Parlor Spider...Step In, Little Fly

Insightful thoughts and/or rants from atop the soapbox from one who wishes to share the "right" opinion with everyone.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Great Employment Perks, But...

It's not too early for you soon-to-be-graduated college people to begin looking for a job. After all, my social security is in your get out there and start looking. Before you give up and take a waiter/waitress job, think about Al-Qaeda and what it can offer. (For the Homeland Security folks, this is NOT to be taken's tongue-in-cheek writing and, hopefully, not me-in-Gitmo writing. (perhaps I should just stop now...nah)
Anyway, according to documents seized just after 9-11 from an AQ operative in this country (as noted on CNN), there is a standard Al-Qaeda contract for employment. The perks are not bad, if I do say so myself. Since I am a teacher, you might be tempted to say I know all about such things.
Anyway, married members get seven vacation days every three weeks, and bachelors get five vacation days a month. Whoa! That's a LOT of free time. There is no word whether or not this included weekends. If not, this is not such a good deal. Bachelors get nearly nine weeks of vacation a year! No mention of whether that's paid vacation or not, however. I suspect not being assigned a suicide mission might be payment enough every so often.
Contracted members get 15 sick days a year. Heck, there are only twelve Mondays in a year! Even I don't get fifteen sick days a year. I must admit,though,that I suspect they are a lot more anxious to take them than I am.
Pay could be better. A married member gets the equivalent of $108.00 a month in Pakistani rupees (no, THAT doesn't make me think they're hiding Osama in Pakistan!) An unmarried fighter gets the equivalent of $17.00 a month, but what's to spend it on? If a person is lucky enough to have more than one wife, he gets an extra 700 rupees a month for each wife. I'm not familiar with the monetary system, but it does not sound like much to me...I mean, she could spend that much on new abayas every month. It seems that this could get expensive, and I'd have enough trouble keeping the sand out of my shorts and keeping all the ladies in burqas.
While the perks seem ok, it's probably not a job I'm going to sign up for soon. My nose gets sunburned too easily as it is.
College grads...that waiter/waitress job sounds rather tempting as well.


Of course, if you want to listen to conversations of me talking to students' parents about why their children are or are not doing well in school, it's YOUR time and effort.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

The Day the Music Died

With apologies to Don McLean and Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens, I think it's time we stand up for musical traditions: singing in the shower, whistling while we work, humming absentmindedly and karaoke. That's right...a fundamental part of the music culture is about to die in Viet Nam. Oh sure, you'll say, Viet Nam is so far away. How could the death of music there hurt us? This, of course, sounds like political discourse from a few years ago, but we'll let that slide. The communists have taken over, and they're killing music in Viet Nam...and I won't stand for it.
Actually, it's happening in a sneaky, subtle way. Convinced that social evils of drug abuse and prostitution have taken over this erstwhile pure society, the government has banned the serving of alcohol in karaoke bars in Viet Nam. The popularity of karaoke bars lies somewhere between soccer fans in England and the Cameron Crazies. Karaoke is what SE Asians DO for entertainment. Since the 1980's, an estimated 10,000 karaoke bars have sprung up in Viet Nam...and face it, there can't be that many cities so this is a LOT of karaoke places.
In a recent crackdown in Ho Chi Minh City, an estimated 600 people were found to be using ecstasy and more than 60 (that's right 6-0) strippers were arrested in karaoke places. Hence the alcohol ban. It's for your own good. Trust us. (It was, of course, only a matter of time before the hedonism of the West caught up to the communists. I say it serves them right.)
So, you might be thinking, how does all this affect the life and death of music? Can you imagine singing karaoke without having had a few drinks? I didn't think so.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Are Showers Optional, Too?

