Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Beating my head against a wall

Some days I truly wonder why I bother. After a series of increasingly depressing staff meetings today about budget problems, district mandates to teach to new tests rather than to return our focus to actual literature, "new" initiatives that were tried years ago and were retired due to complete and utter failure, and other equally upsetting topics; I left school feeling completely and utterly helpless to do anything that might actually make a difference in my students' lives.

At least part of the problem is, as I posted the other day, the fact that NCLB has made testing vitally important to the survival of every public school. Thus, our administrators are justifiably desperate for ways to improve performance, even at the cost of actual education. A bigger part, at least from today's perspective, is that instead of trying just one or two new initiatives every few years to see if they make a difference, we're thrown half a dozen every year and told to make them all succeed, even when some work at cross purposes. It's like the district throws handfuls of pedagogical spaghetti at our little wall in the hope that some strands will stick even if most of them fall to the floor. The problem with that analogy, though, is that when real spaghetti goes "splat" it doesn't carry with it the future of hundreds of children whose educational needs are going unmet.

As a teacher, my hands are mostly tied. I can speak my mind to my administrative team during staff meetings, I can even go to school board sessions and let them know what I think, but the ultimate decision makers don't have to listen to a word I say. They don't have to try to juggle all the balls we're supposed to manage each and every day. They don't have to explain to students and parents why they're having to learn yet another formula for writing essays rather than reading a novel or engaging in some creative writing challenges. Moreover, they don't have to try to look a kid squarely in the eye and try to come up with an explanation that makes any kind of sense for all the BS hoops she has to jump through in order to get a diploma. It's infuriating and disheartening, and it makes me wonder how I'm going to keep doing this job (this job that I love 95% of the time) in the long run if things continue like this.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Wii likey

In a moment of sheer insanity I told Juan that if he could find a Wii he could buy it. Call it an early birthday/Father's Day/anniversary present. I was convinced that he wouldn't be able to track one down, especially since most stores seem to get shipments in the middle of the week and his only days off are generally Saturdays and Sundays. Imagine my surprise when he got up at 6:00 this morning, headed over to Target, and managed to score one of the handful of systems they put on sale today.

Now, I am not a video game fan. I don't think I've so much as picked up a controller since the joystick went out of fashion, and the idea of spending hours repeating the same limited actions over and over again appeals about as much as a root canal. The Wii intrigued me, though, since at least it gets players up off the couch. So, when Juan brought the boxes home this morning I thought hey, maybe I'll like this.

No, I don't like it. I LOVE it! I kicked butt at Wii boxing (Juan's butt, to be precise) and bowling, but he can beat me pretty easily at tennis and baseball. We're both feeling the burn tonight too, since we were able to play for a solid 90 minutes during Luke's unheard of long afternoon nap. The only problem is that Jasper doesn't quite "get" what we're doing with the remotes and barks like crazy when he sees us playing. Oh well, for this much fun I'm willing to put up with a slightly loud puppy.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Geek 2.0?

Juan and I have often joked that we've set poor Luke up to hate school. With an MD/computer geek father and an English teacher/history nut mother, we're both clearly a little obsessed with learning and want to pass that on to him and his (future, someday, WHOLE DIFFERENT POST ENTIRELY) siblings. Whether or not he'll love school is something we obviously can't know yet, but hopefully he'll at least be interested in a subject or two and motivated to get good grades the same way we were.

I worry about his educational experience, though, because as a high school teacher I see every day just how much the No Child Left Behind Act is sucking fun and innovation out of our classrooms. By way of example, at every high school in our city students spend 6-8 weeks in every core class (English, Science, Math, and Social Studies) doing nothing but preparing for the state assessment test. In English we teach them to compose formulaic responses that wring all creativity out of their writing. In history they memorize dates of "important" historical events that have a decided Western/European bias. In math and science they memorize formulas and have less time for practical projects and experiments than they did pre-NCLB. In short, even students who generally enjoy school hate it from January through April because the focus is on passing the test rather than genuine learning. Things are worse on the elementary level because many schools throw certain subjects out the window entirely for weeks before a different subject test to just focus on skills needed for that test alone. No science in the weeks before the English test, no English in the weeks before the math test, etc... It's appalling.

Frankly, it worries me to think that Luke will have to deal with the repercussions of this era of "standards" in education. To be clear, I think we do need to measure student achievement in some way that doesn't involve report cards. Standardized tests are simply not enough to measure that success, though, particularly when you consider the things that a standardized test simply can't measure such as creativity, an individual's unique learning curve (since not everyone learns at exactly the same rate), and intellectual curiosity.

All of this is a very long-winded way of saying that I am rather concerned that by the time Luke gets to school there won't be any room for the types of fun and innovative learning that Juan and I were exposed to as students, particularly in the areas of math and science. I confess that I wasn't a fan of math and science classes when I was in school. English, history, art, and drama were where my talents lay, whereas I struggled with concepts that involved numbers. I still do, as a matter of fact. Juan, on the other hand, excelled across the board in school but he was especially gifted in math and science, and thanks to some excellent teachers he decided he loved them enough to major in Biology and go on to medical school.

