the twit


    lying on a couch in my living room and watching the sound of music

    cleveland is the place where pretentions go to die.


    a restful weekend

    i don't think it's the drug (which is a stimulant), but rather the eventual 30 minutes or so of unmitigated attention that makes a cigar the most calming experience of a sunday night.

    one more class to plan. then, another week of it.


    notes from a mental health day

    i felt a horrible inertia when my alarm went off this morning, and - after staring, transfixed for quite some time, at the blades of a ceiling fan - i realized it was best that i call in sick today and try and let the swollen knot in my mood loosen up. after logging a good 13 hours of sleep, and sitting on the couch in my living room flipping mindlessly through what i think was esquire magazine - it suddenly occurred to me that i should clean up the office/library upstairs - which was cluttered with math textbooks and fleeting academic concern. a phone call from margaret reminded me i should eat something, and now - after mediterranean food, ice cream cake (bought, not eaten), and a snow cone (eaten) - it's 1:40pm.

    i honestly don't know what to do with myself today. there is clearly the desire to let my mood flush itself out via long spans of staring at something minutely stimulating (writing a blog is one of those things), but then again the slow fire from which this mood sprang is still smoldering and flickering - eating the occasional second away with the sour reminder of my long list of things incomplete. i said it last year - sometime a little deeper into the second term - and it's no less prevalent now: all i see is incompleteness. as it stands, the role of a teacher in the education of our children is an impossible one. furthermore, my assumption of that role is dangerously overambitious.

    i am not a cynic. that was not a cynical impossibility that i referred to (which is why - i think - i included the prophetic phrase "as it stands" into that sentence). but, i am a skeptic. while i believe profoundly in the possibility of successfully educating these beautiful children, it is nonetheless pathetically evident that the structures - cultural, financial, occupational, governmental, occupational - barely in place to ensure our great egalitarian charge are broken in the most tragicomic of ways. just broken. simply and utterly inefficient. often more harmful than productive. nauseatingly so.

    somedays you want everyone to just stop. stop hurting these children. stop yelling at each other. stop this aping professionalism. stop the forms, the formalities. stop ignoring all the holes, the leaks, the crumbling ceilings and the cockroaches everywhere. stop the steady encroachment of control over every aspect of every person in the building. stop taking away all of my planning periods on the week that i need to put together paper-trail verifiable grades for 130+ students and i need to turn in lesson plans for the next two weeks for all three of my preps. stop telling me that teachers are important/underappreciated/martyrs. stop holding unannounced meetings to explain to us that we're not doing a job that we either didn't know we had to do, or didn't know how to do (and giving me a password to an unnavigable web-site and telling me it's my responsibility to figure "it" out does little more than account for the most basic elements of managerial liability - actively assisting your workers in understanding and mastering their required tasks is exactly the primary job of a manager). stop everything.

    [then you ask: who to stop? under every rock there's a tiny arrow to a new rock to look under, and under, and under. everyone is failing but no one seems to blame. this is the problem with liability.]

    this is a knot too tangled. it is mind-numbingly bizarre that a managerial situation would become so venomously restrictive, top-down, and frozen that a person would just sit by and let children be treated like prisoners, like cattle, like product. of course, as things are - i am sitting by and letting this happen (and so i have mental health days). escorting my 15-18 year old HUMAN BEINGS to the cafeteria - making sure they are in a single file line on the right side of the hallway, making sure they are in a single file line while they wait to be given this or that warm/moist/fried organic container of salt and high fructose corn syrup (food that has nutritional value in name only), making sure they do not leave any empty seats between them as they sit down, making sure we leave as soon as they're done eating so that i can take them back to the classroom after the only 20 minutes of semi-freedom they've had all day and immediatly resume my lesson at the point where it was interrupted by a man knocking at my door (never at the same time) to tell me that i can take my kids to lunch now.

    making sure the boys have their shirts tucked in. making sure the girls aren't wearing flip flops or are showing (gasp) skin. making sure i don't give a hall pass to those children who have been denied by the administration that priviledge. making sure they're all in their seats within the 5 minutes they have to move between classes in an crowd of 1300ish kids packing into a building that was made for 800ish.

    you wonder if we can't just put everything on pause, erase it all, and calmly, carefully rebuild from simple, unavoidable truths/needs/objectives (what we have now are mao-ish 5-year plans for educational dominance). of course, the concepts of truth and need are more often than not triflingly defficient in cultures so complex and diverse. but there must be primary, apparent, and powerful concerns that we can functionally adapt as premises, and hold fast to.

    the problem with this is - of course - that concerns for the education of children are swimming in a minefield of liability-cautious politics. any superintendant, principal, or teacher would be able to (and are able to) mime a sensitivity to any fundamental educational premise you can throw at them ("we are a district that focuses on literacy" says the superintendent whose nineth graders more often than not read on a third grade reading level) . what do you do with a principal that puts a rhetorical premium on student achievement, yet whose every disjointed managerial action is clearly either detrimental to or a non-sequitur for the positive development - social, cultural, and academic - of children. or when one good decision is so tragically erased by a completely unexpected week of schooldays comprising of two 3-hr periods (so that we can let state tested subjects give their students unlimited time to take their tests), at one point claiming that no hall passes could be issued for the rest of the day - and taking 20 minutes to respond to a concern that a student needed to use the restroom (the administrator said that we should buzz the office to get an escort in the event that a student needed to leave the room), only to say that i could dismiss the student to the restroom.

    we don't have textbooks. we don't have workbooks. we have to buy our own copy paper (or burn our federal issue Emegency Education Funding on it). our copies are monitored by cost-cut fiends in the superintendant's office downtown (we have to punch in a code to access the machine. a copy quota or pay-per copy system may be on the horizon). the copy machines rarely spend a day without breaking. we don't have calculators. we don't have computers (that work).

    we don't have textbooks.

    "we are a district focused on literacy."


    there are no less than three major occupational tasks lumped into our conception of "teacher":

    (1) someone who presents material to a group of students, engages students in the process of understanding/analyzing the material, and oversees legitimate assessment of this process
    (2) someone who plans material to be presented for student engagement and assessment
    (3) someone who collects and organizes the data gathered by assessment

    it is becoming increasingly clear - given that i have 130 students and 3 preps - that it is often impossible for one person to complete all of these tasks simultaneously. at least if you have an equal level of concern and accountability for all three tasks. at least if you want teacher to work within 40-60 hours a week. at least if you want teachers to engage in extracurricular tutoring, mentoring, and group organizing.

    this assertion of impossibility is not hyperbole. nor is it a cry for sympathy. it is merely an assertion of a certain kind of impossibility. i work 70-80hr weeks. i'm in the school building for 10 hours a day on average - often without break. i choose to do this and i enjoy doing this (though i'm well aware that it would be psychologically and physically dangerous to do this for more than a few years). i barely reach a level of competence with tasks (1) and (2), and i'm merely treading water with (3). i'm almost never more than a week ahead of planning, and usually have no idea what i'm teaching the next day (though i never let myself walk into a classrom without a plan). while i regret this lack of competent preparedness (deeply), and sincerely wish that i could please my administrators by turning in the next two-weeks of lesson plans by friday (tomorrow) afternoon every other week, there's little to no chance that it will ever get done. because - if i want to preserve my physical and mental health in the short term - there isn't any more time left. i will not sacrifice a healthy amount of sleep; and i must force myself to experience at least a small sustained period of recreation each week. this is barely possible as is, and it is only the latter half of saturdays that i am completely free from work.

    i would not wish this situation upon any human being, and it is a major part of the crippling tragicomedy of education that teachers are subject to this sort of workload as a given if they have any pretention of being competent/meaningful. i imagine that as a teacher becomes more weathered, competency is preserved at the expense of vital meaningfulness - as survival techniques are frozen into a rinse-repeat cycle of the same lesson plans and activities year in an year out. of course i'll be able to turn in two-weeks of lesson plans in the event that i don't do any major adjusments to my teaching from year to year. this fact illimunates the value of this two-weeks-in-advance system as either (1) meaningless/inappopriate for newer teachers, (2) misleading in regards to the real effectiveness of older teachers. either way - without some other true-management structure to better analyze the act of planning (which can be easily differentiated for the experience delineated two teacher sets). of course, this structure (were it possible to exist) would need to be patient, process-oriented, and active - which means that it - like many other concerns of a administration myopically giving tripartate emphasis on the three teaching tasks - is impossible during school year real-time or on-air time - i.e. when the students's school day arc is taking priority over any time-detached concerns.


