Tuesday, May 26, 2009


My husband and I are a bit like Turkey and Nippers of the "Bartleby" story. When one is up, the other down. And yet the balance functions-to a degree.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


I hate not being in control of myself. I have a coworker, the first person I've ever met in my life to overtly despise me, who makes a big deal about how tough she is and how hard her life is. Remind me never to do that.

There are two hairline cracks in our kitchen tile. It's a new house, some shifting and expanding of the concrete is to be expected. I didn't worry. Last year, a contractor friend of ours was over and shook his head when he saw the cracks, saying, "That's really bad." He predicted that the crack would slowly spread across the floor, maybe over the course of a year or two. I'm happy to report that it is exactly the same size today. Now we're just waiting for the Big One that makes Sunday's mag 5 in LA look tiny.

Monday, May 18, 2009


To name is to know.

"We cut nature up, organize it into concepts, and ascribe significances as we do, largely because we are parties to an agreement to organize it in this way—an agreement that holds throughout our speech community and is codified in the patterns of our language." -Benjamin Lee Whorf

And, I would add, in names.

As a mediocre but persistent athlete, a student, a teacher, a colleague, and a mom, I know the power of using someone's name. People calling my name have made me run faster, try harder, and listen more carefully.

I'm lucky that so far remembering students' names hasn't been too difficult. When I proctored the standardized test for another teacher's students a month ago, I learned their names quickly even while they rarely spoke. Now they say hi to me between classes.

My pet peeve is a colleague calling me solely by my last name. As in, "How does it feel to lose, Phelps?" At first it didn't bother me when I taught in another district--just felt like I was on a sports team all the time. Then I realized that the reason people called each other by last names is because the turnover rate was so high that no one bothered to learn everyone's first names.

Names are intimate.

My relatives, particularly ones I see rarely, cycle through the family tree when they talk to me. I get called by the names of my mother, my grandmother, my cousins, you name it. (Excuse the pun.) I admit that I've done the same even in my own immediate family, usually when I'm reacting quickly out of annoyance.

Naming goes beyond simply showing someone that you remember. In fact, I eavesdropped with interest on the conversation of a consultant/teacher at a certain popular coffee shop. He complained that the class he taught met so rarely that it was always difficult to remember names. "I know who they are," he insisted. "I know about them, their personalities, their interests, their families, how they write ... but I forget their names." Despite reviewing the list quickly before each class, he confessed that there were plenty of awkward moments in which he couldn't use their names. "But they all remember my name," he ended a bit guiltily.

I know that guilt of getting it wrong. I remember how it felt as a top student in the class getting called by someone else's name and thinking that this teacher obviously thought I wasn't important enough to remember. Even when it was an obvious mistake, I distanced myself from that class for the rest of the year.

Last Thursday, with only a few weeks left in the school year, I distributed graduation stoles to a group of seniors being recognized in an academic ceremony. Each stole had the student's name embroidered on one side. It's amazing how important that personalization (worth a whopping $2) was to them. And yet, two names were misspelled. Today I returned those stoles to our vendor to get them fixed. After four years of high school and innumerable hoops to jump, the least we can do is get their names right.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

learned a new word


French, literally, broken on the wheel, from past participle of rouer to break on the wheel, from Medieval Latin rotare, from Latin, to rotate; from the feeling that such a person deserves this punishment

: a man devoted to a life of sensual pleasure : rake
(From Merriam-Webster online)

...which led me to wonder about the etymology of "rake."

"debauchee," 1653, shortening of rakehell (1547), possibly an alteration (by association with rake (1) and Hell) of M.E. rakel (adj.) "hasty, rash, headstrong," probably from raken "to go, proceed," from O.E. racian, of unknown origin. Rakish first recorded 1706.

(From Online Etymology Dictionary)

But my favorite neologism was coined Friday by a student, unaware that such a word already exists in the Urban Dictionary:


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

see no evil

It's not often that I side with the Justice Department over the ACLU. Obama is reversing a pledge of transparency to release photos of U.S. troops abusing prisoners. I can't say I blame him. If the culprits are already tried and sentenced, and the release of such photos is likely to do more harm to an already tarnished image abroad, then perhaps it is a good security decision.

Maybe this issue simply comes down to trust. If the Bush administration had pulled a similar move, using similar arguments, I admit that I would have been skeptical. The executive office under people like Cheney and Libby kept a lot of secrets, and I would have been convinced that this was another example. If they aren't releasing the photos, what else might they be hiding?

