Sunday, June 29, 2008

Audit Reports, Teacher In-Service & How Bozo Ended Up in Dante’s Circle of Hell

Ahh, the much ballyhooed (now, isn’t that a great word?) Dallas ISD $2 million audit report was finally released and no big shocker there.

According to an article in the Dallas Morning News, the report contained a long laundry list of reforms needed, but no indication of money stolen. The news article went on to say, though, that “the Texas comptroller’s office, the FBI and others have also reviewed the books and found serious areas of concern.”

I won’t bore you with all the details involved in that, but, of course, all of that got me to thinking about things like why I was grateful to be working where I work (sorry, Mr. Teacher), and it got me to remembering a time long, long ago, in a galaxy… oh my goodness Pizza Andy must be channeling through me…so forget the galaxy, but do make that a long, long time ago, when I actually was asked to teach at a professional development day for DISD. (Oh, pah-leese, no need to roll your eyes. It isn’t that much of a stretch, is it?)

So let me tell you my little story that I like to call…

How Bozo ended up in Dante’s Circle of Hell

My feet were as swollen as Bozo the clown’s feet, and I had a sneaking suspicion my hair didn’t look much better. It was Valentine’s Day, and for a number of reasons, it was a life-changing day. I was headed for Hillcrest High School in north Dallas zipping along North Central Expressway in my trusty blue mini-van.

I had taken the day off so I could teach an in-service for Dallas journalism teachers. I almost had turned it down given my penchant for in-service bashing, but I figured I could use the $400 and thought that, perhaps, just perhaps, I could actually impart some words of wisdom. So I stashed a bagful of newly created handouts and set out to discuss how to create a successful high school journalism program.

I called my session “Surviving Dante’s Inner Circle of Hell… how to create a successful high school journalism program and live to tell the tale…” or some such blustering.

My cleverness, as always, landed me in trouble.

When I arrived in my assigned portable building, there were a total of three—count ’em—three teachers attending my session. To make matters worse, they were all English teachers, not journalism teachers. None of them had read past “Surviving Dante” and believed we would actually discuss Dante’s Inferno. One teacher had even brought her own copy of the book.

At that point, I really believed I had entered the circle of hell. I was stuck for eight hours in a small room with three (did I mention three?) English teachers who were not even remotely interested in student publications much less the entire journalism program. Forget the Inferno, I had upgraded to Sartre’s No Exit.

I felt like the guy in the song “Alice’s Restaurant” with his “twenty-seven 8-by-10 glossy pictures with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one” and no one to show them to.

I had my 35 copies of my 14 specially created handouts to show eager new journalism advisers what had taken me more than a decade to discover. Instead, I had three beady-eyed, angry Advanced-Placement-type English teachers who were forced to sign up for an in-service class to garner enough mandatory hours to fulfill their teacher contracts when their peers were out buzzing around on Valentine’s Day eating chocolates with their honeys or shopping with their friends or sleeping late.

The experience was almost enough for me to swear that I would never again berate another in-service presenter if I could just survive that day. (Of course, that was too big of a promise for me to make.)

But overall, that experience did provide a level of clarity as to what my mother always called, “the state of education.” As with most professional development days, the topics tend to either be irrelevant or provided to those who have little or no use for them.

So you see, not only had I started that day looking like Bozo the Clown, I ended the day feeling, well, rather Bozo-ish as well.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

177th Carnival of Education

Oh my goodness… the Carnival of Education was out and I forgot to tell you about it! It’s hosted over at Where’s the Sun and it’s organized along one of my favorite themes…the boardwalk and the shoreline…It never gets any better than that. So-o-o-o make sure you bee-bop on over there for some good reads. My post “Self-Pity, Serendipity & Tootsie Rolls” was included, but you don’t have to go there to read it here. But when you’re done here, make sure you go there to see what’s all a-buzz in the EduSphere. You’ll be glad you did.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Self-pity, Serendipity & Tootsie Rolls

Hideeho friends… So yes, I am a tad bit tardy in posting this week. I was out of town again attending to some family matters, but I am back now and aren’t y’all just thrilled to bits?

I confess that I have been just a bit worried about blogging with all my DIs (Darling Inspirations) out and about for the summer, but worry not, things (and by now you should know how I feel about things), well things just have a way of popping up.

For instance, briefly…OK, OK, OK, perhaps not briefly…it was more like a wallowing angst…I wallowed about, feeling sorry for myself and was rather out of sorts, when out of the blue (alrighty then, now we have two–count ’em TWO cliches, perhaps we should all revisit cliche finder and get it out of our system)…So back to the matter at hand…(OK, so make that cliche No. 3)…

Wallowing, angst, feeling sorry…when I received a random email from a former student of mine who served as news editor on the school newspaper and who just landed a job at the Dallas Morning News. Talk about serendipity (and don’t ya love that word?).

At any rate (does that count as #4?), her kind words immediately pulled me out of the “OMG how it sucks to be me because every day is like a bad hair day” funk. And, more importantly, she jogged some other memories I had forgotten about…memories like the tootsie roll chain which is like four to five times taller than she is and wider than I am.