    i hate the teacher's summer. it is a constant red herring for anyone thinking about re-imagining teacher salary (as the go-to whine point of naysayers to raising salaries) or teacher roles (experienced teachers seem to vehemently protect it). it seems to serves primarily as a numbing period during which a teacher prolongingly deflates, and a student prolongingly forgets. it is of no end to my frustration when - upon craving the weekend or a day off - someone near me thinks it particularly witty to chime in that i should not be complaining because i have an entire summer off. i would - without any hesitation whatsoever - trade my teacher's summer for a more humane approach to my responsibilities. it seems that - in an environment hungry for data, proof, and paper trail - the important tasks of a teacher are either multiplying or growing more onerous, or both. so, it seems necessary and/or natural that we either (a) splice off new- full or part-time positions within a building that actually take control of one of these malignant teaching roles: e.g. a dedicated assessment collector and data-analyzer; a dedicated curriculum development specialest and activity creator; a dedicated parent-contact supervisor; a dedicated teacher-performer (jps has these a nominal fashion, but they are barely integrated into the process of teaching and learning. this is because it's silly to imagine that i'm going to magically jump on the literacy train when i've got a thousand copies to make and parents to call), (b) adjust the concept of the school year so that in between periods of teaching-performing arcs (lets say two-months or nine-weeks) there are periods (lets say two or three weeks) of dedicated data analysis and informed preparation (curriculum adjustment and activity creation) for the next arc. the aforementioned hypothetical assement collector and curriculum specialists can operate as consultants to teachers during these collect and prep periods, and perhaps as librarians (to give some relevance to the roll) during the teaching arcs. and what of the kids during these periods? internships, work-study, community service, sports. i don't know. what do we expect them to do in the summer when they're rotting at some fast-food place? and what do teachers gain from two-months of paid vacation? nothing that trumps the immense "but you have the summer off" inertia that coats a cultural reluctance to pay teachers in a way that allows districts to compete as employers. if a summer off were somehow grandly more rewarding than a comfortable salary with an incentive-based bonus system and the ability to actually work 40-60 hours a week, then schools of education would have stunningly competitive applicant pools, and school districts would have no problem filling each classroom with a highly qualified, highly engaging teacher. however: schools of education have the most uncompetitive applicant pools in all of academia; there's a pronounced teacher shortage in the country, even in a state that comparitively pays its teachers reasonably well - mississippi. how do we even pretend that we can provide a quaility education for students if we can neither attract or retain the necessary amount of teachers? i don't care if we're a district focused on literacy. we don't have textbooks to read or enough people to make sure students read them.


    it's 9:20pm. my bedttime is fast approaching. i spend the last few hours putting together a lesson that looks at the mad hatter's tea party in through the looking glass as a series of word problems, to cap off my small unit on translating from english to algebra. however, since word problems aren't in the official pacing guide for algebra ii, i'm getting criticized from all adminsitrative corners for spending my time on them. it's more important, or so the pacing guide says, to solve linear systems. however, my kid's couldn't graph lines at the beginning of the year. nor could they solve equations. nor could they do anything with word problems. so teaching what a linear system is, and how they could hypothetically solve it would be a bit useless. worse yet - i could give them calculators and show them which buttons to press. but then they wouldn't be learning, or they wouldn't be learning math. they'd be learning about math, about these foreign objects that get put together by the tiny pixels on a ti-82. but they wouldn't be inside these objects, tickling their contours and creating connections between them. they woudn't know where they come from or where they're going. they wouldn't know who died to make them real. they wouldn't be performing math; they wouldn't be mathematical people, passionately wrapped in a pattern-based structural analysis of all things. there would be nothing the parabola could say to the tea cup, nothing a line could do about love. and this would be horrible, and i would never let it happen. if i have to spend a year helping these kids get inside wonderland, then i will do so. when they're there, then we can have a real discussion about a function, or we can do something legitimate with two lines hitting each other somewhere in the descartean void - nothing, intricately drawn nowhere. i refuse to teach them about math; if that takes me putting my foot down and telling them that they will figure out how to solve for x, then that what it takes me. fire me. find someone to march through the state objectives in the worst public educational environment in the country (who are we kidding, anyway? they read a fifth grade level - why are you giving the seniors jane eyre to read for the summer?). if i have to march them down to the cafeteria one-by-one to get their daily dose of diabetes, there's no way that i'm going to sit them down with a bucket of quarters at the zero-sum slot machine of push-button education. i'm going to give them alice in wonderland, and i'm going to ask whether they say what they mean or they mean what they say. then we'll solve some word problems.


    lightning bolts

    "hello mr. molina, this is XXXXX. i'm just calling to let you know that [chi-chi] may not be there at jim hill next year. he got into trouble today at the school, and he'll probably be calling you later and i thank you for all your help... goodbye."


    coach terry told me that when he was a new teacher, someone who had been around for a while took him aside and said, "you haven't learned this yet, but you'll find out that when you start caring about these kids, you have to watch out for lightning bolts." coach didn't see how his situation was making him any more susceptible to meteorological tragedy, and so inquired further. "every once in a while," the veteran explained, "something will happen that will take these kids away from you, and it will be totally out of your control. and they'll be gone forever, and there's nothing you can do. you'll have been doing everything you can to help these kids out, and you may actually be making some progress, and then - suddenly - they'll just be gone."


    to get to the juvenile detention center, you take gallatin underneath hwy 20. the street fades slowly past dead industrial complexes, and then bends past a strip club, a bar called "hat and cane," the jackson police department's practice range, and unexpected trees. right in the middle of wondering where the hell you are, the center jumps up on you, and a sudden turn is necessary, which prompts whoever's driving behind you to lean on their horn as you barely make the turn off.

    the parking lot - trucks and deliveries to the left, and visitors to the right - is always nearly empty, even during the obscure visiting hours - 6 to 7:30 pm on thursdays and saturdays. this is probably because you actually can't ever see the people you've come to visit; you're most likely just going to stand in the half-lit, stone clean room and watch whatever reason you had
    to come visit whomever slip bitterly away as the don't-shoot-the-messenger security guard explains to you from behind bullet proof glass the incredibly complex process of getting on the list of people allowed to see someone - which inolves a parent/guardian that may not exist and a detention center counselor who may not be assigned yet, and even if he/she were assigned, keeps inexplicable hours. so you sit there for a minute, feeling a terrible, swelling impotence, and then almost kick through the security-released front door when it makes a loud buzzing noise telling you that it's unlocked, but then doesn't open.


    i made it about 2 minutes - stupidly lisenting to johnny cash's american v - before breaking down and not knowing where to go, but knowing that i couldn't go wherever i was heading before i panicked and became sobbingly directionless. then it seemed reasonable that - since it was 7:30 pm on the thursday before classes started - mrs. haynes was most definetly in her office, somewhere amidst her hours-long process of wrapping her day up and going home.

    all the doors were locked at the school but i could see people talking in the front office, so - since they couldn't hear me when i banged on the door - i sat outside for about twenty minutes watching the sun set over the graveyard across the street, until a college conselor noticed me waving and let me in.


    i talked awhile with mrs. haynes, who undoubtedly has had to deal many more times with many more things much more serious than a foolish kid who gets arrested for playing around with a bb gun in the auditorium. "how do they do it," i asked (and i still ask), "how do these people give their lives to this profession knowing that their hearts are going to be broken? that they'll fall in love with these strange little people, knowing all the while that - one way or another - eventually they'll be gone? how do they come back to the building the day after they see it for the first time - that if they don't walk away from it right now, then they won't ever; that this love is so terribly profound that you get lost forever in its incompleteness, waiting for that next lovely face to either show up or not show up the next day, the next week, the next year." when i left: the hallways were still full of ghosts and questions; the moon was over the graveyard.


    chi chi woke me up this morning, banging on the door and prompting the woman on the other side of the duplex to accuse him of trying to break in. his mom waited in the car and had a cigarette while chi chi showed me the 3rd place medal from the 5k he had just come from. he then ate a substantial number of my oreos while looking at pictures of jake's wedding, eventually draping himself over the coach in protest when his mom came shyly to the door to get him - i thought she was going to ask me for the hundreth time if she owed me any gas money for my troubles.

    chi chi rode with me up to the jackson medical mall, and his mom followed us. he visited with jake for a bit while i helped his mom register to vote. as she was filling out the form, dana larkin pulled me over into a discussion a bunch of advocacy groups were having about how they could coordinate their community involvement efforts. they were all speaking in pathetically abstract terms about "change," and "community," and "parents"; nothing was focused on definable, tangible outcomes, and as the wheels of people "keeping it real" kept spinning and spinning, i thought of all of the parents who don't get involved because strategic plans mean nothing. when i was finally able to slip away, jake told me that chi chi and his mom had left.


    when they let chi chi outstide into the fenced in yard at the detention center, he just ran the tiny perimeter hundreds and hundreds of time. the other kids and the guards thought he was crazy. his first cross country meet is in three weeks; he had to get his run in.


    bad teaching is letting assholes like me take control of the class

    not only is my online instructor, Dr. Robert Plants, prone to personal attacks (which is highly unbecoming of someone in his position), but he's also letting the class derail week after week...

    here's an excerpt:

    POST 1: David Molina

    couz - i'm starting the chapter and it's long. but...

    "For example, the evidence needed to support a set of historical claims is different from the evidence needed to prove a mathematical conjecture, and both of these differ from the evidence needed to test a scientific theory"

    is this true? aren't these just all negotiations of an articulated formal-logical system? i have a hard time with these chapters when they just kind of shoot off barely scrutinized claims that don't seem relevant to the text's purpose - but which, upon scrutiny, seem more purposeful in their negation than the text itself.

    note to guest expert, we're prone to "critiquing and name calling with a touch of arrogance." it's a little game we play.

