Friday, August 31, 2007

The First Weekend

I teach so hard that I sweat. Really. Today, as I paced room 202 wildly emploring my seniors to embrace the Reading Process, my undershirt grew heavy from the sweat. Of course, the room was the hottest room I have ever taught in.
The first week of school has ended, and my wife and I celebrated by going to see the funniest, yet terribly wrong film we've seen in a while--Superbad. We both needed to get our minds off of school. She's been drowning herself in her new position, as have I.
It has been one of those weeks that have come to define my teaching career. One day, I am putting on a brilliant show as one of my administrators look on. The next day, I am struggling to keep them awake as I try to convince them that there is more to reading than decoding the words.
I used an idea that my buddy Michaelis has used the past few years. I had my students create a "this is me" page where they include a photograph and some descriptions of themselves. Two days later, more than a handful of my students still didn't have a photo. I joked that if they didn't bring one in, I'd have to bring my camera in. Later that day I passed one student in the hall. "Hey Mister, would you really bring your camera in? I don't have any photos of me." I'd be lying if I said I believed him--that is until I ran into more students who asked the same thing. Those are my students--very different from my past experiences.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Positive Behavioral Support

Here at my new high school, we are implementing a new philosophy of student discipleship. The PBS, no not that PBS, philosphy encourages students to become responsible and respectful in their approach to education.
Now, I am all for positive approaches to discipleship, but did I really need to spend every period--56 minutes each--teaching the subtle differences between responsibility in the hallway and responsibility in the cafeteria? Probably not. But as with any initiative the costs money, we couldn't just spend one period talking about; no, we had to spend every period talking about.
By the end of the day, the students were not so into the Positive Behavioral Support theory. No, one sophomore group caused a first year teacher to tears as they berated PBS and ulitmately her.
With NCLB breathing down this school's neck, we had to take action. I fear that it won't be enough. Why? Because we can't change a family's approach to education. This statement opens me up to criticism from the Direct Instruction advocates, who claim that DI is the method for helping all students achieve. First, I think, we need willing participants in any program in order for it to achieve success. When students come to class ready to learn, then I think they will learn.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Hey, Mister...

"Hey Mister, I don't fit in any of these chairs." Those were the first words I heard from my group of seniors this year. And he was right, he didn't fit in any of the chairs. So, I gave him mine.
"Are you Kathleen?" Those were the first words I heard from my sophomore group. I replaced a teacher whose last name is one letter differnt than mine, and she was a female. I hope the questions get better as the year goes on.
My first day at my new school went well. This morning was the first time I had seen any students other than the two students who volunteered to help just before school began. It was not what I expected.
I thought I had come up with a fun ice breaker, but most of my students did not engage. I had written forty or fifty questions, ranging from odd to semi-personal, on a beach ball. The ball got tossed around the room and the receiver had to answer the question that his or her left thumb touched. Most said, "I don't know."
However, one ninth grader felt comfortable enough to answer the question, "What is the first thing you notice about someone when you meet them for the first time?" Without hesitation he answered, "The girl's ass. I like a nice round one." Yeah, as my buddy Stence (I think I might just add my buddy Stence into as many posts as possible this year) would say, I don't know what to do with that.
And with that, I am off to watch the Red Sox play the Yankees. Go Sox.

Monday, August 27, 2007

'Twas the Night Before...

In a post from this time last year, I observed my colleagues closely to find the Ten Most Annoying. This year, as I sat in my first staff meeting at my new school, I was reminded of that list. It seems that no matter where we go, these annoying people show up. I thoroughly enjoyed watching my new colleagues roll their eyes at the Clarifying Questioner and others. I actually sat next to a "Shusher," who, when I made a joke about the quality of the presentation, shushed me as she hung on every word of the presenter. I swear she looked a lot like the "Shusher," at my last school.
One interesting thing I have noticed here in Connecticut is that many of my colleagues looked weathered. Now, many of them are a bit older than my young self, but I'm not sure what to attribute this to. Is it the 90 degree summers followed by the 20 degree winters? Is it the school environment? Kind of like when Bill Clinton went into office looking young, fresh and, well, fresh, but came out looking old, dated, and haggard?
I finally received my class list, at around 5:30 pm. Reading over the list made me nervous. Not because I have to teach, but because I have to pronounce their names. This school has a large Hispanic population and some of their names are difficult for me to pronounce clearly. This would frustrate Senora Mosely who taugth me Spanish in high school. Maybe I should just start class by saying, "Hello, my name is Mr. McNamar--a name you will pronounce incorrectly most of the year,--please forgive me for being a silly Gringo who can't pronounce your names."
And to my buddy Stence, I'm sorry this isn't that funny. I had promised him it would be funny, but now that I am done typing this post, I realize that I don't have any funny stories to tell, yet. Plus, there is something about telling school stories to your fellow battery mates in person. Oh, wait, I do have one funny story for him: as I write this, the Yankees are losing 16-0--Go Sox!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Connecticut Certification

