Thursday, April 27, 2006

So Glad It's Over!

Hooray! WOSL is over for this year! I am SO glad to see it done, but not nearly as glad as the kids. They are exhausted (I am too) by six tests in eight days. After the last two tests they were woozy and starving (writing for two hours straight will do that to you I guess) and more than a little punchy. I've learned from long experience about this, so I bought a huge box of Cheezits from Costco (I know, I know, but they're not that bad for you, and the kids LOVE them) and handed them out after the test. I used to give them treats before the test to take some of the sting out of the whole experience, but that is now banned by the state because treats might give my kids an unfair advantage over other, treatless, kids. On the whole, I was very proud of them this year. We all did the test through our homerooms, and my homeroom is comprised of kids who often struggle with school. They took the tests very seriously and worked long and hard on each one. Tomorrow, cookies and The Princess Bride (the best movie ever by the way). They've certainly earned it, and anyone who disagrees can just kiss my certificated bottom (if you kow what I mean).

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Deep Secret, Deep Nonesense

For several weeks now I've wanted to blog about the WOSL (which I'm misspelling on purpose to avoid word searches of blogs). It sort of permeates my world for the month of April, and besides it's pretty goofy stuff. This is a test so bound up in bureaucratic rules that you have to either laugh or cry. I prefer the former, so I laugh a lot when this season comes around. Every year seems to get funnier than the last, and this year I am positively rolling in the aisles. Of course these funny rules also state that I can't talk about most of what I see. The state likes to think that this test is so hugely important that it must be kept utterly secret. I have news for them: Any information that you choose to share with thousands upon thousands of teenagers IS NOT a secret anymore. Nevertheless, we are bound, by contract and threat of legal action, to keep our mouths shut on most of the process. For example, the directions for administration (DA) are available on the state website. However, if we do not return our copy of the DA to our test admin. we are in big trouble. Why? Who knows?
The first thing that strikes you about all this is the acronyms. Now I admit we are acronym-heavy in education, but this takes it to the extreme. Weeks before the first test, we have a training meeting where our admin is legally required to explain the process to all of us (because we can't remember from last year or the year before that or the year before that...). This is an actual sentence from the training (the acronyms have been changed to protect, well, me):

Okay, if everyone would get out their DA we can have a look at the WOSL versus the WOOS. Now in order to maintain OYM, we need to improve our RLS, MLS, and our WLS in 7th grade. Our CAP says that we will especially focus on WLS for all grades. For those who do not qualify for WOSL, we still need to prove OYM, so we will be turning to the WOOS system to measure WLS. Your DA should have instructions for calculating OYM.

I swear I am not making this up. I am told by a friend that we are not alone on this one. Most states have similar forms of testing, and if they do not now GWB will be speaking to them soon. NCLB, the most reviled acronym in education, is the bill that requires all sorts of "fun" changes in the nation's schools. One of these changes is to require testing in every grade from K-10. Thanks GW we really needed that.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Being Useful

When we contemplate a weekend, M and I always try to leave room to "do busy things" as he likes to put it. Busy things are all those sorts of chores that need doing on a regular basis such as vacuuming the carpets or buying groceries or weeding the garden. This is really the perfect term because these are things that aren't horrible or painful; they just require the spending of time and the will to actually get going. The will to get going is something we often lack on weekends because there are just so many nice ways to waste time. Sleeping until 10:00 is fun, drinking tea and reading the paper is very pleasant, and hanging out with friends in any number of places is always a good time. However, since we bought the house we are finding it more and more important to do the busy stuff.
This weekend, I am proud to say, we did many busy things. Yesterday we did all the grocery shopping at both TJ's and Costco. Today we finished painting the spare bedroom (okay, I still need to do the trim, but the WALLS are done at least) and now there is not a speck of that horrible neon yellow in sight. M broke out the lawn mower for the first time (our first ever lawn mower by the way) and mowed the front AND back lawns. I weeded, planted, laid plastic over weedy paths (Will this work? I want to avoid weed killers, and everyone who thinks I'm being silly can just kiss my slightly hippie behind!) and swept the sidewalk and the patio. I also planted my bleeding heart plant underneath the trees in the backyard. I hope, I hope, I hope it will survive and bloom beautifully.
The odd part about all of this? It's really kind of fun! When I was a kid doing these kinds of chores often seemed like a form of painful cruelty invented by my parents. Now that we have our own house, though, I actually like taking care of it. Perhaps the glow will wear off eventually and I will be grumbling by next spring, but for now it's a satisfying way to spend a weekend. This afternoon, M and I are off to pick molding and a new door for the spare bedroom. Maybe while we're there we'll pick up some soil amendment and a few annuals for the garden. Oohh the possibilities.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Truth About Pittsburgh