    POST 2: Evan Couzo

    I don't exactly remember the sentence, but this is how I read it. And I don't disagree with you one bit, by the way.

    Look at the the verbs used for each discipline: history-support, mathematical-prove, science-test. The best you can do in history is support a claim. History is written and open to various schools of thought. A good historian will acknowledge that. Math conjectures can be proven (well, okay, not all of them) by a closed system. Math can be shown to be true by it's own definitions. Science is interesting in that scientists can disagree with the philosophical implications, but must agree on reproduceable experimental data, or tests. Science cannot make any claims of truthiness in the sense that math can, nor can history.

    In any event:

    "i have a hard time with these chapters when they just kind of shoot off barely scrutinized claims that don't seem relevant to the text's purpose - but which, upon scrutiny, seem more purposeful in their negation than the text itself."

    You have a way with words. This is what I was saying in an earlier post.

    Dave, you're a trooper. to the death.

    POST 3: David Molina

    yeah - i guess understand the idea that these verbs are supposed to delineate their own quality of truth, but i think it's more an issue of the fact that we orient ourselves to the idea of truth differently in these disciplines based on our convential understanding of where these disciplines sit on the old subjective-objective spectrum. but, it seems that math it as written as history (and math does exist in history as much as history exists in math), and that supporting a claim in history invovles the same procedures as developing and supporting a theorem in mathematics. that evan couzo slept with me on june 26 2006 is about as true as the angle-side-angle theorem (inasmuch as they are consequences of a formal-logical system). also, applying the fact of our sleeping together into an analyis of couzo as being awesome is more or less the same as using the angle-side-angle theorem in an analysis of celestial motion.

    you + me = us (calculus)

    POST 3: Dr. Robert Plants

    Well, I hope you two are wearing your hip waders because that's about what one needs when reading these posts. You know both of you are very quick to criticize the text, researchers, teacher education, those of us in Guyton Hall, the world...and of course its obvious how some on this board are very taken with themselves so one begins to question why do the teacher corps at all.

    POST 4: David Molina

    being critical of a system does not imply the desire not to be in it (i thought we were clear on this). sometimes it's merely an extention of the desire for re-evaluation and improvement of the system itself from within. in my experience with the teacher corps, the program has done an excellent job of responding well to the energies of discourse and criticism, and has improved drastically as an institution - both before my class arrived and while it's been there. however, it has - and will always have - a long way to go, and shouldn't rest on its laurels as long as schools are struggling (not that it is sitting pretty, but it often seems that other institutions are less concerned about the possibilities of their own ineffectiveness).

    at the end of the day, these kids in mississippi deserve a hell of a lot better education than they're getting, and if part of pushing for the better education is being an asshole, then so be it. (of course, there are other ways - in their own right more political or productive, perhaps - for pushing for better education, but i'm tired of hearing that "studies" are showing nothing impressive. also, context often perscribes action, and the way i push here is a bit different than the way i push in a school building.)


    required mcpost: doing things differently

    second in a straight-to-VHS series of assigned blogs i had to do last month. all hail mr. guest and his 400 word minimum.

    it's great to sit around in jackson and just pick away at little things: reading, resting, Jim Hill preparation, Jake n' Dave pipe dreams, getting back in shape, margaret, etc . often i look at a clock and hours have when by for which i cannot assign the completion of one thing, though through which i can account for many small improvements. this is a luxury not afforded to you when you're completely surrounded by deadlines and external responsibilities.

    as for the second on that list - Jim Hill preparation - there is indeed a significant amount of things i'm going to do "differently" - both as modifications of past errors and new stabs in the dark (hopefully with a more educated hand).

    setting the foundation for the culture of a classroom is invaluable, and - as i'm approaching the start of a second year - that is what i'm primarily going to focus on. i've got to be able to get out of the blocks smoothly and transition into a convincing pace if i'm going to get anything accomplished.

    last year i spent i'd say two weeks completely treading water - which seemed an understandable response to supreme acclimitization in terms of: actually being alone in a classroom with 20-something kids, having schedules change daily, complete uncertainty at to when textbooks would arrive, etc. i remember days going by where all i did was go over pre-tests question by question - just sort of filling time so that i could get a bearing on what the hell was going on.

    all that will - of course - not be necessary this time around. i've fine-tuned my ability to find out approximately where students are in terms of content knowledge, and have learned to throw expectations out the window until i've been with a group for a significant amount of time. as for pre-tests, i'm sure that i will provide one, but i'm not sure where it's going to come from or how long it should be. i primarily want to test the kids in proficiency in those areas that i experienced as weak-points for my students last year, and which serve as the most necessary prerequisites for the initial objectives in my curriculum. getting a broad pictue seems trivial at this point, because the appropriate reference point for that broadness still eludes me. i'm sure a broad pre-test would be good for data-heads, but i don't think i have a clear enough fluency in the curricula i've been assigned to teach to warrant any personal value for the god-send of data (data is especially useless when there isn't a fixed start or end to my curricula - and i don't want there to be - so pre-testing them on things i'm not going to post-test them on is ludicrous).

    as for running up against the crippling uncertainty of textbooks and students schedules, i think i'm going to spend the first couple weeks in all of my classes throwing content more or less out the window and structuring activities that confront students with the essense of thinking mathematically, so that i can try and prompt an abstract familiarity with the performance of mathematical reasoning (which is a highly ubiquitous and transferrable act) in an effort to prime the digestion of a review of prerequisite topics as well as a thrust into "new" material. because, if i can strip away everything but the mere act of being mathematical, than this will be an invaluable preface to any content that i eventually segue into. at the end of the day, i'd rather them perform citicism than be able to define it.

    as to what these wonderfully theoretical activities will be, one of my glacially accumulating tasks this month is to define a few of them and develop materials. right now i'm buzzing on the concept of moving from a reading of borges's "library of babel," to a discussion of story of "the tower of babel," to an exploration of the burning of the library at alexandria. this could all be punctuated with some simple abstract math meditations: "Is 7x8 the same as 8x7? Why? PROVE IT! Can you prove it? What does it mean to prove it? Can you prove it in more than one way?" the big focus would be on the humanness of math, whether it is created or discovered, whether or not it has a history, etc. crazy stuff like that.


    required mcpost: chi-chi

    second in a straight-to-VHS series of assigned blogs i had to do last month. all hail mr. guest and his 400 word minimum.

    chi-chi just called to find out if i was back in jackson. he remembered that jake was getting married (not to me, ben) at the beginning of the month, so he was checking up to see if i was around to go for a run. i asked him how his training had been while he was in oxford, and he said it was going well, but he had to skip a week and a half of it because his shoes were locked in the school and coach harris threatened to arrest him for tresspassing (coach is also a police officer of some sort) if he went there again to run (after chi-chi mentioned that i had told him to do his runs from school because we know the mileage from there, coach mentioned that he "[didn't] give a shit.") after getting his shoes back on wednesday (with his mom to vouch for his non-tresspassing), chi-chi had jumped right back on the training schedule i had made for him in may, and - understandably - his legs were tired. we're going to meet up at jim hill at 10am on monday, where chi-chi will be participating in band camp, and anticipates that he'll be excused to go run with me. let's hope so.


    chi-chi is the only reason that i coached cross-country and track last year, and the first significant reason i've had to think it would be cool to be father someday. he kind of latched on to me early in the year - as soon as he learned that i was a runner. at that point, i hadn't really had my bearings yet as a teacher, and so i was incredibly reluctant to start committing myself to running with this wierd sophmore who - when not sleeping through my entire class - would punctuate discussion with comments about boobs. however, soon after we hit the streets with the cross country team and immediatly after chi-chi gapped everyone else, it was apparent that (a) he was the only runner for miles, (b) he was self-taught. his trainers were in tatters (i later boycotted runs until he got a new pair), he had little knowledge of hydration and nutrition (crucial in the mississippi heat), and he had rarely ventured outside the immediate vicinity of jim hill (previous training had consisted of running 1/2 mi laps around the graveyard across the street from jim hill). but he was good; a natural distance runner, with an incredibly deep level of self-discipline (which was most obvious in his running; he barely passed my class). although i wasn't ready to spend a significant amount of my energy training him (i.e. developing a workout schedule, working on race strategy, exposing him to form exercises and core muscle development, etc.), i spent many afternoons in the fall on mostly-silent 4-6 mile runs in the neighborhood around jim hill (this was to the amazement and amusement of nearly everyone at the school - a white man running around the district in what appeared to be daisy dukes), sprinkled with a few endurance workouts at a nearby park (which - though only a mile away from the school, seemed endlessly far to the sceptical kids i would try and drag there). chi-chi responded well to the base work we did in the fall, and was in good enough shape to make it to the cross-country state meet. in the spring we were able to use jackson state's track to do some real workouts, and chi-chi went on to dominate the area in the one and two-mile, and eventually make it to states individually in the latter (which is an impressive learning curve for a runner).