I wrote in a previous post that my wife and I are trying to obtain Connecticut certification. Today, we drove into Hartford--what a desolate city that has become in the twelve years I've been gone--in order to hand deliver our paperwork.
We entered an old wooden door into a tiny little room with a walk-up counter. Behind the desk, an older woman sat with a disgruntled look on her face. She wasn't pleasant. And then I read the sign on one of the walls. It advertised the process for discussing certification questions. The receptionist could not answer questions, she only accepted the paperwork. Additionally, any questions must be directed to one of the consultants. Applicants had to call between 12-4 on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, or Friday. I wonder how much that consultant gets paid? Do you think it is more than a fourth year teacher?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Back to School

I happen to enjoy a bit of choas. So, getting hired today has created a whirlwind that won't end for a few weeks. I am thankful for those winds.
Tomorrow is new teacher orientation, which seems odd considering I have four years of experience. This will be a great chance to meet the other new teachers to the building--apparently there are many.
School begins on Tuesday. The certification issue that my wife has, I too have. I am even more convinced that a certificate from Washington, or any state, should transfer seamlessly to Connecticut, or any other state.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Standard Rejection

I've never claimed to be the smartest person in the world, but I think I recognize a trend from my two rejections here in Connecticut. When the school is not interested in an applicant's services, they say, "We've chosen an candidate who has more years of experience and experience in the courses available."
Okay, so I am not the candidate that the school is looking for. I can understand that. But what I don't get from that response is any insight on how to be better. I can't change how many years I have taught except by teaching more--which can't happen if I don't have a job. Plus, for the majority of my career, there will be plenty of people with more years of experience. I also cannot change what courses I have been asked to teach.
I did a damn good job teaching scholastic's READ 180 course at my previous school. But if I had my choice, I would have taught American Literature or World Literature in addition to the Pre-College English. I didn't have the choice. Why? Because the other teachers there had been teaching longer--which means they get what they want.
So what do I take from these two rejections? I have had three reactions since finding out:
1. Depression--Rejection hurts. Especially for someone as cocky as me. Maybe I am not as good as I think I am, or as good as my previous adminstrators thought.
2. Anger--Really? Put me next to the teachers you hired and let the students decide. I'll put my skills against anyone.
3. Acceptance--That's fine. Everything's fine, as a good friend is prone to saying. I have two interview remaining this week. I'm good enough to wow them.


So, I am waiting to hear back from the school I interviewed with. I can tell you that as the days go by, I am getting quite nervous, perhaps even scared. Both the preliminary and official interviews went well, so not hearing back right away has me wondering if my evaluation of the meetings is accurate.
My wife's two interviews also went well. She heard back from one district today. However, they are having difficulty reading Washington's certification. She is endorsed K-8, though primarily in Elementary. So, the district isn't sure whether Connecticut will recognize that difference. At the very least, they are interested in having her be a long-term substitute until it gets worked out.
This makes me think that there needs to be a unified certificate before having to shell out more money for National Boards. It doesn't make sense that she spent all that money to get an endorsement that may or may not be recognized by a school district in another state.
Well, I will continue to wait, though I am starting to get stir crazy.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007


As many of you know, I am currently seeking employment in Connecticut. Yesterday, I had an initial interview with a local Catholic high school. The meeting went well enough for them to ask me to return for a second, formal, interview tomorrow at 1:30 E.S.T.
I honestly have not been in too many formal interview for teaching. In fact, this will only be the fifth formal interview in my education career; and only the third in face to face (two were over the phone). I am confident in my skills, but lack a little confidence in the interview process.
But, this is an amazing opportunity to work for a well-respected school.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Back to School...

