Saturday, April 28, 2012

Reflections on a True Misadventure - 34 Days

The Rolling Stones - Moonlight Mile

"Oh I'm sleepin' under strange, strange skies
Just another mad, mad day on the road
My dreams is fading down the railway line
I'm just about a moonlight mile down the road"...

I took Thursday off to clean the house. Every hour or so, I would go upstairs and look at the mess that, underneath, was my bedroom, and would get so upset I would go and sit on the stairs and then lay down on the couch till I fell asleep. Next hour: repeat. 

On Thursday evening I went to Pilates class, and came home around 8:30, re-energized. I put on some loud, dance-y music, and went to town. I cleaned my room. I put everything away. I threw away all the junk. I made piles to donate to the Philly AIDS Thrift. I put a light blanket on the bed to chase away the chill. I made a firm decision.

This experience will not beat me. As long as I am still standing, I am okay. I am reminded, again, of the poem "Invictus", by William Ernest Henley. The last time I referenced this poem, someone told me that Timothy McVeigh quoted it before his execution. I find this strange because I think that being a terrorist is the opposite of stoicism, which I think is the major guiding principle of the poem. I think that Henley had a bit of a rough time but chose to channel that into a powerful lyrical work. His poem is cited in Homer Hickam's memoir "Rocket Boys", when the burgeoning space race inspired the United States to re-evaluate its public education system to compete with the USSR. For me, I love to read its dark words during dark days:

"Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance

I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears

Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul."

On Friday morning, I woke up in my clean bedroom to a house that had not been burgled again. I took a long shower, got dressed, drank coffee, ate breakfast, and went to work. I walked into class, set up for the day, and waited for the students to come in.

All day, I spoke to the students about just a few things. 1) How could we live in a space station? 2) Saturn and 3) How to resist peer pressure and why not to break into people's houses. I was surprised to find that all the students empathized with me and felt sorry that this had happened. I sadly realized that most of them shared in my experience. (I had learned a few days earlier that someone had thrown a rock through one of the new school building's windows.) I sadly realized that I am making the right decision. I sadly realized that what Officer Montoya and other cops told me was right: Philadelphia is a violent and dangerous city.

Colouring my thoughts and conversations all day were the thoughts and fears that, when I came home, I would find the house in the same state as I had the day before. It was all I could think about, and I kept apologizing to the students that I was being a terrible teacher all that day. It was incredibly important to me to communicate with them, share with them, and impart upon them to not do anything like this to anyone, especially to strangers.  Funnily enough, they were quiet and compassionate and listened. Several times, other teachers walked in to my room to find us all sitting and talking quietly, sharing stories.

When I came home, of course, the house was fine. Nothing was amiss. The safety pole waited steadfast at the back door. The new front door locks were strong and tight. Nothing had moved from its box, or its drawer, or its shelf: so unlike two days before. But something was, of course, different. The feeling that someone, out of anger or desperation, threw everything that I owned, in the living room, office, and especially, bedroom, onto the floor, will never go away. That feeling, that knowledge, pervades everything here. Nothing was wrong yesterday, but my home here will never be the same.

What is The Nothing - from "The Neverending Story"

That being said, I am lucky. My lease is up shortly and I will be able to move. I have so many great opportunities, and I have to take advantage of them.

Philadelphia has given me the opportunity for an existential crisis. This crisis, this phase of realization, acceptance and transformation, is a gift. Let me only be lucky enough to perceive its lessons and choose to learn from them.

A few years ago, my friend Martha J and I were talking about homes. She, at the time, was living at the Castilian Dormitory and working for the University of Texas National Institute of Forensics, and I was talking to her about how hard I thought it would be to live in many different places throughout the course of a year, as she was at the time. I told her that I felt like I needed my home as a physical space that was mine, that I could decorate and make my own. And she told me that she didn't agree: that home was wherever she was. Back then, I didn't understand what she meant. But now, after all of this, and perhaps especially after the break-in, I really do. Home is within us, a part of us. It doesn't matter where you are, just who you are with.