    all of this is to say little to nothing about who chi-chi is (except the vastly appropriate boobs comment), which is a complexity that i've barely made headway in. like i said - most of our runs are nonverbal, except when i get squirmy and start lecuring chi-chi about this or that thing. in many ways, chi-chi reminds me of my younger brother john, with whom - as margaret noticed - i most appropriately spend time by just kind of being near each other. this isn't to say that i haven't gotten peeks into his inner life - the most revealing was when chi-chi showed up to school half-alive after sneaking out of his house the night before, getting high, and crashing his mom's car; legitimately fearing a violent response from his father, chi chi had no intention of going home that night - planning to crash at "a cousin's house" - so jake and i threw together an impromptu one-person field trip to ole miss for a teacher corps weekend so he could get some time to breathe. however, i've gotten the impression that the most appropriate role with chi-chi is not to figure him out, but to just kind of be a positive, stable, and male presence in his life - a craving for which was apparent after those early runs when he would silently copy my every stretch and then later in the year when he would kind of follow me around after school and after runns until i left (even when his mom had already shown up he would insist on mostly silently walking me to my car). that being said, it's more important at this point for him to figure himself out, and me to be there to - well - just kind of be there.

    required mcpost: half-baked advice from a half-baked man

    first in a straight-to-VHS series of assigned blogs i had to do last month. all hail mr. guest and his 400 word minimum.

    five pieces of advice.

    1. become dedicated to reinvention

    i hate, hate, hate it when people refer to the first year of teaching as a "trial by fire." it's only hot if you stand still, and your an idiot to imagine that you need to stick to whatever guns you'd oiled for your passionate mission. similarly, those who praise the fire have more often than not become pretentiously numb to their own questionably effective pedagogical immobility. you are not a priest, you are not saving the souls of savages, and this sanctifying onus is most likely the dead weight of your ego. everytime you make a decision in or about your classroom, revisit it and revise it without end. each motion of pedagogy is a rough draft, and of course you'll be burned if you pass it off to print. your imperfection will not change, but your attitude towards it will have to. this is how the fire ends: by never standing still in it, by never considering anything you do as finished or totally consistent, by always hunting down what needs to be changed to make your practice better both the first time and the last time you step in that room.

    2. schedule rest into your life

    there is a huge distinction between the non-real "fire-trial" and the completely real agony that will eventually well up beneath you. there is an agony; but it is not structured externally (re: the mythic fire), rather internally. it comes from the strain of acclimitization and preservation. once you begin to dance the dance of the constant re-creator (and remember - i tragically left this out of the above point - all this creation and all this practice is exclusively focused on the assistance of the student, but what that means is incredibly ideosyncratic), you will sometime realize that it doesn't end. then, somewhere in the middle of fixating on how to cooperate with the non-ending aspects of the dance, you may loose sight of the fact of its beginning. then, in the middle of a timeless and tiresome dance, you will acquire an agony.

    the most important thing to do in order to deal with all this mess is to rest (whatever this means for you; for me it meant reading and/or screwing around on wikipedia/ find the most simple and effective way to create a protected time for rejuvination. personally, i found that it was best for me to stay in the school building until i was done with what i had to do for tomorrow (i.e. leaving the building at a point where i could walk in the next morning and teach). this would often keep me in my room until 7pm+, but even if i had 3 hrs to go home, eat, and deflate, the fact that i had nothing weighing on me allowed this time to be restful. experiments in leaving the building early and then doing some work before going to bed proved to be too stressful.

    3. your teacher-mood needs to be consistent

    despite the agony, despite the exhaustion, despite the asshole students who spent last period fucking around, despite whatever mess you're dealing with outside the school building, you are still Mr. or Mrs. or Miss or Ms. So-and-So, and this is a profoundly de-personalized identity (regardless of whatever quirky accoutermonts you've dressed it in), as it is complelety structured in response to the pedagogical needs of your students. so, whatever your teacher face is - calm, stern, happy, proud, intense, etc. - it needs to more or less stay that way - and only change when it is pedagogically - not personally - appropriate. students (since education is really all about them) react rather violently and personally to the idea that you'd let personal baggage affect them (especially if that baggage comes from a class of other students), and often snap or disengage if they find you "moody." whatever shit has you on the verge of tears or homicide before, during, or after class - when the curtain raises you've got a job to do, and that job requires you to be in character.

    4. find someone else

    one person can survive as a teacher, but two can succeed. i am unwavering in my assertion that i would not have even thought of doing 90% of what happened last year at jim hill (both inside and outside the class) without the support/criticism/love that i shared with jake roth. we held each other up when the agony was overwhelming, we made sure the other one was eating/bathing/breathing, we bounced idea after idea off of each other, and we were a human presence for each other in the vast shitshow of public education. you can not do alone what you can do with others - and these are things that are done for both you and (at the end of the day, most importantly) your students. so, not only allow yourself to engage in a critical relationship with your own vulneratibility/imperfection as a teacher, find someone else with which to share and refocus this attitude. everyone will benefit.

    5. they're kids

    this is the bottom line, and it has two faces:

    (1) they're human beings. so they're brilliant. and beautiful. and creative. and all those wonderful human things. given their personality and/or background, they may be more or less dependent on people like you for the positive cultivation of their humanness, and/or they may not have had much of a chance to realize/express their humanness. never forget that they're brilliant, and if you don't see it, you either need to (a) wake up, or (b) look somewhere else. more often than not, students not being brilliant is a great indicator that you need to be doing your job better.

    (2) they're in a state of radical personal development and identity formation. don't be surprised (surprise is an indication that you've got a flawed/unceccessary expectation system, so fix it) when they do stupid, human things (for that matter, don't be surprise when they do great human things. remember, they're brilliant) - to themselves, to each other, or (most imporantly) to you. of course they're going to curse you out. of course they're going to snap when you reprimand them. of course they're going to treat each other like shit. of course they're going to drink, do drugs, have sex, be in gangs, etc. in many ways, they're in school precisely to gain the personal maturity to deal with all of these things. and they're going to make mistakes, and they're mistakes will often be right in your face. just take it all in stride, and - when you get a chance - remind them that they're brilliant and beautiful and creative and all those wonderful human things.

    at home in jackson

    two coasts, two weddings, a last-call in oxford, a drive home. now to deflate and detox.

    this month will be the first time i've taken a break in years, and i plan on catering to every inclination to sleep, sleep, sleep.

    also, read, read, read (and perhaps write, write, write).

    books in my man-purse:

    godel, escher, bach douglas hofstadter
    the wretched of the earth franz fanon
    introduction to mathematics
    alfred north whitehead

    books recently finished:

    radical equations bob moses
    pedagogy of the oppressed paulo freire
    teachers have it easy dave eggers, daniel moulthrop, and ninive clements calegari


    the blues

    model t ford is 85 years old. he has 27 living children. when i found out quite suddenly at 7pm that he was playing at longshot barn this evening in oxford, i walked in to check on when he was going to start his set. model t was sitting with his guitar, ready to go. his drummer had a cleveland indians hat on, and we chatted for a bit (model t announced his age and the amount of children he had, and the drummer said he had no particular affinity for the indians - it was just a hat).

    when we came back at 9:30ish, model t was playing what seemed to be a warm-up endless blues progression. he'd start and stop, start and stop, mess with the amp, play for 5 min or so, and either he or his drummer would get up and walk around or have a cigarette. model t walked with a cane and moved rather slowly. eventually - while the indians hat drummer was outside talking to some people - some guy walked up to the drum set and played (rather horribly) a bit of the endless warm up. then, his buddy pushed him off the kit, and played (less horribly) for a bit.

    the drummer came back inside, and he and model t went through what was thankfully a different song than the endless warm-up. after this, model t asked if there were any other guitar players in the bar, and handed his guitar to some useless country singing fool while ostensibly going to the bathroom. the country singing fool played one song with the indians hat drummer, and then stopped. the drummer sat there for a while, chatting with a few people. i saw model t at the bar. eventually, the drummer went to the bar, too. an hour or so passed, and it was clear they weren't going to play anymore; they were watching the boxing match on tv.


    required mcpost: failure story

    this is embarrassing; it's an effective assignment.

    I am horrible at contacting parents. This is not to say that I’m horrible when I get in contact with parents; there are plenty of my student’s parents with whom I talk frequently (mostly because they’re around school a lot and/or drop by to say “hi” when they pick up their son/daughter), and with whom I seem to have a very cordial and productive relationship – at least as it pertains to the social/intellectual/educational development of their son/daughter. However, it’s often the case that those parents with whom I have excellent contact are those parents of my excellent students.