Now here is an almost foolproof plan perpetrated by a middle school gym teacher in the southeast. His name is on the web as is the palce of residence, but I'm going to leave that out. CNN reports that this teacher allowed kids to sit out of class for a dollar. That's right...for one smackeroo, a kid could sit on the side while the rest of his/her classmates ran, sweated, competed and generally, one might suppose had to take a shower.
Imagine! No more, "I forgot my gym stuff" or "My Mom forgot to get it out of the wash machine" or "'s, you know, THAT time" or even my favorite, "My doctor says I have a sprained spleen and can't participate this year." Pull out a Washington, and we're both good for the day. Let's see...I have about 100 kids in gym a day...if a third come up with the cash...
My only problem is that I have, maybe, three kids a week who'd want to sit out. Maybe it's because I have clean clothes waiting for those forgetful ones or because I routinely reward with carrots or, perhaps, because gym is a rather fun place to be at our school. It might just be that high school kids are different than middle school kids. Of course, they might also want that dollar to get some juice, too. It's a win-win for both them and for me.
Still, you have to admit, it was a genius plan. Go figure that some mother would turn him in!
I have to give a shout out to my favorite mother of all time as far as written notes are concerned. Kelly Kelley (I hope I got the name right) is the mother of one of my freshmen this year. Anthony was sick for three days, and my rule is that time missed must equal time made up. Anthony's a good guy so when he missed three days in a row, I called home to see what was up. I knew right away when I asked for her and she said, "This is she" that this was a special Mom (i.e. not from around here). Anyway, we had a nice chat, and she assured me that he was planning to come back the next day. This week I got a note from her explaining what Anthony had done to make up the time missed. While I think the actual note got lost before I could frame it, it read something like this:
"Anthony spent an afternoon rollerblading this weekend. He spent the rest of the time walking on my last nerve, though I don't suppose that counts as real exercise." Au contraire!!! A note like that gets extra credit! I cannot wait to meet this person at parent-teacher conferences.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Fixing Education: A Poll

What is the largest major problem facing our country today? Terrorists? Lobbyists? Vice Presidents with guns? The history of Hinduism as it affects California? (believe me, there are PLENTY of people worried about that one! really!!) No, of course not...our major issue is the education of those young people who will be in charge when we sit in nursing homes staring vacantly at reruns of Wheel of Fortune.
According to an Associated Press/America Online poll of both parents (n-1085) and teachers (n-810), education is a big issue, and there is some disagreement about how things are going. What with No Child Left Behind, charter schools, voucher programs and home schooling ad nauseam, it's no wonder this is a hot-button item. Here are the details as to how each group saw current education.

Less than 50% of parents thought discipline was a problem in schools.
More than 66% of teachers thought that it was a significant problem.

Over 63% of parents surveyed felt that learning was assessed more effectively with homework and in-class assignments rather than by using tests as a measure.
Slightly more than 70% of teachers agreed with them. High stakes testing got low grades all around. Provide your own reason why this might have been the case.

Are our schools doing a good job preparing our kids for college? More than 67% of parents felt that this was true. Teachers agreed at a 79% rate.

What is the most important subject taught in school today? (I was shocked to find out that it WAS NOT physical education) Parents felt that math was the most important while teachers felt that English was the most important. It is necessary to note that English was a relatively close second in the parents' poll.

Respondents were asked if they thought low expectations were part of the problem. Parents agreed that this was a problem to the tune of 43%. Teachers said "yes" 54% of the time.

Almost half (46%) of all teachers questioned said that they had been asked by a parent to change the grade a student had earned.

I found it tremendously fascinating that BOTH groups indicated that the single biggest problem facing education today was "getting and keeping good teachers."
I have many potential reasons for this, but I'm keeping them to myself. I have a bias, and I see too much education every day to be impartial.
No matter what you think needs fixing in public education today, the fact is that we try to educate a wide range of intellects under a variety of stresses. Sometimes I wonder how we manage at all.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Is Your Child Worthy of Einstein?

