Rowdy Crowds, Skinny Jeans and Where the Hell Did October Come From?

2 10 2008

So it’s Thursday. I’m sitting in the library at Indiana University’s School of Education, wondering where the week went. It’s not one of those weeks where there are large chunks of time I can’t account for, as there sometimes are when there are television marathons or inane projects that I get totally sucked into. It’s been a chock-full week, filled with car appointments (Oskar is totally better now, although I was worried there for a day or two), assignments to be written and graded, and some fun sprinkled in there for good measure.

Like Ray Lamontagne. There is something about that gruff-yet-velvety voice that is crazy good. His new CD, Gossip in the Grain, comes out later this month and his tour supporting said CD began in Indy on Tuesday. I checked it out with grad school friends and was blown away by how amazing the man is on stage. He’s quiet, not a lot of interaction with the crowd, but insaney passionate about his music. There were moments I thought his body might break apart from the sheer force of his performance.

The crowd, however, left something to be desired. It was a drinking venue, which some people seemed to equate with bar, and were constantly leaving their seats with empty cans and returning with full ones. It made for a lot of distraction – seriously, are you here to drink or here to listen to the man’s music? Lots of hooting and hollering as well, which I can handle to an extent but it did have moments of obnoxiousness. Perhaps this is a clue that I’m getting old: I preferred the Dar Williams crowd a few weeks ago.

I need to buy new clothes. Normally, this would be a good thing, especially since the reasoning behind the new purchasing of the clothes is that I’m now at my lightest weight in about a decade. Unfortunately, I am on a graduate school budget (read: $0), so I’m going to have to be picky and choosy about what I buy… I miss my job and real paycheck some days. Most days.

The weight loss is also interesting in how anti-climactic it was. I’m now at that weight I envisioned in my head as being the be-all, end-all. I would step on the scale, numbers would appear on the digital read out, I would celebrate. There would be music and ticker tape. Instead there was just the whirring of my laptop in the next room and me mumbling, “I thought this would feel… skinnier” to myself in the wee small hours of the morning.

Haven’t been doing that much knitting lately, which I need to remedy. Christmas is approaching and I’m beginning to freak out. Just a smidge. Working needle time in with the demands this semester has been tricky and I might have to resort to buying some gifts rather than making them. It was a good thought…

I’ve also been playing with the idea of a separate knitting blog, one just about my knitting. I think one of the problems with keeping everything in this, my general blog, is it gets overwhelming. I have all these ideas and no time to organize them. A separate blog might enforce some structure I don’t currently have…

Must work now.


It’s All in the Math

18 09 2008

I’m always baffled when people talk about the sophomore slump, the idea that the second year is filled with half-hearted attempts, partially-realized goals, and a general lack of actually getting things done. My second year of doing anything tends to be great; I’ve had a chance to acclimate, think some things through, and make some plans. The second year is when all that comes together. It happened in high school, in undergrad, while teaching, and, surprisingly, graduate school is no different.

I’m insanely busy, but that is expected. Having grabbed onto an extra class has really placed some constraints on my time, but I’m feeling really good about the classes and my teaching. I’ve had a year to really think through my materials and methods and am really liking the result. I’ve started to keep blogs with both classes to provide us with an audit trail and will be turning over responsibility for them over to students in the coming weeks. I really wanted to rethink how I approached the idea of literacy and technology this year, integrating it in more organic and meaningful ways that I had last year. Yes, we used the university-designed interface for readings and some conversations but what do they do when they leave this place and have to use technology in real classrooms? We’ve done a lot of talking about possible ways to use blogs in the classroom (shared writing activities with younger students, parent communication) as well as ways to incorporate other tech pieces, like creating online field trip permission forms online using Google docs and linking that to a blog entry. It’s been interesting to listen to them begin to really think about how they are going to do this in their own classrooms, especially as we consider when technology is organic and essential when it is just fluff – unfortunately, it tends to be fluff the majority of the time.

Classes are good, although there’s lots of reading to be done, as always. This weekend will be a time of paper and proposal writing in the library – it’s that time when assignments begin coming due.

Have done a little knitting, working on an Irish Hiking Scarf for my Gram, but it’s no where near done. Anne and I have coffeehouse time tonight and we’re just going to knit, sip coffee, and gossip. I need some down time. That’s the other thing about the sophomore year: I’m no longer excruciatingly awkward (just regular-type) and have a really good group of peers. We lunch and knit and plan dinners. It’s nice. Pleasant even.

Unfortunately, a sophomore year filled with work, friends, and various activities doesn’t leave a lot of room for blogging. Must work on fitting that in a little more. Or find a way to add a couple of hours to the day.

I Think I’m Turning Into a Morning Person

15 09 2008

Each morning, for the past two weeks, I’ve been waking up at 5:30 to get to the gym for 6:00. In the beginning, the sound of the alarm at such an hour was torture and directly in opposition to the night owl nature I inherited from both my parents. Two weeks into it, the early alarm isn’t quite as shocking and may have turned into something pleasant even. I welcome the early morning gym, filled with a select smattering of people who, like myself, can’t fit in exercise time anywhere else in their schedule save for these wee small hours of the morning. An hour on the elliptical later and I’m on my way back home, where I make coffee while showering, read my blogroll over cereal, and find myself with plenty of time to fiddle before I actually need to be anywhere. I think this is what my stepfather always held over my head: this relaxed alertness waking early affords.