    Take, for instance, CT and his mom (and his sister, and his aunt, for that matter). I see CT all the time; he’s one of the presidents of the Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Club, and he participated in Jake and my Princeton Review course. CT is a talker. He thinks by talking and he learns by talking; a natural and incessant debater, whom I have taken to calling the “honorable CT,” and won’t be surprised if I see him in judge’s robes someday. As I’m not the one to shy from argument, CT and I (and Jake as well) often loose track of time carrying on dialogue that had just been inspired by whomever had just been by to speak to our club, or whatever issue we’re fixating on for the moment. So, CT’s mom, or sister, or aunt stop by to pick him up (they know exactly where Jake’s room is, and they know to look in my room if CT isn’t in Jake’s room with me), whereupon I sing CT’s praises about his dedication, maturity, intelligence, etc.; I seem to have been so convincing that when CT’s sister met my girlfriend Margaret, she (as Margaret writes) “wouldn't shake [her] hand, she insisted on hugging [her] because ‘Mr. Molina is like part of our family.’ [She said] every night at dinner CT talks about you.” While this seems more like a success story than a failure story, moments like this – while certainly supportive – often highlight for me how many parents and families I have no contact with.

    I’m afraid to make phone calls home. I don’t know why, particularly. It has something to do with an uncomfortable feeling that I’m going to disturb someone, or that they’re going to dispute whatever negative or positive thing I have to say about my student/their child, or that perhaps they’re going to realize that there’s just a beard-faced kid on line who’s trying to pin together a thin charade of authority (“Mr. Molina” always feels the least appropriate on the telephone). It’s a weird fear of confrontation that I don’t seem to have when dealing with people face to face, or even dealing with people through the interchange of text, but which seems to feel so strong when it comes to telephones. I have no problem writing letters home to parents (though these are usually of the mass information sort) – and perhaps I should focus on communicating more through this channel next year – but there is something both necessary and frightening about calling someone’s house that I can’t seem to get over (though clearly I need to.) Last year I was always jealous of Jake when he told me stories of having certain parents on speed dial, on marathon calls to inform parent of missing work, and of successful preemptive calls home for those kids who he didn’t want to be a pain in the ass. Weeks would go by that I would write “begin parent contacts” or “call home for period 2A” or “call JF’s mom, call T’s mom, call JG’s dad,” and nothing would happen. This would be the bottom of my to-Do list, and I would almost always opt to get ahead of lesson planning and/or grading to what seemed like disturbing people’s households.

    All of this is particularly frustrating/embarrassing in light of the fact that so many parents insisted that I call them if their student was ever slacking or acting up in my class. There are so many parents that deserved a quick check up or follow up throughout the year, and I neglected 95% percent of them. One particular case was JR – who will serve as a tragic counterexample to CT. JR suffered the entire year in my class, and it became clear even during parent-teacher conferences in the first quarter that this was an atypical performance for her. JR’s mother – like many others – gave me her contact information and insisted that I call her periodically to give updates, and anytime if she needed to be worried at all about JR’s grades. Well, JR coasted at a F to D grade level throughout the year; she rarely participated, she bombed tests every once in a while, she didn’t turn in homework, and she didn’t come to tutoring. Clearly, there were a million red flags for me to get the parents involved and try and figure out (a) if anything is going on outside school that I should know of, and (b) what we need to do to help JR perform at the level she’d previously been performing at. But, nothing happened. “Call JR’s mom” would often appear on my to-do list, but I’d never get to it. Eventually I was too embarrassed that I had never contacted her mother that I was even more embarrassed begin to contact her because she’d be angry at me for taking so long to get around to it.

    Eventually, third term parent-teacher conferences rolled around, and JR’s mother showed up again. Apparently, JR had been going through some behavioral health issues the whole year, and while her mom had been reluctant to speak to me about them earlier in the year, it was clear by then that I needed to understand the gravity of the situation. By that point, JR’s grades hadn’t risen above a C, and apparently I was the only teacher of hers who hadn’t contacted home to give her mom updates on JR’s performance. Again, she made it clear that I needed to periodically update her concerning JR’s grade in my class, and call her even if JR missed any homework assignments. My embarrassment in these respects snowballed; I hung on to more positive an natural parent-teacher relationships (like with CT), and eventually gave up even writing down the need to call parents on my to-do list. JR failed to turn in plenty of homework between third term conferences and the end of the year. She barely passed Alg II.


    letters to R and L

    recently i've been corresponding a bit with two of my best students. they've (well, one of them has) said some interesting things, and i've had some responses that seem to shed a bigger light. it's like all of those crappy "letter to a young ______" books, except R and L aren't made up.

    the currenct MTC intern Molly and I had a very good dinner tonight (she is AMAZING), and at some point in our conversation she mentioned a frustration with people at Duke (where she is an undergrad) who don't know how to take advantage of the resources available to them (re: students who don't know how to change a tire, who don't know how to balance a checkboook, etc). i agreed with her for the most point, but worried a little more about the attitude lying beneath these somewhat distasteful content blunders; it's more of a problem that people aren't willing to figure out how to change a tire or balance a checkbook, rather than the ostensible circumstances of their inexperience; it's that a fear of vulnerability will lock people into inexperience, rather than the conditions of these particular inexperiences. strangely, i find echoes of this contitioned reluctance in my most competent students. perhaps we are all a little afraid:

    From: R
    To: Mr. Molina

    Hey Mr. Molina,
    How are you doing? I am doing well. I hope you're having a good summer. Mine is okay. I went to that Utica Camp thing today. It was long. We have to sit in one classroom all day listening to the same person speak about leadership. I guess we will learn a lot from the program, but it hard just sitting in the same room form 9-3. They are giving $300 stipend at the end of the two weeks. I take a bus to Utica with a million others kids in high school. There is only one other boy from Jim Hill, but he is not in IB. He's nice though. I forget what you told me to e-mail you, but I think this is it.

    From: Mr. Molina
    To: R and L

    hello R and L -
    i'm forwarding my girlfriend M's e-mail address. she's an excellent resource for french: books you may want to read, or music to listen to, or any language-related question. she's also a great resource for english (she's also an english major and is much smarter than i am in many ways): again, she'd be happy to suggest books or even talk about books.
    please take advantage of the resources around you and the people who want to help you. don't worry about imposing or asking too many questions, or whatever. people know what they're getting into when they say "please, let me help you if you need anything."
    hope your summer is going well, and that you're keeping your brains stimulated rather than sitting around being bored.
    take care,
    mr. molina

    From: Mr. Molina
    To: R

    hello R.
    so glad you e-mailed me. sitting in a room from 9-3 is a drag. bring a book, or some sudoku, or your flashcards to pass the time. or draw me a picture. after a couple hours of listening your mind will probably have melted and you won't be retaining anything anymore.
    do you have enough books to read? do you need more? how early in the morning do you have to wake up to be bussed everywhere? i have to wake up at 6am so i can catch the bus to holly springs for our summer school program. i'm not a big fan of waking up so early, and would like to be sleeping in a bit and running/reading more. hopefully the schedule will calm down. there's always july...
    congrats again on the 1700+ SAT. you deserved that 400 point jump. you've still got farther to go, but your college opportunities now are drastically different than they were before. remember, it's about being impressively competent and convincing others that you are such. mr. roth and i believe it, of course, but we're not the one's dealing with thousands of admissions applications. however, we know what these applications need to look like in order to turn some heads. and i think you'll do just that.
    take care
    mr. molina

    From: R
    To: Mr. Molina

    i am glad you are doing well. I do bring sudoku to class, but i don't want to get caught showing disinterest in the class. They are paying us and they think we should work hard for the money. i draw a lot of pictures. well, i draw a lot of word. it's like taking notes. i do have some books to read i finished one of my summer reading books last week, so i wanting on the other one to be bought. i am still reading pride and prejudice. now i looking up the words i don't know because i have a lot of time.
    I get up at 5:30am. it was 5 o'clock, but the bus driver decided that he didn't need to be there at 6:00. we have drive about 5 minutes away from my house to caught the bus. my mother believes we have 15 minutes to be there 15 minutes early so we won't caught traffic. traffic at 6:00 in the morning in northwest Jackson, i don't think so. i wish i could wake-up at 6 to catch a bus to utica, but i don't. July i won't even be here and i don't think imma get any sleep. why do you go to holly springs? is that even in Mississippi?
    thank you. the SAT class was very helpful. i really liked beside all the people talking and stuff it was great. i know my college opportunities, but what kind of score i need to make to get to a great school where i don't have to pay. thank you for believing in me. soon you probably be helping me to do those admission applications.
    i know who you remind me of. have you even seen Law and Order: Criminal Intent? well, if you haven't you need to see it. that's like my second favorite show ever. the main character with the gray, that's who you remind me of. It's like he know everything about everything and i just love that. he has an answer for just about everything. (except with Nicole, his rivals, she knows just as much as him so they're always neck to neck) he is so quiet about his knowledge. he does things like you too like walk around and move your arms and stuff. you should watch. the show.

    p.s. I'm sorry it's so long.