That being said, I still love having a great home that I can decorate. I don't think that will change: home is very important to me. But, I think that I have re-evaluated and have a different understanding of the home within and the physical space we live within. 

Even though, very shortly, I have to say goodbye to my new Philly friends, or at least "until we see each other again", I know that as long as I learn from this and all lessons that I have learned in this crazy town, that I will stay in touch with those friends and remain close with them and with all the other wonderful people in my life.

And I will remember a quote from "Mad Men", the show I have been re-watching over the last few weeks: "People tell you who they are, but we ignore it because we want them to be who we want them to be."

Yma Sumac - Taki Rari

From now on, though....I will listen to great music like that of  Yma Sumac, pack up the few things that I am taking with me, and go!

1. Compassion from my students
2. Listening to the sounds of wonder when they viewed the new video of Saturn and Jupiter from the Cassini mission
3. Coming home to a calm household
4. Going to a Phillies game with a good friend!
5. Weekends and time....

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A Violation Misadventure - 36 Days

Today, I came home to find my house had been broken into. Not much had been stolen, but my stuff (and my roommate's stuff) was EVERYWHERE.

Couch cushions, books, curios, coffee table, bedsheets, clothes, fabric, etc. are now strewn as if someone was looking for something like drugs or money. I guess that is what they were looking for....

Public Enemy - Shut 'Em Down

After a visit from five Philly cops and four friends, locks were changed and a safety pole was installed. I am still, however, firmly ensconced on my couch. I am going to stay here tonight.

1. Friends, no matter how new, who will be there for you when you need them and who will laugh with the Philly cops who, ultimately, are people, too
2. Learning from a coworker that your students are talking obsessively about space during after school detention
3. Wednesday afternoons when you are given time to get work done and you leave at 4 feeling like it is all finished for the next day
4. Friends who, no matter how old, will call you and talk to you and say how nice it is to hear your voice
5. Giant fabric stashes that yield emergency curtains when the need when you need to cover windows so people can't see in.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

An Educational Misadventure: Woe is Me, the SDP

In today's case, the SDP is, of course, the School District of Philadelphia. Woe is me, indeed.

"What we know through a lot of history and evidence and practice is that the current system doesn't work," Ramos said.  (Pedro Ramos - School Reform Commission Chairman)

Dominating's homepage earlier today were three stories about the school district. These stories are covering what has become the humdrum rallying cry of school districts across the nation: we are short on money, citizens of ______, please help us.

The School District of Philadelphia is projecting a $218 million deficit for school year 2012 - 2013, and those figures are assuming passage of a controversial Actual Value Initiative (think: More Taxes!). Without the passage of AVI, the budget gap will be wider, and will simply grow with time. It is hard to say why the citizens of Philadelphia should pay more taxes, except that it is the "right" thing to do in times like these. Citizens of Philadelphia pay a city tax, a state tax, and a federal tax for the privilege of living and working in Philly. (This should explain to you why many people neither live nor work in Philly....therefore reducing the tax base and removing young, upwardly mobile people from Our Fair City). Philly has a thriving welfare state, where many, many people are on subsidized housing and government assistance. It seems wrong to demand that the people who actually pay property taxes should pay more when there are many vacant properties with absentee landlords and  thousands of work-age people who could also contribute in some way.

But I digress: the issues of a city-wide dependence on welfare are for another day.

Per pupil spending in Philadelphia was $6,345.26 per child per year last year,with a 49% college bound rate.  This  number is so absurdly low considering that 33% of students in Philly live at or below the poverty line, and is especially absurd when you contrast per pupil spending in the city with spending in the higher-income suburbs like Jenkintown ($14,473.49 with an 87% college bound rate) and Lower Merion ($15,484.33 with a 93% college bound rate).