Is it too early for Back to School promotions? I guess not--it is already August 11th. The local newspapers have begun running their Back to School advice sections. One had a list of things to not put in your student's backpack. They listed items like tobacco and weapons. My list--sans the obvious:
1. iPod--iPods are certainly cool to own. They have an amazing capacity for songs and videos, but from my point of view, they are obnoxious in the classroom. Somewhere in our societal value shift, the idea that ownership rights somehow include usage rights. There are certain codes of behavior that I find silly--no hats for one--but banning iPods, that I would support.

2. Cell Phones--Last year, I had my cell phone (turned off) sitting out on my desk. A student picked it up and laughed at it. My phone is not fancy, it cannot take pictures, access the net, or detonate a charge from three hundred yards away, but I can make an receive phone calls on it. When I was in school--oooh, that sounds old--the only distractions we had were windows, TI-82 drafting calculators, and people we found attractive. Ah, the good old days.

3. Money Clip--Every year at least one student has a freak out session over a large amount of money lost. This year, a student lost the cash his mother had given him to pay off a fine for lost equipment. Certain transactions should be done with checks or debit cards. I have a hard time feeling bad for student who loses $100 in cash.

4. Make-up Kit--Seriously, I don't need to watch your daughter put on her make-up during my fifth period class; if it didn't look good by that time of the day, she ought to chalk it up to a bad day and start again tomorrow.

5. Hooded Sweatshirts--Listen, Obi Wan, we get it, you are mad at the world or too tired to pay attention; now, please remove the hood and wear a hat like normal people trying to announce their sleepiness.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Chicken Blood

A New York principal will lose her job after trying the old as age chicken blood remedy for protection.
Have you ever had a year or a day when you would be willing to try sprinkling chicken blood in order to make the negativity go away?

Thursday, August 02, 2007


Wow. My brother and I arrived safely in Connecticut yesterday evening. Our trip took five days of driving to complete. I thought about keeping a running diary for the blog, but I was too busy trying to maneuver a Penske 22 ft truck (with cab it is closer to 30) plus a car carrier towed behind. In all, I had close to 48 feet of truck and trailer.
Here are the highlites of the trip:
Day One:
Everett, WA to Missoula, MT. We departed two hours late because we hadn't finished loading the truck the night before, and then, my spatial handicap prevented us from easily and quickly backing out of the entrance to our development. If I had thought about it, I would have had someone videotape that debacle. Youtube would have enjoyed many hits as people laughed at me.
The trip across Washington went relatively well, as did our venture through Idaho. My brother enjoyed the view of Lake Cour de Lene. Montana did not treat us as well. As we sped past Missoula, we approached a traffic jam. It turned out that a forrest fire prevented cars from passing on I-90. We had to turn back and find a hotel in Missoula--well short of our intended goal of Billings.
As we exited, a nice lady informed us that the back tire on the trailer looked low. After pulling into a gas station, we discovered that the tire was already flat. Turns out that the fire was good after all.
Day Two:
Missoula, MT to Rapid City, SD. We discovered that there is very little to see in southeastern Montana and all of Wyoming. A very boring day of driving. The one exciting moment came when we stopped for gas and had to travel deep off the highway and the station was so tiny that I could barely squeeze the truck and trailer through. The second less exciting moment came again when stopping for gas. I had maneuvered the truck into position and was waiting for the vehicle occupying the spot to exit the station. She took five minutes to do so and then decided that she needed to spritz her hair. When she realized we were waiting for her spot--which was obvious--she got into her car, and continued to spritz away, smiling at us. I waved a friendly hello.
Day Three:
Rapid City, SD to Rockford, IL. A long day capped by the best hotel we had in the four nights of the trip. This Holiday Inn Express took very good care of us and its facility. Not much happened though.
Day Four:
Rockford, IL to Cleveland, OH. A shorter day because we wanted to see a baseball game on the trip. Unfortunately, the timing of our journeys didn't allow for Wrigley Field. But, we went to Jacobs Field, home of the Indians, for a game against Texas. Being Red Sox fans, we were disappointed with the crowd energy, but the stadium is beautiful. If I lived in Cleveland, I would go to a lot of games.
Oh, Chicago traffic sucks. It sucked back in 1997 when I drove from Connecticut to Seattle.
Day Five:
Cleveland, OH to Ellington, CT. It was good to arrive here at the lake. I will have to learn how to drive again; my skills have diminshed since leaving Connecticut. I had forgotten exactly how aggressive these people drive.

So, there's my trip. Now, I just need to find a job--any Northeast Connectuct administrators looking for a skilled Reading and Language Arts/English teacher?