    From: Mr. Molina
    To: R

    learn how to do productive things without being caught showing disinterest. if they're not being productive, there's no reason you shouldn't be.

    holly springs is in mississippi. it's in the northeastern part of the delta.

    i've watched law and order svu a little bit. but i'll check out criminal intent when i get the chance. i'm rarely around a tv, however.

    do not apologize for sending long e-mails R. i e-mailed you because i wanted you to write back, and i'm happy that you did. like i said in the e-mail to L and you: i know what i'm getting into when i tell you to write back.

    i have the same problem with people going on runs, and it always bother me. it usually goes like this: people mention that they are going for a run sometime in the near future, or that they want to start running soon. so, i mention that i would like to run with them if they would like company. then - almost invariably - whomever i'm talking to says that they'd be too slow for me (remembering that i'm a track and cross country runner). this is where i get frustrated. it's exactly because i'm an experienced runner that i know exactly how slow and how fast people are, so i know exactly what i'm getting into when i suggest that i join them for a run (that is, if they want to). i know that they're probably not going to run as fast or as long as i can, and they may not even want to. in fact, if i was intending on a very hard, long, serious run, i probably wouldn't have offered to run with whomever i'm in a conversation with. but, that's not what i'm offering; i'm offering to join them on their run. it's nice to have company. that's all i'm offering, and there's no illusion in my mind that i'm intending they run at whatever capacity they think i run at. i'm asking to run with them, and i know exactly what that means.

    so, R- when i send you an e-mail and i ask you questions - i know exactly what that means. don't apologize for the length of your response. it's something i wanted to happen.

    mr. molina


    the 9

    Jim Hill has about 70 teachers on staff. next year (pending the confirmation of those teachers in parentheses) the Teacher Corps will represent about 13% of that staff. a charter school without a charter.

    Jacob Roth
    David Molina
    Tiffany Bartlett
    (Lily Chang-Chien)
    (Robbie Pollock)

    Deborah Raji
    Melissa Smith
    Steven Scriber

    (Sarah Worden)

    it's exciting and frightening. we'll have to manage a forseeable tension between us and the non-MTC staff (who may feel a little invaded), and we'll have to manage a healthy and non-combustible collaborative relationship between ourselves. a good start for a snowball, nonetheless.


    so much dignity

    this weekend jake and my civil rights/civil liberties (CR/CL) club took a two day, one night field trip to ole miss (re: james meredith) and memphis (re: civil rights museum). we had the opportunity to bring a rather nice digital camera with us, complements of jim hill h.s. - and i'd rather the pictures tell the story than me rambling on. so, i'm going to just set up a link to a slide show of our best pictures (240 of them) from the trip; we brought jake's laptop along to dump the best photos after each day, and i put them through another edit after we got home. the photos are posted on my flikr account, which is where the photos at the top of my blog come from - they are random picks from my public folders. feel free to poke around the other flikr photos - we've documented some CR/CL meetings, and I took alot of pictures of my IB students presenting a project on functions.

    also, it's important to note that i did not take all of these pictures. we all took some. if a student asked to use the camera, i showed them (in like 3 min, so nothing really at all) some basics on focusing, framing, and lighting (and i technically don't know anything about photography). then i set them loose. some kids got hooked, and kept grabbing the camera and walking around. in the aftermath, and in the editing process, it's delightfully unclear who had taken each picture. so, they belong to no one but all of us.

    the link:


    A Children's Masque

    for the Jabberwock at Jackson State, and Kanitria

    On the stage the children sing,
    sliding into groups of two:
    "If we waltz we will be kings."

    No one really says a thing
    against a claim of such dispute
    as on the stage. The children sing

    as we allow; we'd like to cling,
    anyhow, to a corollary truth:
    when we can waltz, we can be kings

    (though the converse surely brings
    more truth, it's much less sweet to chew).
    "On the stage," the children sing

    "History is a trifling thing,
    conceding to our practiced tune:
    if we waltz, we will be kings."

    A lone conviction rings
    first amidst those that accrue
    upon the stage, as our children sing:
    as they waltz, they look like kings.

    ... two months later

    i'm never sure if i'm an active or a passive person. there's probably an underwhelming pseudoscientific survey that would nail me down as one or the other (also: i'm a sagitarius, i was born in the year of the dog, and a acupuncturist in beijing once told me - after looking at my tongue - that my blood was hot, and that i should avoid lamb's meat), but that would be underwhelming. in any case, i've been in a depressingly passive stalemate with this blog for what has surprisingly turned out to be two months (punctuated nicely by a ben guest phone call: "dave, you've seemed to have stopped blogging"). the whole mess has been buried under a sickly inertia, wherein every moment that i actually remember that i need to blog, or that i should blog, or that whatever thought i just had was blog-worthy is immediatly sucked into a paralytic vacuum - and the moment becomes tiring, then heavy and slow, and then it has to be forgotten. it is as if i've gotten into a horrible fight with a friend, and we are both sorry (and we both know we're both sorry), but neither one of us wants to either admit sorriness or move on, and so we stop calling each other (but still think about each other), and start to hang out with other people (after sufficient sitting around the house and half-watching tv). of course, the starting to hang out with other people thing is not really moving on, because it's an action wholly in the context of an unresolved absence. then, even when we actually have moved on in the most gradual and organic of ways, each time we see each other is an empty-space-in-the-head rememberance of how we'd always wished we'd just apologized in the first place, and that we should remember in the future to become comfortable with our own vulnerability.

    anyway, i guess what i meant to say is that i've been reading a lot of books lately, and watching DVDs of scrubs and the family guy, and hanging out with margaret, instead of reflecting constantly (or even montly) on my teaching experience. i've also been really busy participating in the whole teaching experience thing, so much that the amount of things that i need to reflect upon are (a) overwhelming, and (b) undigestible in the short term. and blogging isn't the sort of self-contained action that you can just dip in and out of - at least not for me. it's a sort of linearity, and a sort of attitude, and a sort of narrative. and when you get derailed for a little bit of time, the amount that you feel you need to catch up on, and the amount that you feel any re-admission would be reductive easily eclipses the fact that you've stayed at school until 10pm for the nth time, and that it would be neat to write a little piece about that on the old blog.


    required mcpost? not-math box

    benny guest (aka yep, he looks like larry bird) has asked us to write a post about a "procedure, routine, rule, or consequence, etc. that has been successful." so, a few words on the not-math box.

    in one of the corners of my room, there's a pile of stuff. in that pile you may find textbooks, jackets, binders, personal items, etc. many of these items have been there for most of the year, and i look forward to the end of 4th term when i see what treasures i've inherited. somewhere in that pile of stuff is a blue milk crate, which is my dreaded not-math box - and the center of this procedural black hole.

    rule #3 states: "when in math class, do Math." i enforce this rule by confiscating any objects of interest which are patently not math, or are clearly not math in the way that a student needs to be paying attention to my class at a given time. once confiscated, the objects go in the not-math box -a space which has become universally dreaded and often caricatured (students often wanting to put each other - or me - in the not-math box for being silly in some silly way). the not math box is a very potent reminder to stay on task, and seems to have limited a large degree of explicit doing-someone-else's-homework-in-mr.-molina's class. the only reason for the largeness of the not-math pile is the nearly universal inability for students to remember that i'd taken a textbook or note or homework and placed it there. in the slow accumulation next to my white board, a vast witness to the frivolity of academia slowly grows, and festers.

    sometimes, when no one's looking, they learn.

    there's always a mischevious disconnect between what you think you're teaching people, and what they actually value and acquire. however, sometimes they surprise you by hitting a home run in the area of things that are "actually important," despite an unimpressive batting average in all the other crap. the following post (which has turned out to be part of a three-part student-focus postgasm [re: this post, "To Whom it May Concern," and "Statement of Incident"]) is a list of excerpts from my caculus class's response to the question: "To what degree is our entire experience of mathematical truth - as it relates to concrete reality - an issue of dealing with limits?" this question appeared on an intro to limits test, and referenced a discussion we had on plato's allegory of the cave - which i used as a jumping-off-point to talk about the conceptual attractiveness of the mathematical limit.

    "As in life and mathematics, nothing in life is what it seems. Something might have the characteristics of a certain thing, but it will never be a perfect shape or form. There will always be some minor, microscopic flaws that enable anything to be perfect [sic]. For instance, a hoop earring is said to be a circular object, but if you looked close enough you'll see tiny ridges and imperfections that couldn't make it a perfect circle. Another example is that this very paper is considered to be a rectangle, but it's not because its sides aren't perfect 90-degree angles."

    "Limits have everything to do with mathematical truth. As we sit in class grasping concepts of a line or a circle and how perfect they are or the can be the reality of it is that we'd never find the perfect line. A line as we know it is not a line. A line is defined by having no depth or width, but in order for us to see a line without imagining it gives it width [sic]. Really everything is imaginary and what's real is fake."

    "Philosophy says that everything we were taught is to be a lie [sic]. I believe [sic] this six years ago. Although if you think about it long enough everything will still be the truth... We believe only what is taught and have no proof. For if we were to search, ordinary people like us has [sic] made things up but we still are advised to believe what is taught no matter what."

    "Our Mathematical truth to me really is no truth. The truth of all things doesn't ever exist it is just an allusion [sic] of all things. Nothing exists only just an example or explanation of them exists. We could draw straight lines all day long but actually we'll never reach the point of drawing a 100% straight line. The reason is because of the line is never precise it always has crooked and rough edges [sic]. The smallest edge or defect in the line makes it not a line."