Understanding the inherent inequity in access based on funding that Philadelphia is dealing with, and coupling that lack of funding with the serious social issues that students in Philadelphia are facing, it is a slap in the face that Governor Corbett has chosen to cut education across the state, but focus his attention on ten school districts with extreme cuts. Of those ten, nine are in the greater Philadelphia area and four of them have above average poverty concentrations. In contrast, Pittsburgh is actually receiving more funds this coming school year than last. It would seem that Governor Corbett is out to attack and destroy those districts who need the most help; therefore saying that the results of urban blight, white flight, and the dismantling of social services are the fault of every child in Philly who attends a public school. Clearly, these children are making the decisions that are leading to the high dropout rates, lack of opportunity, and high rates of violence within their city.

The current plan is to close underused and failing schools and redistribute students to charters and to other public schools. 

If you paid attention to last year's news on Philly public schools, you may remember the protests at the creation of the Renaissance schools. This latest attempt by the SDP to deal with their problem by cutting one end of the blanket and sewing it to the other side is indicative of a larger problem: a system-wide unwillingness to look at urban districts that are showing results and changing for the better. Philly public schools are a screaming mess, and their funding is being reduced, again. 

The answer does not only come from increasing funding, however. The District must do something to address the abhorrent violence in schools, and the de facto acceptance of that violence. In addition, the District must do something about a teacher's union that is so strong that it controls any and all "reform" to such a point where there is no reform at all. This teacher's union is crippling itself and cutting its own legs off, but most importantly, it is cutting the heads of the future of America: the students. When teachers are paid a very high salary for doing nothing, when tenure is a part of K-12 education and teachers who are unionized are given no sort of requirements for keeping their jobs, and when energetic, young teachers are the first to be fired because they have not "paid their dues", you have a system designed to soothe and coddle the careers of adults. Nowhere in this mess of a system are the students' future lives being discussed. The lip service of the SDP, and of the state of Pennsylvania in general, toward equity, diversity and closing the achievement gap is laughable.

37 Days

Peter Gabriel - Big Time

1. Good conversations at work when you realize it all is water under the bridge....

2. Inspiring students to add Neil Degrasse Tyson as a friend on Facebook....after watching this video!

3. Hearing feedback from students about why the International Space Station is important; that they realize that diversity creates better science and stronger thinking is so refreshing!

4. Listening to Dave Brubeck with my homeroom as they worked on their Disease of Your Choice nice when they are happy and engaged and working!

5. Finding peace with this..

Monday, April 23, 2012

38 Days Thank You!

I am blessed by the people in my life.

This may sound trite, but I am being honest. Yesterday, I had a wonderful conversation with a good friend about how we have all of these amazing people in our lives who reach out and help us, no matter what emotional drama is going on within our heads.

I am truly thankful for all of my friends and my family, and the friends that have become family. How did I get this lucky? Smiling, I think, is the key to my success. Smiling, honesty, being emotional, sharing creativity, trying to listen, laughing whenever and however possible, and of course, the key to all things, being in the right place at the right time, has brought all of these people to me.

The Rolling Stones - 100 Years Ago

Today I had a wonderful conversation with my principal. I have, so far, worked for six principals. Some have been good, two have been great, and some have been just bad. My current principal is a great person: she listens and she hasn't lost her humanity despite the stress of her job. I respect that. I sat in her office today, explained how I was feeling, and she really listened. Not only did she listen, but she gave me suggestions about what I could do to further my goals. She reiterated what was going on in my head and told me it was okay. Of all the difficult conversations that I have had with principals, and trust me when I say I have had many, this was one of the top three. I left her office feeling like no matter how conflicted I feel, that I am doing the right thing.

Morphine - Shame

So...the secret is out!

I quit my job today.

Effective the last day of this year, I will no longer be a teacher in Philly. I will be taking a break: I am calling this a Sabbatical. Why should sabbaticals be reserved for highfalutin college professors? My sabbatical entails  (so far): working with kids on a boat, making lots of silver, gold, bronze and copper jewelry, going to Mexico for a few months and reconnecting, and writing a lot. 