I want Luke to have that experience if at all possible. Not necessarily the majoring-in-biology-going-on-to-medical-school bit, but the fun and interactive math and science lessons that can really capture a child's imagination and give them insight into the genuinely cool real world applications for these disciplines. We all need to understand basic math and science principles to function in today's world, and a more advanced understanding (and passion) only helps people who have passion for those subjects. I doubt many parents or teachers would disagree with me, and yet here we are. We're losing the point of so many subjects--teaching children how to think critically rather than just memorize facts--so we can evaluate how much they're learning. In what twisted world does that logic make sense?

Hopefully the educational pendulum will have swung back in the direction of sanity by the time Luke is in school. If not, well, I guess we'll be investing in some home chemistry, biology, and practical mathematics lessons in addition to the hundreds of books we already own. It just makes me sad that we even have to think about how his education may be lacking the very things that made school so enjoyable for us.

This post was inspired by the Parent Bloggers Network's Bringing Science Back blog blast. Go to PBN and read more about it!

Monday, February 18, 2008

The delightful thing about being married to someone who majored in Biology

Him: "Hey, what's the name of this DVD you want me to rip?"


Me: "Jane Eyre"

Him: "Oh. How do you spell that?"

Me: (waits a minute to weigh the benefits of snarking him versus the very real possibility that he may refuse to finish making the DVD if I'm too snarky)

"J-a-n-e space E-y-r-e"

Him: "Shut up."

Me: (collapses in laughter)

Ah, love.

Friday, February 15, 2008


I implore you to RUN (figuratively speaking) to Jennifer Weiner's fantastic blog A Moment of Jen to read the first chapter of Certain Girls, her new book that's coming out in April. It's a sequel to Good in Bed, which is easily one of the best chick lit novels out there, and based on the first chapter Certain Girls is going to be another winner. Plus, infertility storyline! If there's a writer who's equipped to deal with infertility in a funny and sensitive way, it's Jennifer Weiner, hands-down.

What are you still doing here? Go, read, enjoy!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

I think it's a hit

Want to know how to make your incredibly geeky husband really, really happy on Valentine's Day? Get your mind out of the gutter and (apparently) into...

He hasn't stopped grinning since he got home and opened it up. Methinks it's a hit.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The only thing keeping me from crying today makes me want to cry

I'm having a rough week. My students have been acting out for substitutes lately and (of course) I have a mandatory training off-campus all day tomorrow so there's going to be yet another sub coming in. Combine that with a grant application deadline that's looming, a lingering cold, and some very wakeful nights with Luke and I'm just miserable. It's a miracle I haven't fallen asleep or burst into tears in class, that's how tired and miserable I feel right now. All that's keeping me going right now is the knowledge that Juan doesn't have to work this weekend so he can take over parenting duties while I take some much needed naps, and that makes me feel even worse.

After all we went through to have Luke I feel guilty for whining about how tired or stressed I am even though I know these thoughts don't mean I'm not incredibly thankful to have him. I've seen some discussion about this guilt on parenting-after-infertility message boards, so I know I'm not the only one who feels this way. It's a "how dare I wish for a baby-free day when there are still so many couples out there who would kill for what I have" feeling that doesn't go away even though I know, intellectually, that being happy all the time just isn't realistic. I'm a new mom who hasn't had a decent night's sleep in over 6 months and has a full time job outside the home--it's not unreasonable for me to want a break from my life once in awhile. Try telling that to the little nagging voice in the back of my head, though.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Six months!

Today is Luke's 6 month birthday and it's hard to believe how fast the last half year has gone by. At his appointment on Friday he was 25.59 in. long (25th percentile) and weighed 14.69 lbs. (10th percentile) so he's still a small boy, but one who's growing every day.

The big news out of the visit was that he's teething! Surprise! Juan and I had no idea he was so close to cutting teeth, but the doctor took one look at his gums and declared that both bottom teeth are "right there". Sure enough, you can easily see them when he opens his mouth wide (which he's refusing to do right now, otherwise I'd share a picture) and I can even feel the sharp ridge of the right one when I feel his gums. He's being a trooper about them even though they must be uncomfortable, and other than a low fever he's been running on and off this weekend he's his normal happy self.

He's very anxious to be on the go, and while crawling isn't happening yet he's found a very effective way to scooch around on his back. The cats are less than thrilled with this development, and while they'll still come near him when he's on the floor they've learned to stay attentive to how close he is to their tails.

We've also started to see some real stranger anxiety from him, which is a bit early but not wholly surprising. There doesn't seem to be a consistent pattern with who he decides he doesn't like, but mostly he seems to be more afraid of women than of men.

Overall, though, Luke continues to be the happiest, most easygoing baby I've ever known. Happy half-birthday, little boy!

Sunday, February 03, 2008

I never learn

Why is it that I ALWAYS end up going to the grocery store on Super Bowl Sunday? It's like I'm physically incapable of remembering to buy some completely essential thing until the worst possible day to shop.

Naturally, because I like to up the ante idiocy-wise every year, Luke had to come with me to Albertson's today. He was an absolute angel the whole time, unlike the 20-something man we encountered in the frozen food aisle who ran past us yelling "Get in the fucking line already!" to someone on his cellphone while also steering a cart that, I kid you not, contained at least a dozen cases of Bud Lite.

We got out unscathed, and I am once again pledging to never, EVER go to the supermarket on Super Bowl Sunday again. Until next year, that is.


Edited to add: Thank goodness the Giants won. Perfection is boring. Not that I watched the game--I've spent the evening participating in the anti-Super Bowl: a "Sex and the City" marathon accompanied by brownies and vegetarian chicken nuggets.