    "It's all a lie! You can never achieve a perfect circle or a perfect line or a perfect everything for that matter. Because no matter what, there will always be falacies in the construction so it could be said that the limit to the function of reality is perfection!"

    "real world" my ass [re: "Statement of Incident" sidenote].

    To Whom It May Concern:

    (the following is a letter given to me by an exceptionally talented student of mine. she is by far one the most mature and intelligent people i've met at jim hill, and i'm excited about every opportunity i get to assist her in achieving her goals/aspirations. this post is in some ways an unabashed solicitation on her part [with her permission], in some ways an interesting juxtaposition to the post immediately following [re: "Statement of Incident"], and in some ways merely a witness to the kind of incredible talent that i run into daily - craving every opportunity to futher develop itself.)

    To Whom it May Concern:

    My name is Renee Ombaba, and I am a Sophomore at Jim Hill High School and have been a member of the Jim Hill High School Concert Choir and Chorale since ninth grade. I have been a member of Mississippi State -Honors Choir for the past two years and I have been studying piano for eight years.

    Just recently I learned that I was selected as one of only two students from Jackson Public Schools to perform with the prestigious SOUND OF AMERICA Honor Band and Chorus 2006 European Concert Tour. This group will perform eleven concerts in six countries during its twenty-five day tour. Unsurprisingly, I am thrilled at the possibility of joining the select group of musicians.

    Each participant must pay his or her own expenses estimated at $5,000. Because I am not sure if this opportunity will ever present itself again, I am working to earn some of the money for the trip. However, I will need substantial assistance from the Tri-County Community [Hinds, Rankin, and Madison, MS] to make this dream a reality. If you could possibly make a contribution to assist me in this once-in-a-lifetime cultural experience, I would be very grateful. Please help me be able to perform in some of the great concert halls of Europe by making a contribution to help with the expenses of this unexpected honor. Please make your check payable to:

    Renee Ombaba/Sound of America
    P.O. Box 1575
    Jackson, MS 39213

    For your financial support, I would be honored to perform for any civic club or organization as well as for any business or industrial function upon request. My home phone number is 601-982-4390.

    When I began my music career eight years ago, little did I know I would have such an unique opportunity to perform abroad. Now, with your help, I have a chance to proudly represent Jackson and the United States.

    Thank you for your consideration and support.

    Renee N. Ombaba

    Statement of Incident Occurring Feb 22, 2005 in Room 105

    Physical violence witnessed as an exchange between students A (male) and B (female).

    12:05 PM

    Student A entered class markedly late. Immediately upon his entrance, I went to enquire why Mr. A was so tardy, and - as Student A and I were engaged in this discussion - Student B approached Mr. A and slapped him.

    Thereafter, a violent exchange began as Student A retaliated, at one point having his hands around the neck of Ms. B, who continued to fight/argue with Mr. A.

    Two students - Students C and D - assisted me in getting Mr. A out of the room. At this point, I notice A's nose was bleeding, and - after asking another teacher to monitor him - I returned to the classroom to get him some tissue.

    After the incident, conversations with Student B revealed that - in initially attacking Student A - she was responding to a prior incident where Student A had inappropriately touched her. I am unclear as to whether or not this alleged incident happened in my classroom - but since Student A had very recently entered the room when the confrontation began - I am under the impression that the violation Student B was referring to happened prior to today's class.

    (this post is a copy of the written statement that I gave my administration after witnessing/breaking up a fight in my class [names are changed for the usual reasons]. this was the second fight i'd seen since i'd been at jim hill [the first was at a football game last semester], and the first fight i'd witnessed in my classroom. i'm not going to comment on it too much, but i will note that: in the aftermath i felt a saddening disgust; in many ways the most difficult part about the whole ordeal was not the fight itself, but the fact that i had to continue teaching immediately afterwards; it's endlessly frustrating that most everyone's response to this [the students and administrators included] was along the lines of (a) now you're a teacher, and (b) you ain't seen nothing yet; no one should ever have "to get used to" violence, as if it's one of those innate and grave truths of "the real world." [which is not to say that people do not get used to violence, nor that i won't most likely get used to violence, nor that people do not benefit in some ways by getting used to violence, but rather to find absolute disgust with the romanticized, badge-of-honor notion that there's some "real world" out there which trumps all others, which is fixedly unequal in ways that other "worlds" aren't, and that has a cultural validity that is treated with a coming-of-age exclusiveness that - in its ennobled ownership - prevents a sober perspective on how pathetically "unreal" its own delineations may be, and - in fact - have to be if they are ever to be communicated. there is a huge difference between things existing, things usually existing, and things necessarily having to exist])


    love at the periphery

    so, i left jim hill at 6pm yesterday for the nth time.

    (n.b. a response to the claim that teachers have "great hourly wages": "Most teachers work far beyond the hours stipulated in their contracts. A 2001 NEA study, "Status of American Public Schoolteachers," found that teachers worked an average ten extra hours per week" (Daniel Moulthroup, Ninive Calegari, and Dave Eggers in Teachers Have it Easy: The Big Sacrifices and Small Salaries of America's Teachers))

    school ends at 3:30 pm. as yesterday was B day (we are on AB block scheduling), i had fourth block off - meaning that my day ended at 1:45 (provided they rang the bell on time, which i do not remember). as i was pretty sick yesterday (which is why i'm home today resting, blowing my nose, and writing a blog or two), my main objective for the time period beginning at 1:45ish was to prepare my room for the next day's sub. this - of course - was not achieved until about 5:45, after which i was able to exit the building, go grocery shopping with margaret, and collapse while reading the new issue of mathematics teacher (wherein i realized that i'm in a tragic way fortunate to come up against the generally low level of content knowledge that i find in my students, and the mechanical and rudimentary expectations of my curriculum. because, if faced with a rigorous/inspiring curriculum and flexibility for differentiated instruction [two things i hope to nevertheless develop over time], i'd be pretty overwhelmed intellectually. take this reluctance and multiply it by a couple hundred thousand people and a few generations, focus it on areas of economic and social difficulty, and you'll see a public service that fails the public.)

    ever since i've broken through the barrier of constantly feeling overstressed, underachieving, and nearly suffocating as a teacher, i've worked a few down-time activities into my planning period:

    (1) read pitchfork (
    (2) read the new york times (with an eye out for articles that may be of interest to the civil rights/civil liberties club. today's: "Smithsonian Picks Notable Spot for its Museum of Black History" by Lynette Clemetson, "Trial Opens in Challenge to Law Over Teenage Sex," by Jodi Rudoren, "Children, Media, and Sex: A Big Book of Blank Pages," by Jane Brody, and - sadly - this just in: "Coretta Scot King, 78, Widow of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Dies.")
    (3) read today's wikipedia featured article (today's is about the song "Dixie." go rebels.)

    after i get through this - which usually takes about a 1/2 hour - i start going through:

    (1) the things i need to do in order to teach the next day
    (2) grading
    (3) odds and ends

    (lets be honest, (3) usually comes before (2))

    at ole miss this past summer, i remember someone talking about making goals as a first year teacher. someone (i think it was joe sweeney) was determined to teach every day. someone else (?) was determined to some to school every day. my goal - and i've been unwavering in it - is to make sure that every morning i walk into my classroom i have an explicit plan of action for all of my classes that day (this is slightly but substantively different from having written a bunch of "lesson plans." those are just cover sheets at best) . i refuse to wing it. i refuse to have 25 kids wander into a classroom and not have a road map on how i'm going to keep them occuppied for an hour and a half. clearly, i often have to deviate from what i've prepared. however, i'm furious in making sure that there's always some structure to fall back on, and all the physical necessities to enact it. handouts, notes, problems, activities, whatever.


    so yesterday, (as i segue into a blurred present tense) i'm wandering around my room trying to decide whether or not my 2nd A-day (henceforth 2A) class needs some extra practice on systems of equations even though they just took a test on it and only 1/3 of the class was able to finish it so i need to give the rest of them time to finish it but why should i give extra practice i'm not sure they're going to do it anyway because (a) this class pretty much doesn't turn in homework (b) anything can happen with a sub, and (c) what they really need is a collaborative learning excercise where the kids who were able to finish the test explain some problems to small groups of everyone else, so i'll just photocopy the sudoku i was going to give 4A for all of my classes (god knows what i could have pulled together for 3A), and see if i can also get them to write about my special nutrition prompts for our Do Now (aka bell work, first work, warm-up, etc.): "Is there a need for nutrition awareness or action on campus?," "Are there any sections of the student population who have special nutrition needs?," "Are there any nutrition issues with our cafeteria options?," but i won't be able to be there to give them my spiel about meeting the outreach coordinator at the rainbow grocery co-op and how we're excited to collaborate in any nutrition issues that students see at jim hill (e.g. obesity, basic nutritional knowlege, nutrition for atheletes, nutrition for expectant mothers, issues with government lunch, etc.), so i go back to my computer and see if i can pull up a good times article or something, and i find a good one and highlight some sections i'll photocopy

    and the bell rings.