I don't know where this will take me....all I know is that it feels right. I feel like it is time to take time off and focus on other parts of my life. So, from here on out, until I leave Philadelphia, I will continue to post here. After that, a new project that is to be unveiled later.

Arcade Fire - We Used to Wait

I feel like I have reached a point in my life where I am not okay with waiting for "it" to happen anymore. It is now time to reach out and grab life as best as I can. I know what I want, so I am aiming to go out and make beautiful things, spend time with people I love, and explore the beauty that is all around me and you and everyone else.

Today was a good day!

1. The weather cooled off and it rained all day yesterday. Today, I opened all the windows in my room and we bathed in the cool rainy day....if there had been fog, we would have fog-bathed. Instead, we listened to the sounds of firetrucks, policecars and trains and felt the cold breeze blow in and over the mineral samples, under the curtains, and between the potted plants.
2. A great conversation with my principal.
3. Hugs from kindergartners and first-graders.
4. Reading the answers to "What Do You Think It Would Be Like to Live in Space?", written by 6th and 7th graders.
5.  That peaceful time, at the end of a long day, when you get to grade papers, hang up student work, and listen to music in a building that, for a moment, is quiet....

Grizzly Bear - On a Neck, On a Spit

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Student Loan Forgiveness Act

H.R. 4170, sponsored by Democratic Representative Hansen Clarke, is worth looking into if you have student loans or have friends or family who have them.

H.R. 4170, or the Student Loan Forgiveness Act, is not an giant "we forgive your debts" piece of legislation, but rather a plan to make paying back student loans affordable, meaningful and manageable. Those of us who have debt know the feeling of never being finished with it, as if it will just keep going for our whole lives. We also know the desire to continue in higher education to expand our knowledge bases and career goals that is coupled with the terror and realization that we are adding tens of thousands of more dollars onto an already gigantic negative balance.

I am going through this right now and have, in fact, decided not to go back to school because I simply cannot afford adding $40,000 to my already existing debts. I do not think that $40,000 is a good gamble in the economy: an economy where that Masters degree will probably give me a $1000 - $3000 bump in annual salary. This means that I will have to teach or administrate for at least 13 additional years to makeup the cost. (In some states, Masters degrees will earn you more of a bump in salary....but those states or cities are typically much more expensive for cost of living, so you have to balance that out, too. There is a huge question in my mind right now about what exactly we are all doing....there is so much money flying in and out of bank accounts, and I wonder what it is for? Why live in a bigger city where you will be paid more if it also means you have to pay more just to survive?)

U.S. News and World Report goes into a great amount of explanation over the details, and you can also find a pdf version that explains how it would work here. Basically, if you accrue student debt, under the act, you would pay 10% of your discretionary income for ten years, and then any remaining debts would be forgiven. Now, being that discretionary income is income that is post-tax and post-expenses, this would mean much less than most of us are paying now.

Let me use myself as an example. As a teacher with almost ten years of experience (wait for it), I earn $2500/ month after taxes. (No, you didn't read this wrong. See my earlier post about the Teacher Salary Project and maybe you can sign up over there, too).  You may think this is tacky, but I am making a point here....

So....$2500  - all my bills (rent, cell phone, car payment, insurance, health care, gym membership, utilities, and credit cards) = $1015.00 more or less per month for gas, food, and student loans. I even qualified for Teacher Loan Forgiveness, so I am in a better spot than most.  I am thinking this bill's emphasis on discretionary spending does not include food, gas and entertainment.

Under this bill, my payment would be $101.00 per month. Currently, my student loan payments are $235.00. This bill would help me leaps and bounds, and no doubt, would help you, too.