On the other hand I trust Obama's administration, for better or worse. While civil rights advocates are incensed about broken promises and hypocrisy, I LIKE having a president who is intelligent enough to admit when he made a poor decision and is willing to have the courage to change his mind. It's amazing the logical tricks a mind will play to cover an emotional response.

Besides not being able to see these pictures, our family is enduring our tiny version of being visually restrained. I guess J was so inspired by the Dodgers game on Saturday that when I woke up Sunday morning at a leisurely 7 a.m., I discovered that he had pitched a metallic object into the LCD television. Needless to say, it no longer works. The shock of losing $1000 or more in a single blow is still sinking in. Honestly, I'm just grateful the tv didn't fall over, the house was not on fire, and I didn't spend the rest of mother's day in urgent care.

Now, our house has been free of tv for a good three solid days. We've made puzzles, played in the backyard (even weeded), gone for a walk, read more, and built innumerable castles out of innumerable objects. I hate to admit it but I also pay more attention to them now that I know they are capable of disaster at any moment. Today, I was amused to catch L talking on an imaginary phone with someone and then claiming that she had to rush off and build a house. That led to much rushing around the living room making bizarre movements with her hands and legs as she assembled the imaginary building. It's nice to see my kids use their imagination, not to mention get a little exercise.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Think blue

Today I learned that a shutout is not just a big win but a win that doesn't allow any scoring. It wasn't a no-hitter today, but the Dodgers game was definitely a shutout.

When I told my students last week about planning to see the game, they wisely suggested we avoid sitting next to drunk people. Then one offered to loan me his jersey. Dodgers fans are a special glimpse into LA culture, not necessarily the best glimpse. Nonetheless, the camaraderie of strangers wearing blue and singing "Take me out to the ball game" has its appeal.

Halfway through the fifth inning, my daughter suggested that we go do something fun. Guess she's not a baseball fan. I've never been a huge fan of the pacing in baseball, but this game moved along pretty quickly. Sweltering under the sun and leaning back into the bleachers, I realized that I shouldn't think about it as Sport, the way I actively participated in college sports. This was Recreation, like heading to the beach except with peanuts, dancing, and a big screen tv.

In the parking lot, we ran into a sophomore in one of my classes. I'm starting to feel like a Dodgers fan.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

words, words, words

At the end of yesterday's class, I had written these words on the board:

sifr --> zefiro --> 0
epiphaneia (in Gr. letters)

Sunday, May 03, 2009


I can't resist commenting on today's LA Times article: "Firing tenured teachers can be a costly and tortuous task".

Perhaps it is in poor taste to publish such an article deeply critical of the traditional job security in K-12 education when over 27,000 California teachers were pink-slipped this year, to say nothing of the counselors, administrators, bus drivers, and office workers who also lost their jobs. Or, at a moment when so many good teachers are out of work, this might be exactly the time to reconsider the way such decisions are made. Why fire the second-year art teacher who implemented the school's first ceramics class and stays after school countless hours to help organize the junior class prom when there's an algebra I teacher who snaps at students with sarcastic humor, refuses to spend time out of class tutoring those who ask for help, and hasn't varied his lesson plans since 1989? This is hypothetical of course.

I read this article and winced. Multiple times. We do need a revision to the system of education but not one that comes from people seeking to destroy public education. We do need to rethink the process of arbitrating complaints and protecting a teacher's job security, but not when a student has to go weeks or even months without an appropriately-credentialed teacher in the classroom.

Tenure is a comfortable practice. It stems from good intentions of protecting academic freedom and rewarding those with valuable experience. It also needs to be changed.

To give an example, a nameless teacher called in sick to his/her job the second week of school. This practice continued until the district became involved, the union became involved, doctors notes were involved, parents were involved, and students waited not-so-patiently with their twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth substitute. Needless to say, school security and the assistant principal also became very involved in the classroom. The teacher never returned. A credentialed long-term sub was finally legally able to be hired over spring break. The teacher has not been fired, and it is unlikely that the district will press for termination due to the time, expense, and rigid criteria for firing teachers. No matter what the situation of the teacher, that is gross negligence. As angry as the students and the parents were, the person's colleagues were equally incensed. They were the ones dealing with the overflowing discipline problems, the wave of transferring students, and even creating the daily lesson plans, reading the homework, and submitting all the paperwork for students' grades.

I take pride in my profession, and I believe that a job that requires such skill, energy, ingenuity and experience can be measured in more than years.

Saturday, May 02, 2009


I'm very much enjoying this book. In fact, I've probably spent as much time talking about it with other people as actually reading it. Now I need to figure out how to nudge my students to turn in their homework on time.