I think I like it and might become a morning person after all.

Things I Currently Enjoy

7 09 2008

I’m trying to avoid rants, as I feel I have engaged in many of them, both here on the blog and in real life. The opposite of a rant: enjoyment. There’s a lot I’m currently enjoying, in no particular order:

My mom’s side of the family is Sicilian, so there’s a large portion of my family who has that flawless olive skin that tans beautifully and never has a blemish. I did not inherit such skin and am engaged in a constant battle to keep my pores under control. I love The Body Shop’s Seaweed Pore-Cleansing Facial Exfoliant. It’s a little pricey at $12 a tube, but it lasts for a good while and since I’m pretty close to bald, I can move the money I would spend on shampoo to skincare. It’s been part of my morning routine for a while now and still leaves my skin feeling tingy and clean. Totally¬† worth it.

On my last trip to the grocery, I happened upon Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day Basil Laudry Soap. I’ve always been drawn to her graphics, clean scents, and commitment to Earth-friendly products. The Basil is a new scent that is absolutely amazing: clean and crisp and intoxicating enough that I left the store with a bottle of this $12 detergent under my arm. I can’t even justify this purchase with quantity: it only washes 32 loads – but those 32 loads will be the best-smelling loads ever. Definitely a guilty pleasure, I use it to wash my sheets and towels and they are just amazing. Sometimes, it’s worth it? And if I only do one load of sheets and towels a week, the bottle will last 32 weeks… (I haven’t finished my attempts to justify the purchase…)

I never quite got into Doctor Who, even after Steven Moffat (creator and writer of the hilarious UK series Coupling – and who had an unfortunate hand in the mess of a show known as Coupling on NBC a while back) moved on to write several epsiodes for the series. Several of my friends are die-hard Who fans and kept talking about Torchwood, a spin-off of sorts from Doctor Who. I finally got the first season on DVD through my local library and am three episodes into. At this point, I can say I’m totally, ridiculously hooked, if only to gaze at Captain Jack Harkness for an hour. It’s something like Buffy, except with aliens and a majority of British accents. Fun, fun, fun.

Tim Stark grows heirloom tomatoes on his farm in Pennsylania, delivering his crops to some of the most talked about restaurants in New York City. His collection of essays about his passion, growing tomatoes with history, is a nicely written, light read. His voice is engaging and casual, his stories lively and full-bodied. I’ve been retreating into this book in between articles and chapters for class and it’s been a lovely agricultural escape and nice addition to the other books I’ve read about food this summer.

So, having read about heirloom tomatoes for so long, I had to buy some at this weekend’s farmer’s market, along with some lovely eggplants, cucumbers, and peppers. I have visions of roasted eggplants, vinegarette salads and various goodness in mind this week. I also bought some really yummy Asian pears, which I surprised to learn would keep for months as long as they were refrigerated. Even better: they are grown locally, despite their exotic name. They also have this irresistable crunch I’ve been enjoying all weekend – I need to not enjoy it so much that I run out of them…

And last, but not least: Dar. Her new CD comes out on Tuesday and I’m pretty psyched for it. I’ve been listening to It’s Alright repeatedly on my iPod and she’ll be in Indianapolis later this month for a concert at The Vogue. There’s a group of us going to see her, our first real outting of the semester. I can’t decide what I’m more excited for: Dar or an evening out with some pretty great people.

Election 2008

4 09 2008

While I’m definitely not voting McCain, I cant quite hop on the Obama train. I want to. Most of my friends are on the train and it looks like an awful lot of fun, but I remain unconvinced. I’ve read his books, listened to his speeches and have had numerous, extensive conversations with my Obama-loving friends in an attempt to make myself like him. And I just can’t do it.

Here’s my rub: On Obama’s Support for the LGBT Community (which has undergone some edits from an earlier version this summer, has it not?), it states that he supports “full civil unions and federal rights for LGBT couples”, extending “marriage-like” rights to same-sex or other unmarried couples. Marriage-like? Are you serious? I am surprised that an African American presidential nominee would present such a separate-but-equal solution to the ongoing debate about lgbt marriage. Marriage-like is not equal to marriage; the reality is that it would simply create another category of difference: those who can be married and those who can not. Do we really need another box to check when filling out our insurance forms: single, married, widowed, married-like?

Obama is all about change, at least that is what I am told. He talks a good game; his speeches have been some of the most moving things I have heard in, well, a long time. They are the kind of speeches that will be quoted in history classes for their sheer elegance. I struggle, however, with his inability to think around the LGBT marriage debate. I don’t want to fall into that trap where I just become thankful that I could be getting any rights at all; I’m angry and annoyed and frustrated that we, as a nation, are still debating this. If I love and want to spend the rest of my life with the one I love, why should that be worth any less than my heterosexual counterpart? Why is my relationship marriage-like while they enjoy the social status of being marriage-standard?