The goals of this act are not to give forgiveness, but to alleviate some of the debt that is crippling people in my generation and the generations after. We all have to live with debts, and we all have to deal with the consequences of decisions we have made. But for those of us who are teachers, librarians, social workers, policemen, firemen, public defenders, adjunct professors, or other social service professionals, this is a plan that will make people feel like what they are doing is appreciated by our country, and that the American Dream is still available for us. Right now, it seems like the vision of the American Dream is becoming shrunken so small, it is hard to imagine how it can be accomplished when one has so little money to save despite experience and education. 

Going to this link will allow you to contact your Congressional Representative and tell her/him that you, too, support this act. 

Friday, April 20, 2012

39 Days

James McMurtry - No More Buffalo

Last year, for my 30th birthday, my friends and I went to see James McMurtry play at the Continental Club in Austin. I had never seen him, and really only been to the famous Continental a few times in all my years in Austin. Before the show, my really good friends and I met up at Gueros for drinks and snacks, and later went on to the show. My friend Elizabeth helped me heckle the band to play my favorite songs, with little friend Jacquie bought me round after round of drinks and even found a soldier newly back from Iraq to share the cheer of drink buying with. Rodi and Lyndsy and Chuck were there. We danced and drank and I loved it. I didn't realize how, a year and a half later, I would miss that night like crazy, and all the times that I had in that town that I really didn't appreciate until I left.

Now I am sitting in my living room on the same furniture that populated my little cottage in Hyde Park, across from the golf course. And as I sit here, I realize I could never have gotten "here" had I not given up all that I knew and loved and took the risk that I did. Took the risk, lost a lot, made more than I ever started with, and am still standing.

The Replacements - Unsatisfied

1. Getting greeted by the sixth graders in Portuguese today 
2. More interest in space....the students loved the information on the International Space Station and wanted to know all about it
3. Hanging out with a friend's magical kids this evening
4. Writing a short but important letter
5. Trusting that friends will be there no matter where you actually are in physical space....

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Assault on Learning Central

Please take a look over at's Assault on Learning series. Parts 1 - 7 are incredibly interesting, well-reported and thought-provoking.

"How this series was reported
Five Inquirer reporters devoted a year to examining violence in the Philadelphia public schools, conducting more than 300 interviews with teachers, administrators, students and their families, district officials, police officers, court officials, and school violence experts.

The Inquirer created a database to analyze more than 30,000 serious incidents - from assaults to robberies to rapes - that occurred during the last five years. That information was supplemented by district and state data on suspensions, intervention and 9-1-1 calls. Reporters also examined police reports, court records, transcripts, contracts and school security video.

The Inquirer also enlisted Temple University to conduct an independent survey of the district's 13,000 teachers and aides. More than 750 teachers and aides responded to questions about violence and its impact on students' education.

The newspaper also obtained internal district documents detailing violent incidents during the past five years. On specific cases, reporters interviewed victims, perpetrators, police, attorneys, witnesses, and attended court hearings.

One reporter had regular access over nearly six months to students, teachers and administrators inside South Philadelphia High School, one of the city’s most dangerous schools."

You can also Like this series on Facebook

40 Days

Bruce Springsteen - Atlantic City

"Stop feeding the hand that bites you" - Kelly Jean Rodibaugh

"Sunshine and shower be with you, bud and bell!
For two months now in vain we shall be sought:
We leave you here in solitude to dwell
With these our latest gifts of tender thought;
Thou, like the morning, in thy saffron coat,
Bright gowan, and marsh-marigold, farewell!
Whom from the borders of the Lake we brought,
And placed together near our rocky Well."

 - Wm. Wordsworth 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

41 Days

Siouxsie & The Banshees - Spellbound

Tomorrow, my goal is to get my mojo back. Hurrumph!!!
1. My students were so excited to see me again after a day's absence. I told them I was going to get mean substitutes more often. ;)
2. Teaching about the Moon and the stars is endlessly fascinating to me and to my students.
3. Peaceful, quiet time for reading and researching for a whole hour between the end of the day and meetings.
4. Realizing that I have been making mistakes, been getting too caught up, and making the decision to take a step back and enjoy the days with the kids as much as possible.
5. Making jewelry and taking long walks through South Philly helps me refocus. Turns out Warnock Street between Christian and South, is gorgeous! I want to live there.

