00, I had several dreams of a type that I hate: I categorize these as "The dreams in which I must face my shortcomings."

Usually they involve school. Occasionally, I'm in college and realizing at the end of the semester that I've not attended a single class. More often, these dreams feature me being somewhere else while I have a class to teach. I have, for some reason, decided to go out for a beer. Or I have decided to take a nap. Or I have just been unaware that I had a class at that particular time. These dreams always end with me hearing someone in the main office asking me over the PA system to report to wherever I'm supposed to be. I'm mortified, aware that this is totally unlike me, and I wake up vaguely ashamed.

Sometimes, my students decide to stage a coup, often involving lots of swearing, shouting and standing on desks. From these dreams I awake frustrated, angry and feeling vaguely powerless.

This morning's dream was a combination of the two common themes: Even though I thought we had a snow day, it turned out that we didn't. Therefore, administrators and students spent the morning looking for me because I was home sleeping, secure in my belief that we had a snow day. When I finally (for some reason--guilt??) went to school, I faced the annoyance and anger of my superiors and my students. I had failed them both. I was stupid, inappropriate, lazy and just dead wrong.

An inauspicious beginning to my snow day.What should have been a day to relax and perhaps perform some useful task ended up being a day where I was dogged by a sense of my own limitations and vague unrest. It took me until this evening, really, to shake the feeling, and it's only now, as I write this in front of a fire with a Guinness next to me, that I feel fully prepared to deal with the world.

10 February 2008

Books so far and what I wish I were reading

1776, by David McCullough
McCullough is one of the most literate and accessible historians. A favorite writer of mine, crossing all genres.

Amnesia Moon, by Jonathan Lethem
Post-apocalyptic fiction, read in one sitting. Much less depressing than The Road, but what isn't?

I wish I were reading Harriet the Spy right now and discovering "The Walrus and the Carpenter" for the first time.

09 February 2008

When we realize it's depressing to consider people eaten by bears

I've had a vague sense of foreboding this week, and I think it's due to watching Grizzly Man three or four (or five) times a day for the last three days. That and the constant rain. My students seem to be reacting similarly: fascinated and repelled, relieved to see it end, yet unwilling to stop watching, hoping for more of the story.

On to Children of Men next week. I may have to watch This is Spinal Tap on my own just to recover.

04 February 2008

Harlan Pepper! Would you stop naming nuts!

I have come to accept that my life is mere repetition. Every aspect requires it.

As a mother, the repetition becomes little mantras ensuring success: Do you have your homework? Drive carefully. Call when you get there.

If I say these things, ask these questions each time, the future is assured in my favor.

As a pet owner, the repetition is always directives ending in sheer futility and exclamation points aimed at one of our three dachshunds: Stop licking my floor! Stop eating the firewood! Get out of the kitchen!

Saying these things ensures nothing.

As a teacher, the repetition is both a tiny prayer for success and an exercise in sheer futility: That was due yesterday. Yes, you may hand it in tomorrow. Yes, I'll be taking some points off. You need to pay attention because we'll be discussing this later. You missed my explanation because you came in late. I will fill you in after class.

The problem with those who must repeat themselves is that they find themselves often ignored (hence, the repetition. Or are we ignored because the repetition is necessary and ultimately boring? Who knows?). We see ourselves as lonely, frustrated voices that speak the truth, so many Cassandras foretelling doom or prophesying good fortune. Doesn't matter because no one's listening anyway.

All of which brings me rather ungracefully to my point: In the midst of repeated explanations of why we were watching the R-rated Grizzly Man (because the main character separates himself from society, and this is a theme we've followed in literature this year from Hamlet to Okonkwo in Things Fall Apart and will continue to follow in Into the Wild), why I needed permission slips even though they are 17 and 18 (because the movie is R-rated and the school district is not the real world), and finally how a grizzly bear could hold (as the movie rather baldly specifies) four garbage bags of human remains, I noticed one of my children pondering this last topic.

As the others debated the issue and I, for once, stayed out of the discussion, it being the end of class and all, one student, who never speaks in class, not ever, but who occasionally smiles and always appears to try, to want to please, finally summed it all up for all of us: The reason for the four garbage bags, he said was because "that bear ate them like he was eating a candy bar without taking off the wrapper." A brief pause, and then a flash of recognition from the class, horrifying, yet somehow gratifying all the same . . . Ohhhhhhhh. Ewwww! Man!

A strange ephiphany, but an epiphany nonetheless. Such are the small accomplishments in my world of repetition. For now, my children are safe, my pets are not gnawing my firewood or licking my floor, and my students eagerly await the day two showing of Grizzly Man. I'm not sure I can ask for more than that.