It's not too early to start thinking about holiday shopping...not Valentine's Day: it is too late for that. I mean, Christmas shopping, the only real holiday for shoppers. If you have a special 3yr.-old longing for the gift that will set him or her apart from the rest of the trendy, pre-preschool crowd, it's here now. Actually, the trend started last holdiay season, but if you are anything like me, you missed all the excitement. Now you can get in on the ground floor this year.
There's no time like now to get that toddler wired for the future. Of course, you're not going to start pumping cappaccino into the kid...that's for junior high. I mean REALLY wired as in technologically wired.
For the rocking chair set, there's the Baby Einstein: a rocking chair with an MP3 adapter and speakers. Just right for repeating the periodic table over and over (no more simple things like placemats of the periodic table...nerds!)or listening to classical music (Jailhouse Rock for example). It's never too early to start educating...Harvard doesn't just take ANY genius.
For the 3 and up set, there is a veritable plethora of possibilities. Fisher-Price who gave us Elmo, etc. now has a digital music player AND a digital camera designed for tekkies 3 and up. Both are designed to take four-foot drops and drool with aplomb.
Emerson has produced a Sponge Bob Square Pants Speaker system for an MP3 player as well as the requisite digital camera. Send your toddler off to daycare with this stuff, and he or she will be organizing a weblog, printing newsletters and selling all your stuff on EBay in no time.
Of course, there is a small downside to all this technology for tots. Who's going to download the tunes for the MP3 players? Will lawyers take cases brought by the music industry for stealing a copy of Old MacDonald Had A Farm from Morpheus? Will parents allow boogers on their keyboard as kids try to download their own stuff? Who will control photo-taking at home? If I'm walking around on Sunday morning in my boxers and ripped T-shirt, I don't want a little kid running around with a camera in hopes of a photo-op. Believe me, there's something going on here. I think it's a plot for the electronics industry to play Really Cool Big Brother and control our children as a preview to taking over the world.
Bill Gates, Galactic Emperor? It could happen! As for me, I'm getting a lock box for any electronic device I own.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Perfect Participation Payout

There seems to be a trend emerging in education. Whether it's an outstanding idea whose time has come or one which should be abhorrent to educators and parents everywhere remains to be seen. I rather suspect that, like posting the 10 commandments, each side has great reasons for its belief.
Here's the deal: school districts across the country and across the economic spectrum are paying kids to attend school. Some perfect attendees get a new bike; some get $25 for each term of perfect attendance; some get a larger monetary prize in a raffle; in Chicago, kids can win $500 in groceries or $1,000 rent money; Forth Worth schools offer use of a suite at a Texas Rangers' game; iPods are a popular reward, and some place in California gives out Disneyland trips; some have even gotten a new car that I cannot afford! This is not small potatoes nor is it confined to one or two school districts across the country. This is a phenomenon.
I think it probably began in a relatively poor district with a high rate of absenteeism, and it probably started in an elementary school where even a sticker can be a big deal. The fact is, it has mushroomed, and educators are taking sides.

The reasoning here is that anything which keeps students attending school is likely to result in higher test scores (and we know where THAT carrot got its start!). It stands to reason that this would be true. (After all, a whole generation began reading when the Harry Potter series began. I suspect they continue to this day). It also provides an incentive for students to show up even though they don't feel the best. Test scores have shown improvement in many cases. In the business world, so they tell me, rewards/perks are common for high achievers who meet stated goals.
This is not a new idea, I suppose. Mom and Dad offered me $1 for each "A" I earned on a report card during the later grade school years: this was a LOT of money to me at that time when the minimum wage was somewhere south of $2. The problem was that I could not remember the carrot in front of my nose for nine weeks. My folks seldom had to skip a meal to make a grade payment to me! So, let's look at the other side:

Purists will argue that gaining knowledge is a reward unto itself. These same folks argue that rewarding students for basic behaviors will lead them to expect even greater rewards for, say, finishing homework. Soon, the reasoning goes, studnts will be unwilling to do anything unless there's something tangible in it for them. How will these students do in college where the professor doesn't even know who they are and questions are answered by TAs? In one study, the $25 reward idea failed to generate any buzz because, as one student said, "What's $25 to a kid today?" Test scores in schools with the $25 reward did not show any improvement. There is also fear that once perfect attendance has been shortcut by illness, there will be no incentive anymore...or even worse, kids will come to school with all sorts of really communicable diseases. At the very least, sniff these poeple, we should be offering education-related prizes...say, laptop computers, instead of money and cars.