Monday, April 16, 2012

42 Days

Joni Mitchell - Both Sides Now

Betelgeuse, betelgeuse, betelgeuse!

Was the Celestial Object of the Day....complete with "homework" that is to look at the stars and contemplate them and maybe even download that amazing app, Stargazer, and really learn about the stars and planets and fundamentally shift your idea of place in the world....this is the goal, anyway. 

I think that teaching astronomy is this gift of a unit: it is an amazing space and tool to teach complex math, reinforce chemistry, talk about scientific theory, the nature of science, life on Earth and life other places, but most importantly it imparts a sense of wonder in everyone.

Today's homework is to go home and at sunset, look for Venus "The Evening Star", and then wait. Later, in the dark, to look South-Southwest for the Big Dipper, the Moon, Jupiter and Mars...then trace over a bit and find Polaris, and tonight look for Orion's Belt and then trace up a bit and find Betelgeuse, a star so huge that it would engulf Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars and the asteroid belt, maybe even Jupiter if it was our Sun. A star 640 light years (give or take) away, whose light that shines in our sky tonight was produced back in the 15th century, when Central America was just being first explored by Europeans. 

My a/c was broken today and it was 90 degrees and I will just let you imagine the level of stink and horror that was the perfume of my room by 3:45 today. Middle schoolers are stinky, stinky children....who love learning about space.

1. My heat tolerance is very high, apparently, and, good to know, as I remember from last summer, my perception of what is really hot will always help, not hinder, my flexibility in any given situation.
2. "Make a Bridge, and Get Over It"
3. Teaching about the Earth and stars and other planets
4. Students noticing Carl Sagan quotes on the board and repeating them to themselves
5. Clean desk, awesome substitute plans, a day tomorrow to start to fix my back.....

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Teacher Salary Project, or One of the Many Reasons that I Love Matt Damon

"THE TEACHER SALARY PROJECT encompasses a feature-length documentary film, an online resource, and a national outreach campaign that delves into the core of our schools as seen through the eyes and experiences of our nation's teachers. This project is based on The New York Times bestselling book Teachers Have It Easy: The Big Sacrifices and Small Salaries of America's Teachers by journalist and teacher Daniel Moulthrop, co-founder of 826 National and former classroom teacher Nínive Calegari, and writer Dave Eggers. American Teacher is produced by Calegari and Eggers, produced and directed by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Vanessa Roth, and narrated by Matt Damon..."

This documentary brings up many great points, most of which I agree with. I think it is important to deal with the realities of teaching that we are people who work almost constantly during the year, that our job is not appreciated culturally, that administrators can be overwhelmed themselves and therefore support is compromised, and that the problems can be overwhelming.

My one critique of this film is that it does not address inner city schools or rural schools at all; all of the teachers and students in this film are in high- or average-performing schools with a high level of parent and community support. One indication of this, in my view, is that none of the students in this film are going to school in schools with uniforms: all are wearing what I would consider to be a "dress code" but there is no consistent uniform. It is most likely for low-performing, high-mobility schools with a large number of students coming from poverty backgrounds that all students are required to wear a uniform. It is debatable in some circles, but most likely that in higher-poverty, higher-crime urban areas, uniforms do make a positive effect in the achievement and attendance rates of students.

The film does an excellent job of making the logistical, life issues that all teachers face: how do you have your own family if the job takes up so much time and energy and pays so little? While I don't think that money is the answer to the education reform problem, I do think that higher salaries would help. In fact, one of the teachers in this film says that he understands how, when money is devoted to an area of our society and/or economy, things begin to change: there is a shift in focus and resources.