And here’s the deal-eee-oh (cliche number five-o), that tootsie roll chain apparently happens to be serendipitous as well.

You see, Erika always loved tootsie rolls–eating mass quantities of them especially on deadline. She ate so many she started making a chain with the wrappers. That tootsie roll chain not only served as a stress meter of sorts, but also appeared to be rather cathartic as well. When she graduated from high school, she took the 20-foot-long chain with her.

Flash forward to her new job at the DMN…She noticed there were some ladies who were tootsie roll aficionados so she hauled her tootsie roll chain up there. Apparently after they got over the oddness of the chain, Erika reports the link actually made the tootsie roll ladies feel better.

“Now,” Erikia said, “they don’t feel so bad for eating so many.”

So you see, my friends, two seemingly innocuous things––a random email and gajillion long tootsie roll chain––had the power to spread joy and happiness. Now, I know all that probably doesn’t qualify for any sort of Pay it Forward hoopdedoo, but hey, let’s grab what we can––even if it’s only a tootsie roll.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Carnival of Education

Hideeho readers…the Carnival of Education is up and running. Check out what’s going on the EduSphere by going over to Pass The Torch, but before you beebop over there, make sure you check out my stuff here by reading my latest post “The Simple Life, Tasty Shrimp & Warning Flags.”

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Simple Life, Tasty Shrimp & Warning Flags

I’m sure everyone missed me something terrible while I sat on the warm sands, listening to the soothing waves of the Gulf of Mexico while actually reading from the stack of books I’ve been accumulating all year long.

I sure hated to leave the Island (South Padre Island for you non-native types). I love living a life where the only major decision is whether to boil the fresh shrimp or cook them Barefoot Contessa style and the only crisis centers around who used up all the SPF 45 sunscreen leaving only a can of 30 SPF.

Ah, if life were so simple throughout the school year.

I also love the kind of life where you can peak out from your fifth floor balcony and get a heads up on what kind of day you’ll encounter just by gazing on either side to see what color flag is flying… Red for dangerous currents, Yellow for calm to moderate waters (although there’s this clever little notation that just because the waters are calm “does not mean safe water”--Jeez Louise). And, the last one and my least favorite one–Blue for “venemous marine life.”

Now even though I promised myself not to think too much on this trip, all that flag flapping got me to thinking--I know, I know, not necessarily a good thing--but nonetheless, I got to thinking about how maybe, just maybe, I should create and implement my own Flag Advisory System. You know, just to give the kiddos a heads-up on the kind of day in store for them. Besides, I think it would fit in rather nicely with my Code K warning system. So here’s my idea, let me know yours.

The Richie Flag Advisory System

Red Flag…Unless your hair is on fire, you best just sit down and hope for the best. This is a don’t-mess-with-me-day-or-we-may-just-pull-your- liver-out-your-nose kind of day.

Yellow Flag…Things are about as “normal” as they possibly can be, but just like at the beach, calm and normal doesn’t necessarily guarantee safe.

Blue Flag…We’re all feeling a bit snarky in here. Be prepared for sharp-witted and possibly stinking remarks.

I have a bad feeling, though, that the red and blue flags will fly repeatedly and probably simultaneously.

175th Carnival of Education

The 175th Carnival of Education (with a rockin’ game show theme) has been up and running for quite a while over at Mr. Teacher’s site Learn Me Good. You should really head on over there to see all the great stuff going on the EduSphere. I, of course, am frantically trying to play catch up after a week unplugged on the marvelously, fab-u-lous South Padre Island. My submission “Empty Parking Lots, the Last Teacher Standing & a Rebel Yell” was included, but you don’t have to go there to read it here. But if you want to be in the know, go on over there and see what’s buzzin’.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Empty Parking Lots, the Last Teacher Standing & a Rebel Yell

“I stood on my heart supports thinkin’
‘Oh my God, I’ll probably have to carry this whole load.’
I couldn’t remember if I tried
I couldn’t remember if I took my brain out, threw it so directly at the goal
I couldn’t remember if I...
I could have my mind erased
And still not know exactly what I don’t already know…”
--“Florida” by Modest Mouse

On Friday, as I climbed into my fab-u-lous Nissan Z Roadster. OK, OK, OK, so it’s not anything close to a roadster or sporty…well, OK, it’s my trusty mini-van… I know, I know, I know, it’s all pathetically rather soccer mom-ish from back in the day when my kiddos played, you know, soccer… but, again, I digress… let’s start this whole shebang again… (don’t ya just love the word “shebang”?)…rewinding… here we go…

On Friday, as I climbed into my trusty mini-van and surveyed the parking lot, I noticed that I was the last one leaving on the last teacher work day of the 2007-2008 school year.

I should have realized I would be the last teacher standing.

The signs were everywhere. Perhaps the darkened hallways should have tipped me off. Or, when I zipped speedy quick down those hallways and into the teacher mailroom and had to feel my way to find the light switch so I could find the other switch to turn the copier back on because I still had contest entries to mail--perhaps that should have been the tip off…Or maybe it should have been the fact that I could belt out Aretha Franklin at the top of my lungs and nary a soul was here, there or anywhere to witness or wince.