    so i have to wait to get the photocopies done because jake and i have a discussion group on night to lead, and josh is going to come by to get workout instructions because i can't run with him because i'm sick, and then there's belinda who needs to take a test she missed (which i forgot about), so i get her the test and there's josh who's telling me that there's a mandatory band meeting - so he leaves - and april shows up to tell me she's not coming to the discussion group because of the band meeting, which she says will last until 4:30 - so she leaves - and the new kid who wants to run shows up (they usually don't follow up on this, so i'm excited), but i need josh to take him out for a run because i'm sick, so i walk with april to the band room and ask josh how long he thinks he'll be there and that he should check for me in either my room or jake's. so i walk back to my room to tell the new kid (i end up forgetting his name a million times) to sit tight, and i notice that belinda has her cell phone out which means she may be using it as a calculator but i need to check on jake and the dicussion group so i tell her i'll be back and go upstairs and jake is tired and there's a handful of the usuals hanging around in his room but only one has read the book and jake is on oprah's website looking up the prompt and he looks tired so i tell him to send the kids down to my room if he wants and i go back downstairs and keep an eye on belinda and make small talk with the new kid and look at the new york times article i need to photocopy before i leave.

    eventually, jake comes downstairs with the kids and there's another one who's read the book and i toss a few copies to them and we start talking about "why elie weisel's book night is relevant today?," and they start talking about hurricane katrina so it's clear that my meditation on the difference between "how" and "why" won't work, and jake and i start talking about whether or not the holocaust could happen again and start talking about rwanda and darfur and trying to put a death toll of 6 million jews into context (5000 jim hills dead.... 30 jacksons.... 2 mississippis dead dead dead) and jake asks them which scenes from the book leave the strongest impression on them and one girl mentions the old lady who goes crazy and sees fire everywhere so we talk about prophecy for a bit and another girl talks about the hanging of the young boy and so i get an alley-oup to slam dunk the kids into my riff about how wiesel - a jew - brings us to calvalry and there's jesus hung with two others and he/we has/have to suffer because his soul is innocent and young and it's more difficult to watch him die than an grown man who has sinned and "my god, my god, why have you forsaken me," and they're all naked and shaven and numbered and neitzche and jake is furiously on the internet pulling up some halocaust pictures and look at his ribs these are the strong ones remember and those are shoes "why didn't they pair them up" a student asks "why would they" another says and they decide to end for the day and josh shows up and is ready to run.

    josh is frustrated because the new kid is there and i think he's a little possessive of my help which is understandable because he's never had anyone to run with before, but on our 54-minute run last friday we had talked about teaching other jim hill kids what it means to run and how josh needs to be a leader so i gave him my watch and let him take the new kid out for a three-mile run while i grab my times article and some photocopier paper and head down to the copy room, but there's renee and she's crying because someone took her place on the sextet (a singing group) because she missed the audition because she had to go to mandatory tutorial (she's pretty much the best student i have), so i'm hugging her and telling her it's ok because the other girl is a senior and renee is a sophmore and she had two more years to be an awesome singer and anyway we can just have more time to do number theory after school, so then renee feels better and her mom is here to pick her up and renee always wants me to say hi to her mom so i do and on the way we start talking about night because renee is reading it too but couldn't come today because (a) mandatory tutorial and (b) that sextet thing, and she didn't pick up on the calvalry scene either so i scold her playfully because her mom has christian memorabilia all over her car and becuase renee is brilliant, and i exchange some small talk with her mom and i head back into the building i with my times article and i see lacee (who's my other really smart kid) who is going to be induced to labor on wednesday and i'm not coming in tomorrow so i wish her the best and by the way how long do you get for maternity leave? six weeks? but she's only planning on taking four and i ask her if she wants any extra work and she does she tells me about her psat scores where she got 98 and 99th percentile in writing and english but 79th in math so can i give her any more test prep stuff because i lent her the ACT book after she took the PSAT's and she thinks they helped, so i say sure and i realize that i have whole tests ready to photocopy and i ask her if she has a minute for me to run off some stuff so we go back to my room and i put the times article on my desk and start going through my SAT/ACT books and grabbing some more paper and i ask her how she feels about having the baby is she excited and she tells me she's scared and we start walking to the copy room and i ask her why and she's afraid of the pain and she doesn't want an epideral because she doesn't like needles and it goes in her spine and she doesn't want to be paralyzed so she'll just take some tylenol, at which point i tell her that my mom's a nurse and she's been delivering babies all her life and that i don't know much about epiderals but i don't think tylenol will cut it so would she be ok if i called my mom and let lacee ask her a few questions, so lacee says sure and i call my mom and put lacee on the phone and they start talking and one door to the teacher's area is locked, and so is the other, but the third is open so we go in and lacee's talking to my mom about what week she's in and how much the baby weighs and what an IV is and how an epideral works and that stuff and i start photocopying the ACT tests i already have and then some SAT ones and then another teacher comes in the copy room and it's clear that he needs to make some copies so i can't go through my other SAT book which has like six more tests so i prepare the five for her that i already have and as we leave the copy room i notice that i have the times article with me but the other teacher's job is already printing and it looks big so hopefully they won't lock this last door anytime soon.

    we pass the front door and lacee's mom is waiting outside so we go back to my room and lacee finishes talking to my mom and i give her the tests and tell her to send me any that she's finished and i'll correct them and send them back, and good luck and i hope she brings the baby in sometime so i can see him, and i hope my mom was helpful and you can always call and ask her questions, and josh is back from the run with the new kid and they're stretching while josh teases lacee as she leaves and it seems the new kid did the whole three miles with josh which is pretty impressive given that he hasn't run at all in a long time and that most kids who show up to run barely make it through the first ten minutes with me and josh, so i start talking to him about what we'll need to do if he wants to train with me and then he leaves after a lot of "yes sir"s which always make me uncomfortable and josh's mom shows up and chats for a bit and gets josh, so then i finally walk down to the copy machine with the nutrition article and make enough copies for the kids tomorrow, and leave instructions on my board and some class rosters, and i lock up all the stuff i don't want people getting into then turn off the light and call my mom back to thank her as i walk to my car, and then i call margaret who's been waiting to go to the grocery store and now wants to make some pasta which i think is a great idea as i get into my car and turn on some tom waits which i've been listening to a lot recently.


    new rain

    driving home from oxford tonight - shifting from tom waits to dave van ronk to dr. dre to kanye - i was fixed to the lingering issues of today's classes. ari, sarah, jake and i crammed fits of tired argument in between our respective debt to slumber or the highway. plenty of frustration, conflict, and sadness - at least on my part.

    but this is how it's supposed to be, or at least how i'd always choose to have it. worried about the things we'd seen today. fixed to them, and there endless surface. thinking about our children. more importantly, not obsessed with the captive's urge to drink away whatever it was i'd just been subject to for six hours (this was last semester's theme); rather obsessed to keep pressing in my affinity to previous engagement.


    notes on jake's assertion that our level of training at the teacher corps is somehow sufficient for what we need to do in the classroom (i.e. giving us a lesson plan model as something to fall back on, and turning us loose to figure it out on our own) - and that the more pressing issue is to keep on getting competent people into these school buildings, people you can trust to take care of themselves:

    - whatever level of success i've developed in the classroom, i can easily numerate stresses and hurdles that could have easily been dealt with through reflection, information, or simulation during the months previous (e.g. gradekeeping and the corollary secretarial work; comprehensive knowledge, engagement, and analysis with both the high school curriculum of my subject area and rigorous engagment with common teaching practices used to employ this curriculum). this would have enabled me to (a) pear down predictable and managable stresses, easing assimilation to the classroom environment and boosting my proficiency level once things started to click, (b) given me a head start on figuring things out on my own, seeing that my desires for self improvement are nearly identical now to what i had worried they would be, and i barely have time or energy to do serious development in these areas on my own right now.

    - our preparation is akin to telling a trial lawyer that there is something called an "argument," that he or she must have, that this argument must have "points," and these points must have "supporting evidence," that supporting evidence has certain definable qualities, and that there is a formal order to actualizing this argument in a court room. then, assuming that since this young, excited person must have some detached knowledge of what it means to be a lawyer (and basing one's theory of teaching on half-ass meta-reflection on how one was himself teached is just as credible as claiming that we know how to be lawyers because we've seen them on tv), sending him/her into the fray, with the head-patting assurance that it'll be difficult in the beginning, but he/she will adjust.

    - regardless of the sufficiency of the aforemention training, and extending the undoubtedly soon-to-be flattened lawyer comparison: there is no Lexis-Nexus for teachers, no OED, no Wikipedia. there is no autonomous hub of fluent and necessary industry information and data. almost across the board, even if we do figure out how to survive in a classroom, we have little breathing room - outside of whatever contract-locked materials or industry trend program we're tied to - to self-improve. to figure things out.


    starting soon, i will try and profile some of my kids. but i'll probably continue to do whatever it is i do when i intend to talk about my classroom, and end up talking about my classes.