As I mentioned in an earlier post, operation SNOW MY MOM was a huge success. My brother has been bugging me to come and visit him in Pittsburgh pretty much since he moved there two years ago. "We are just so busy" was starting to sound pretty lame, so we decided to go ahead and visit for a long weekend. However, my brother suggested an interesting wrinkle to the plan. What if we were to take our mom, and not tell her beforehand that she was going. We've never done anything like this to her before, but we couldn't imagine that she wouldn't be happy about the plan. Therefore, we set out to be sneaky. Many people helped us to get her the day off of work, make airline and car reservations, take care of her pets, and create diversions so she wouldn't know what was really going on. Several people told her lies, both small and large, but lying is actually pretty fun when it is for entirely good purposes.

On Thursday I asked her to go out to dinner with several of us to celebrate the end of my pro cert program (it's not really over, but close!). We went out to a nice restaurant, had pleasant conversation and a good dinner, and then we told her that we wanted to get dessert somewhere else. Everyone was being very vague and cagey by that point because we were all afraid of giving something away. We started driving down South, and I was wondering when she would say "what the heck is going on!". However, she was very trusting (it probably helped that we would never lie to her normally, so what reason would she have to be suspicious) and she didn't say anything until we were at the airport.

Once we all got out and the friend with the car drove off, she was pretty well aware that something was up. This was the moment of truth, would she be annoyed with us for springing this on her without any warning at all? No, of course not. She seemed very happy and very excited by the whole idea (although I could tell she did worry for just a moment about having someone else do her packing). We got tickets, passed through security, and boarded our plane without a single hitch. The actual time in Pittsburgh was great too, but that is another story (maybe one that M will put on his blog?). Over all, the surprise went beautifully, but I don't think we'll ever get away with another one quite as easily.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Extreme Silliness

You will not believe this one. For the final phase of the Professional Certification Program I am required to include student work as "evidence" that I have improved my teaching skills. This work must be "in student voice" meaning that it has to be an original copy (to prevent us from cheating I guess?). Therefore, we are required to photograph or scan the work and include it in a powerpoint presentation. This is the best I could do with our digital camera, and still have the whole page show at once. The amazing part is that I offered to translate the work into a readable copy, and was told that, no, it had to be original. I asked about the fact that you can't possibly read it, and they said, get this, they don't care as long as it is original student work. I am tempted to make up a work sheet that says PRO CERT IS STUPID! PRO CERT IS STUPID! over and over again. Of course that would mean, I would be lowering myself to their level of extreme silliness.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Fiendish Cleverness

Operation SNOW MY MOM went off without a hitch. It turns out the Pittburgh is actually a pretty interesting place, and not nearly the rusting hulk of a city that some people (not me of course!) might expect. More info and pictures to follow soon, but right now I'm bogged down in WASL Land.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Skagit Valley Tulips