So why is it so important to keep kids in school? Learning, of course, comes to mind; there is a more compelling reason, though: money. School districts get state aid based on the number of students who attend school. The more kids in attendance, the more state funds received. This is especially important since the number of home-schooled students and charter schools has exploded in recent years. Face it: if it wasn't broken, people wouldn't be trying to fix it. Don't get me wrong, more money is not the solution to a great education. Is paying students to attend? Home schooling? Charter schools? Not for me to decide, but every day I get a great opportunity to help the ones I see sitting in front of me, and I'm thankful for the opportunity.

Friday, February 03, 2006

'Way Ahead of Kobe

Unless you live in a cave somewhere, you've already heard about the high school girl in New York(nameless here because she has already had her 15 minutes of fame)who scored 113 points in a basketball game recently. Her team eked out a 132-37 win with a flurry of 100 points at the buzzer. Anyway, she noted that after she hit the half-century mark, her teammates began calling her "Kobe." This was acceptable to her since the Lakers' star is her hoops hero. Not stopping at 80, she topped the century mark as well as the 110-pt. mark. Her desire to be like Kobe (doesn't rhyme as well as "Mike" does it?) includes one fact that surpasses Bryant: this girl was arrested for assault of a 13-yr-old girl last year! The charge was eventually reduced, and she was remanded to complete community service and issued a restraining order (eerie, isn't it?). Rutgers is getting a gem, there.
The conference my school plays in already has a gem...and it's a coach. Employing a full-court press against a team that was winless, this John Wooden wannabe managed a 122-79 victory. Word is that the starters played all but the last couple of minutes. Ahead by nearly 40 as the 4th quarter began, he took no chances on a stirring comeback and continued to pound away. Since I was not there, I must take a spectator's word that the coach on the losing end confronted our hero in a most ungentlemanly manner concerning what he felt was a lack of sportsmanship. I can only imagine the crowd's reaction: the only thing better than crushing an opponent would be a donneybrook in which the opposing coach got physically pounded, too. No dobt, the bars stayed open late that night. I doubt Coach K is worried about losing his job.
My students often wonder why, if I'm such a big sports fan, I don't see any of their games (and haven't in six years). These examples should offer clarity. 'Nuf said.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Reframing: An Exercise in Mental Health

Jim Stingl, a columnist for the Milwaukee Journal/Sentinel, wrote an interesting column recently in which he listed all the people he's happy NOT to be. In spite of his sometimes less-than-stimulating life, at least he's not the guy who recently got inebriated and killed seven kids in a wreck and is facing heavy-duty prison time; nor is he the person who smoked crack with her daughter just to show the girl the evils of dope. (These are real, live people in the news, mind you) You get the point. Stingl listed a host of people he was happy not to be.
I have my own list of people that I'm happy not to be even though life as a high school teacher gets mundane sometimes.

I am happy not to be the acting (or soon to be elected) Prime Minister of Israel. Imagine having Hamas in charge nearby! (and word is they're NOT going to bring cookies over, either)

I am happy not to be Pete Rose. In spite of a hairstyle that is so easy to maintain and fabulous athletic ability, Pete will never get into Cooperstown unless he's driving or in a bus. The Hall of Fame will require him to pay admission to walk through and see EVERYBODY ELSE'S memorabilia.

I would not want to be Condoleza Rice. Who'd want a nickname that sounds like a housing development? (Not to mention having to support some rather dumb ideas!)

I am glad not to be the mayor of New Orleans. In addition to having my every statement repeated on the late-night monologues, it would be hell facing the immediate future with the feds long gone (once the photo-ops were history) and a population which demands answers.

I am happy not to be a snowmobile salesman in Green Bay these days. I am also happy not to be the owner of forged Brett Favre memorabilia as so many others seem to be lately.

I am definitely happy not to be those who were recently discovered to have stolen millions from money supposed to be used to reconstruct Iraq. Contractors, military people and others who were supposed to be helping were, instead, helping themselves. Things will be a tad bit uncomfortable for them, I would suspect.

Even on days when my job seems crappy, I am happy not to be the person who has to empty the toilets on airplanes.

I am happy not to be myself at 13 again. I didn't enjoy it then, and I would enjoy it less now.

So, if you need a boost on the cloudy, dreary days of February, reframe the situation as Stingl and I have. Imagine all the things you have because you're NOT so many others.
If you wake up breathing, it's going to be a good day!