the twit


    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