I hope they make a part two! I would like to see them come to the schools that are in real dire straits: urban schools in cities, and rural schools in the country. I would like them to examine South versus North, and address how immigration, ESL (or ESOL up here in Philly!)  and Special Education rates are affecting how schools are running their days, and approaching the organization of teaching time in the classrooms.

Now it's streaming on check it out!

RSA Animate

If you haven't already been lucky enough that a friend sent you a link to one of these animated videos, then hopefully you will take a few minutes and watch these and then go out to YouTube and find more!

RSA Animate is a product of RSA - 21st Century Enlightenment: a wonderful resource for thinking about the changes that our world is facing at our moment in our speedy, media-rich society. Their mission states:

"In the light of new challenges and opportunities for the human race our purpose is to develop and promote new ways of thinking about human fulfilment and social progress which speaks directly to our strapline - 21st century enlightenment."

Here are two of my favorite RSA Animate videos....there are many more. Check them out!

 Changing Education Paradigms - Sir Ken Robinson, PhD

The Secret Powers of Time - Dr. Philip Zimbardo

Friday, April 13, 2012

43 Days


Sometimes, on days like today, I feel like I am a bad teacher with horrible classroom management who is trying to impart a sense of wonder in students who have so much stacked against them it is hard to say how they would even cultivate that sense of wonder, anyway.

Despite this, many of them told me that they went home last night and found the Big Dipper and the North Star and Venus. So, all is not lost.

After seven years of teaching, I feel like I should be doing better, but I am not. I know that I have not taught these students as much as they should have learned. I feel like I have let them down: somehow I have not shown them what I should. Somehow, I have failed them. Somehow, no matter what I have done, it has not been good enough.

Next week, we will learn more about planets and stars and the origins of the Universe. As I told them today, the whole purpose of learning astronomy, besides the nuts and bolts, is to inspire a sense of wonder and to realize how small we are in a sea of everything that is so large.

Carl Sagan - Pale Blue Dot

1. Fridays
2. Labs that teach students that the solar system is larger than they could possibly imagine
3. Looking forward to sunbathing in Fairmount Park this weekend
4. Students playing a song by Jay-Z because "we love you"
5. Teaching astronomy and realizing that, no matter what, kids are kids and they all love to learn about space.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

44 Days

Marvin Gaye - Inner City Blues

In honor of the long, slow slide into summer....a song per day. Choosing a song of the day that goes with that day specifically will be a bit of a task, but here is the first. "Inner City Blues" has always been one of my favorite songs, and really does make me think of Philadelphia as a whole, not just the neighborhood in which I teach.
5 Things That I am Grateful for - 12.04.12

1. "What did you think was interesting or surprising about the Cosmic Survey we did on Tuesday?" "That space is really, really big."
2. Watching the students read through their Astrology for Kids (just for fun) information about their zodiac sign with such excitement...they just loved reading in those moments, sharing their personal attributes and thinking about how they applied to themselves.
3. Forgiveness and not taking things personally that, at the beginning of the year, I was unable to not take personally.
4. Finishing the science equipment list for the new school....finally!
5. Teaching students how to find the pole star, and teaching them things they have never learned or thought about before!

I love teaching astronomy.....

Monday, April 9, 2012

Made for You and Me

I just finished reading Made for You and Me by Caitlin Shetterly. It was my roadtrip book alongside A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, and even though I find it flat in parts, I really enjoyed the story of this small family's bust of an adventure to California...

In the story, many things happen to Caitlin and her husband. Most of those things are bad luck, but there are many examples of strength, determination, and flexibility, too. Within its pages is quoted a poem called "First Lesson" by Philip Booth...It resonated with me, so here it is:

Lie back, daughter, let your head
be tipped back in the cup of my hand.
Gently and I will hold you. Spread
your arms wide, lie out on the stream
and look high on the gulls. A dead-
man's-float is face down. You will dive
and swim soon enough where this tidewater
ebbs to the sea. Daughter, believe
me, when you tire on the long thrash
to your island, lie up, and survive.
As you float now, where I held you
and let go, remember when fear
cramps your heart what I told you:
lie gently and wide to the light-year
stars, lie back, and the sea will hold you.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

End of the Year

The same thing always happens.