I would love Barack, with his background in the law and religious background, to rethink the institution of marriage as a whole. (This is all wishful thinking – my desire to live somewhere that is fair and just.) It continues to be an inappropriate joining of church and state. The root of the marriage debate lies in religion, who has claimed marriage as a holy sacrament. Great, fine, you can have it. I don’t want it. What I want is a governmental process everyone has to go through in order to receive the rights and benefits that are bestowed on people who want to spend their life together, whether straight, gay, or lesbian. If someone wants the big to-do with the flowers and the satin and the dancing, spendid. Do it the same day. It will still be special and holy, if that’s your thing. If anything, separating the religious from the governmental would be good for marriage: it would signify a spiritual bond between two people who enter into a union rather than the multitude of messed up and crazy reasons people currently do. Peeps could still have their fancy shindigs and the government would be free from the ethical reigns of the church. Not everyone would be getting married, but no one would be bereft of the rights and benefits given to couples and children as a familial unit. Ah, yes. Wishful thinking.

Separate-but-equal sucks any way you slice it: it is simply another form of discrimination and I’m surprised to see it in such a landmark election by such a stellar candidate. Oh, Obama, you had me at the Audacity of Hope and lost me at Marriage-like.

Someone, Somewhere

3 09 2008

The first day of school is old hat for me; I’ve had so many first days on college campuses that they’ve become quotidian. There’s still the excitement of new syllabuses, the thought of new knowledge to be learned and created, but I’ve recovered from my Rory Gilmore-esque excitement over the first days of classes. I’m much more calm now, at least on the outside.

The thought that struck me, however, as I walked from one end of the campus to the other was that for someone traversing the campus green this was their first day of college. This could very well be their first day at an institution of higher learning and the thought put a little bit of a spring in my step, hoping they had some of that passion I remember in those first days as a student at Michigan State. I believed anything was possible, that there were nothing but options – and still do, although I’ve whittled down what I want to do with my life a bit. Just a little.

And so it starts.

Not Anything I Didn’t Already Know

2 09 2008

ABC News recently posted an online article about the lack of male elementary teachers in classroom and the various challenges male teachers face, including the low social status of teaching, parental bias (that whole women nurture, men enforce crap), and the whole sexualization of the male teacher. It’s an interesting read, although it does little to actually unearth the problem itself and if it was meant to be a recruitment tool to lure males into the profession, it fails on all counts. They interview Bryan G. Nelson, founder of MenTeach, and he relates a story about a parent who was “complaining and concerned” about his relationship with her daughter; ABC News later refers to the “mother’s suspicion of a perverted relationship.” Oh, that word: perverted. Why is it that perverted only comes out in reference to male teachers and their students. With women teachers, it is “inappropriate” rather than perverted, but I have to wonder what separates one descriptor from the other when they both reference similar behavior.

Also of note is the stereotypes section where they interview Mark Hedger, who now is a principal in Colorado, as he reflects on the reactions he got from a placement instructor when he said he wanted to be a teacher in the primary grades: “…she kind of laughed.” While I am sure Mr. Hedger is a great administrator, I wonder if ABC News is aware of the stereotype they reinforced with their inclusion of Mr. Hedger’s interview: that all male elementary teachers are in the classroom until they can enter into administration. As I was interviewing after graduating with my teacher credentials, I was consistently asked about my plans to move into admin. I was flummoxed as I had no desire to be an administrator. I simply wanted to teach but in order to do that I had to put up the front that I eventually wanted the corner office and my name on the school masthead.

The absence of male teachers in elementary classrooms is blamed for much: (seemingly) increasing rates of violence, poor scores on standardized tests, the general state of society, but there are very few things being done to address getting quality male candidates into classrooms. Screw just getting quality male candidates into classrooms – let’s attempt getting quality instructors, both male and female, in all classrooms. Raise pay for teachers, maintain their benefits, actually support schools with tax dollars; these are all simple ways in which society could lure quality candidates into classrooms. I can’t watch back-to-school Target commercials anymore – the ones where they talk about how money they give back to schools because you shop there. They are basically advertising the under-funding of our schools and twisting it to sell their product. It makes me want to yell at people: “Hey! You! Holding that Five Star notebook! Rather than buying a three dollar spiral bound notebook, approve a school bond so they can have a science lab!”

If there is a point to this rant, it is this: there are problems with our schools and we need to fix them. But we need to fix them holistically in order to make them more humane places for children to learn and adults to work. We cannot break our problems into smaller categories like “lack of male teachers” but need to look at the system as a whole and not just the schools but the society they serve. Schools are places of enculturation, passing on values of the communities they serve. What are those values and what are the foundations of those communities? Schools do not exist in a vacuum – to fully understand how and why one works, you have to understand the community it serves.

School starts for a large portion of the population – myself included. While I do not have a roster for my class in the morning – oh, lovely technological glitches – I know what to expect: a class of individuals who want to be good teachers. I will not give them any other alternative. Male, female, whatever; I will work hard to train them to be excellent instructors in the classroom, agents of change in the instructional system.