Now before you start thinking I’m Ms. Slacker Extraordinare, know that I did manage to get all the official stuff done–grades turned in, books scanned, computers turned off, furniture inventoried, purchased orders filled out and so forth and so on--you know all those things that make your head explode. All done shortly after 12:30 p.m. Not bad.

But sadly, my friends, while others were screeching out of the parking lot screaming “free at last! Free at last! Schools out for summer!” at the top of their lungs, I still had all that other stuff to do…like get things ready for the summer journalism workshop (yes, I’m spending five fun-filled days and four stress-filled nights with 30 or so publications staffers in July), and of course, there were those pesky journalism contest entries that had to be readied in order to meet the pending mid-June deadline…

It was shortly after 5 p.m. before I could proclaim that I was as close to done as I would ever be. So after making sure the rubber chicken had been packed with all the important workshop stuff, I gave a defiant glare at my still unorganized desk, locked the door and loaded up my van.

My reward for surviving yet another year? Why my annual trek to the beach where I will be incommunicado--no email checking, no answering phones, no text messaging, no blogging, no posting, no nothing. Nadda. Zilch. Zip. No siree, it’s just me, my family, a stack of good books, some chips and salsa, and all the gulf shrimp I can eat.

So-o-o-o with a rebel yell, I screeched out of the parking lot able to chalk up one more year in the success column because, after all, I made it without once setting my hair on fire.

It doesn’t get much better than that.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

174 Carnival of Education

Woo-hoo! The 174 Carnival of Education is out and hosted by our buddies over at the Education Wonks. Not sure what evil befell the Education Wonks–something about some “disastrous technical troubles,” but I bet they don’t know Jack. (You remember Jack, don’t you? If not, then make sure you go here.)

Anywho, my submission “Train Wrecks, Dr. Laura & Throwing Tinkerbell Under the Bus” was included as well as lots of other interesting things across the EduSphere. But you don’t have to go there, to read that here.

While there’s lots of good stuff to peruse, I was particularly fond of Joanne Jacob’s post on Billy Joel, history teacher, and NYC educator’s comments on lying teenagers. The Scholastic Scribe’s post on internet security in her district was interesting although I personally preferred an earlier senior prank post (but that’s just my twisted sense of humor). Oh, and keeping with humor, you’ll definitely want to see what Mr. Teacher has to say in his post “Don’t Space Me, Bro.”

And, of course, there’s lots of other good stuff… so head on over there, just make sure you come back here.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Train Wrecks, Dr. Laura & Throwing Tinkerbell Under the Bus

T-minus 5-4-3-2-1… Ta-da… another school year almost ended… just a few more days left and I am free at last… but before the prospect of summer consumes me, we must address and clarify a few things. I know in some twisted, warped way, you’re dying to know how the entire yearbook distribution thing worked out. It’s like watching a train wreck in slow-mo. You say you don’t want to watch, but you do. You don’t want to know, but I betcha I can catch you taking a sneaky peak.

It’s the reason why I like to listen to such shows as Dr. Laura. While it may suck to be me on any particular day, it sure sucks more to be them… In some twisted way, I find comfort in that. So let’s clear up a few misconceptions…

The Publishing Fairies & the Journalism gods
Typo-seeking Tinkerbell does not live in the publications room waiving her cute little fairy wand banishing all mistakes. If she did, I’d wring her little neck for falling down on the job and publicly sacrifice her to the journalism gods.

But whoa Nellie, before we willy-nilly go throwing poor Tinkerbell under the bus, let’s focus on the fact that with 264 pages, more than 3,000 photographs, 100,000 plus gajillion words and well over 2,000 names something somewhere will be wrong.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

There I feel better.

Oh, dear me, according to my VP of Humor Control, I’m starting to sound, well, a bit bitter and, well, “negative.”

OK, OK, OK… Let’s take a positive look-see at all of this. I think we got about 99 percent right. After all, we really only had two complaints and we did sell out of all our extra books in a record two and half hours. I know that doesn’t make the 1 percenters feel any better. All I can do is say I’m sorry that we were/are such big, fat stupidheads (and, yes, I suppose that does stop the Stupidhead Clock on the right).

And perhaps next time, I’ll suggest that they listen to Dr. Laura, too.

Sad Sacks & Snakebites
OK, OK, OK, I admit it. I spent most of last week feeling sorry for myself and yelling at anyone and everyone who would listen. The staffers just sighed and did what they do best--ignore me--while I continually mumbled how children suck the life right out of you.

And, then the really, really, really (did I say really?) absolutely fab-u-lously nice art teacher who is next to my classroom came to school with her arm in a sling and her hand swollen three times its normal size.

Snake bite.

As in Copperhead… as in poisonous snake.

Suddenly sorting all those yearbooks and listening to the naysayers wasn’t so bad after all, ya know what I mean?

And then my BFF from the east coast called telling my something about how there were goats in her school parking lot and how she had to grab them by the horns and try to toss them back over the fence. Jeez.

Uh-oh gotta go… I think it’s time to listen to Dr. Laura.