This time of the year comes, and the end of the school year is very near. Mere weeks lie between the present moment and that blissful day when you tell the students, "you don't have to go home, but you can't stay here" and off they go, and off you go, on summer vacation.

I find, as the sun has sprung back, plants are growing, summer's heat is just around the corner, that I begin dreaming about the next school year and how I will teach differently, change the labs we will do, alter the order of the concepts we'll study, focus on different strategies to teach what I want to teach them....I spend so much time right about now daydreaming about next year and how it will be different and better.

I guess this is when you know that you love your job? That despite all the issues of this year and how hard it has been, I love working with students and teaching science.

So. There you go.

What is Science?

How to Write a Story by Kurt Vonnegut 

Diver Ed --- learning and teaching is not restricted to a classroom! How about a boat?

Friday, April 6, 2012

Going Home

You You You You - The 6ths

I am sitting at the bar in the kitchen of some lovely peoples' apartment in New Haven. New Haven, turns out, is a lovely city with very beautiful blocks of brownstones and row homes. Spring in this area means every tree is in flower and there are branches bursting with white and pink blooms everywhere you look. It seems as if the flowers will just begin pouring off their trees at the rate they are blooming and dropping petals all over the bricked ground.

Their apartment is close to Yale's campus and a historical district, to boot! The park nearby is a perfect rectangle planted, at its edge, with trees bursting with soft, spring flowers. Dark pink, light pink, and white just droop off branches that sweep the grass and bricks that make up the ground. This is such a small-feeling town, and I always thought of New Haven as a big city! Goes to should always stop and walk around a new town! 

Rebellion (Lies) - Arcade Fire

All I want is to be home, in my bedroom, in my bed. I have been away now for a week and am ready to be with my stuff. Not for nothin', I love my bedroom. I love my books. I love my couch and my furniture and my kitchen. I love creating art at 2 or 3 in the morning. I love staring at the streetlight that is right outside my window: the light I love to hate. I love listening to the pigeons, the cars, the sirens, the wind that rustles the power lines.

 Sundown - Gordon Lightfoot

Soon it will be summer and all the loves that I have for the Rosewood house will be transplanted and transformed to a new house. Soon I will be working at least two summer jobs, and listening to wind rustling the locust trees of the lane, watching the tide come in and go out, staring up at millions of stars every night, and spending time with friends new and old.

Take Care - Beach House

Last year, I moved everything I owned to Philadelphia from Austin. I paid lots of money and spent lots of time and anguish getting it to Philly, unpacking, arranging and making a home in a strange city. I find it hilarious, in a melodramatically tragic way, that now I am hoping to sell/donate/throw out the window almost everything that I paid about $3000 to move. After all, it is only money. After all, it is time for a clean slate. After all, it is time to shed some baggage and say....

Thanks, Rodi....

Ultimately, tomorrow begins the journey of taking a new step, a next step. Last year, I shook up my life by moving across the country to a new city that, by all accounts, did its best to test my mettle. Now I feel that Philly and I have lulled into an understanding with each other: not the all-out war I experienced at the beginning. At one point, I thought I would fight Philly. I lost. At another point, I thought I would make an altar to Philly. I realized that this would just be a mockery because I didn't really like her all that much. Hence the lull into mutual dislike.

Philadelphia - Neil Young

My brother called me the other day and I realized how excited I am to be able to live in the same town as him, even if it is only for the summer. It has been thirteen years since we lived in the same place. It has also been thirteen years since I lived in the same place as my parents. I am very nervous about living with them, even for the short time that the summer inevitably will be.

Despite the nerves, I have to remember all the experiences I had in Maine last week and how that was only in one week! The eccentricity of people, their kindness, the beauty of the place, the strange knowledge that it just might work out.....

It is time.