The very first picture here shows the little patch of garden by our front door. If you look very carefully you can see our very first crop of tulips in the new house! It was very exciting (at least I thought so) when the little orange tips first showed color. However, as precious as they are to me, these are just a few little flowers. The Skagit Valley, on the other hand, has LOTS of flowers. My friend C and I decided that we have lived around Seattle for far too long without having seen the famous tulips, so we decided to make the trip. We left Seattle around 10am, drove the hour north, and made it up to flowers by about 11:15. Our first glimpse of the valley was not very promising because muddy fields (no flowers) were pretty much it. However, once we got a little closer to the farms, we could see whole fields of flowers. Since they grow each color seperetely, it was a sea of red, then a sea of yellow, and so on. At the farm we were treated to many different varieties of flowers, and these are just a very few of the pics. Perhaps I will include a few more in a future post.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Food for Thought

Many people are familiar with the book The Material World which is famous for going around the world and photographing people with all their possessions. Classrooms all over the country (world?) have used this book to get a visual portrait of comparative standards of living. Now, some of the authors have collaborated on a new book called Hungry Planet. Families are once again posed in front of their houses, but this time they have one week's food laid out in front of them. The difference between countries is staggering to say the least. Each country profile also includes a story about the family, and general food statistics for the nation over all. Looking at the rates of malnutrition versus obesity makes quite a powerful statement. Large portions of the population in Mali, Chad, Guatemala, and the Philippines struggle to get enough to eat. At the same time, millions of people in Australia, Germany, France, and especially the United States are slowly killing themselves withan excess of food.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Peace and Quiet

Hooray for spring break!

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Moral Issue

I like to think that my views on moral issues are informed by an internally consistent set of rules. In this vein I've always argued that gay marriage is perfectly fine with me because, well, why shouldn't they? I’ve always argued that grown-ups who are not hurting anyone should be allowed to pretty much do as they please (yes, yes, there are exceptions, but I think you know what I'm getting at). After all, they are consenting adults, and their marriage really has nothing to do with me or Pat Robertson. What gives me the right or authority to tell a gay person they can't get married? More than that, why would I want to tell a gay person they can't get married?

However, I've recently found myself in a bit of a conundrum over this line of reasoning. The problem is the idea of multiple marriage. The new TV show Big Love has everyone talking about polygamy, and some people are starting to draw parallels between gay and polygamous marriages. After all, they argue, if adults should be allowed sole control of their marital choices then why shouldn't multiples be allowed? Well crap. According to my own logic I should agree with them, and yet I really emphatically don't. In fact, the idea of polygamy is completely unacceptable to me. But why? Why should I care about who other adults marry? Why should these two issues be so completely different for me?

All the people I've polled on this one happen to agree (at least in general terms) with me on these two issues (i.e. gay marriage perfectly fine, polygamy perfectly icky) but the reasoning varies greatly from person to person. Some people talk about feminism and the abusive caste of so many polygamous unions. Other people say it has to do with monogamy, and still more talk about jealousy leading to ruin. R even says that he can't stand the idea of how it would alter the tax code (knowing him, this is probably the truth). The only thing that everyone seems in a hurry to say is that the two issues are not the same. This article from Slate summed up many of the main points beautifully.

I wish I could say that I had some sort of good conclusion for this whole thing, but the truth is that I don't. I have not budged even slightly on views of each situation, but I am still not happy with how I arrived at them. Most all of the arguments people have proposed for the difference between the two make a lot of sense. However, accepting any of them means changing my basic belief that adults should make their own private choices. In my little world, most things of importance are pretty black and white, and this issue creates an uncomfortable shade of gray.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006


The best boss ever (mine) is planning to retire in a mere fourteen months! I know this may seem like a long way off, but really it's just the end of next school year. The best supervisor ever got promoted out last year and now this. I don't know how we will all cope. Once you get spoiled by management that cares about workers and is responsible, responsive, and democratic it gets really hard to go back to the usual. I suppose there is a small chance we will get someone just as good, but, let's face it, the odds of that are not high. Having read my 90's management philosophy books I know that I am supposed to be flexible, role with the change, and go in search of new cheese. However, it feels as though our delicious aged French blue might be swapped for a limp piece of rubbery American.