Thursday, May 31, 2007

Teacher Advice on Surviving School Conferences

Disclaimer: I am decidedly a teacher and not a parent. There are many people who are qualified to give advice from the parent perspective. I have not kept count, but I would imagine that I've attended hundreds of parent/teacher conferences. This entry is sort of a teacher's wish list for parent behavior.

10.Do not wear pancake make-up--- Even if that is your usual style. You will look out of place, and if the conference becomes emotional, you may become smeary.

9. Do not wear a three piece suit--- Some people seem to think this is a job interview for the role of parent. This is not the case. Same goes for furs, extreme jewelry, and feathers (yes, feathers! Remember all this advice comes from real experience!) in most schools you will find people dressed in business casual attire (slacks and blouses for women). Go for something comfortable.

8. Try not to let your own school experience color your opinions--- Remember, that was, what, twenty? thirty years ago? Besides, chances are that this is a completely different school with different teachers in a different community. Also, your kid is not you, and may have a different view of school.

7. Try to maintain a positive attitude--- It is not the end of the world if I am calling you in to tell you that your kid has problems. An extreme propensity for fart jokes in 6th grade does not mean he won't go to Harvard one day. Most likely, with a little hard work, this too shall pass.

6. Do not threaten to tell my boss--- Or rather, go right ahead, but understand that my boss is also a teacher and is likely to support me. If you would like the principal to sit in on the meeting, that is fine with me, but do not accuse us of "ganging up on you" later.

5. Do not call me names--- Seriously! I can't believe I'm including this one, but it happens to teachers ALL the time (I'm a heartless b***c for example). Thinly veiled name-calling is also not a wise choice.

4. Do not tell me about your high-powered job--- The fact that you are a lawyer/doctor/fighter pilot has NO bearing on this meeting. (a friend of mine actually got threatened with "investigation" by a government employee) You will not succeed in intimidating me, but you will convince me that you are an ass.

3. Reserve judgment--- It is very hard for parents, especially parents who are going through things for the first time, to believe that their child could lie. However, it happens to almost every parent sooner or later. Again, this is not the end of the world, but it is also not my fault. Remember, this is not about me and it's not about you. This is about your child.

2. Reserve Judgment--- Kids will talk, and kids will also color their stories to make them more interesting, or to cast themselves in a better light. I won't believe everything I hear about you if you won't believe everything you hear about me.

1. Resist the urge to rush in and rescue--- You love your kid. You want the best for your kid. When your kid is in trouble, you have the overwhelming urge to rush in and make it better. Sometimes, though, for the sake of your kid, you must resist this urge. Personal responsibility is the single most important thing a kid can learn, and practice is the best way to get there. Let them learn from failure when the stakes are small. Do not come in and try to tell me why you need to be a helicopter parent. Your kid will thank you later.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Historian

I've been meaning to do this post for ages! Many of my regular readers have already heard me go on in person about this book, but it really is so good that it deserves a special web mention. First of all, don't be confused into thinking that this is great literature. It doesn't quite rise to that mark. Nevertheless, it is one of the most compelling and entertaining books I've had the pleasure of reading in quite a while.

Told from several different viewpoints using mostly letters and recollections, it tells the story of a family searching for answers to its past. Many lines of connection are spun between disparate people with a single common factor, an interest in the historical figure Vlad Tsepesh, also known as Dracula. I do not want to give away any of the delicious details of the story, but I can say that it does an amazing job of evoking the places and times in which the various chapters unfold. I'm left very much wanting to visit all sorts of unusual locations across Europe just because they seem so real from the telling in the book.

Of course there are always naysayers for any novel. Some complain that the characters are thin, others that there are too many "coincidences" for believability, but I really do think these people are picking. There are some areas that could use fleshing out, it's true, but given the heft of this book as it is, I can see why the author (or perhaps the editor) chose to leave some things unexplained. On the whole, this is a very well-written story with all sorts of interesting angles to consider. Remember when you were a kid and you had a really good book that you just didn't want to put down? Your mom would have to call you three times to come to dinner, and you might even hide under the covers with a flashlight just so you could finish? This is one of those books for grown-ups.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

What is the Opposite of a Canadian?

Last week we were doing an activity about the Civil Right Act of 1964. The kids studied the provisions of the act, and then they were supposed to imagine a fictional family of people who would have been impacted by the changes. I encouraged them to create a diverse family so that many different protected categories (race, religion, sex, etc.) could be represented. They had a great time inventing VERY diverse families. Soon there was a competition on to see who could come up with the most diverse family (okay, so they sometimes miss the point of certain assignments).

One girl had a Norwegian man married to a Jamaican woman with three adopted daughters from China, Russia, and India. Another played with extended family, while a third introduced the idea of steps. At one point I hear, from across the room, a girl yell "What is the opposite of a Canadian!?" That certainly stuck in my head as a very good question indeed. Tomorrow they have to turn their fictional families into narrative comparisons of life before and after 1964. We shall see how this goes.

So what is the opposite of a Canadian?

Monday, May 21, 2007


Last week, I went out, in the beautiful sun, to clear away the weeds and dig my garden box. Usually this is a half hours easy work, and then I can begin to plant my spring garden. However, my experience comes from gardening in an open area. It seems that when you garden anywhere near trees, things are quite a bit different. When I dug my fork into the box I found roots. Not just a few old roots from last year's plants, but lots and lots of roots. It was as if the soil had suddenly developed a venous system.

It seems that trees, and especially cedar trees like ours, can sort of "smell" tasty soil and moisture (or so I am told by Organic Gardening Online). This means that when they find good soil they send lots of extra roots to reap the bounty. Especially rich portions of the box were literally solid with roots. I was really wondering last year why one end of the box did pretty well, while the other struggled to produce. Now I can see that the end nearest the trees is the weakest.

I started digging out the soil (and a billion little roots) last week, and then M helped me to finish over the weekend. I'd asked all sorts of people how to combat the roots, and I did all kinds of online research. The general consensus is that you can never beat them completely (unless you cut down the trees or get a concrete garden box) but you can fight them. Black plastic was suggested as well as weed barrier cloth and even fiberglass or sheet metal panels. However, the winning entry was just simple newspaper. It got the most votes from the experts, and it had the advantage of allowing drainage and promoting worm growth. Most people seemed to believe it was as effective as the other options in the long run. Did you know that the ink is made from soy, so it doesn't pose a health risk?

Ultimately, we'll have to dig up the box every few years if we want to keep gardening in that spot. The trees, it seems, will just keep working to get in to all that nice soil. This is a good workout, but it is, by no means, a huge task. However, I have high hopes that we can hold them off enough to get a few nice veggies to grow. By the way, we checked with the experts, and no trees were really harmed in the digging of this box.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Time For Tubby Bye Bye!

Millions of mommies, daddies, aunties, grandmas, and nannies are very familiar with the imported British kids show, Tellytubbies. I got a hefty dose when my nieces were small, they and loved, loved, loved, the show. I must admit, I was not thrilled by the idea of a TV program designed to hook toddlers, but after seeing several episodes, I had to admit that it's pretty cute. The quirky sweetness of the tubbies and their little, imaginary world was enough to win kids and even a lot of adults. In short, as TV goes, this one is not so bad.

Which is why so many people were so surprised to hear a stinging condemnation of the show delivered by none other than Jerry Falwell. Who knew he even watched a show intended for little kids? Apparently, he did because his complaint was very specific to the show. Falwell was convinced that Tinkie Winkie, the eldest tellytubby, the purple one, was gay. This came as a surprise to many of us who were not used to thinking of the blobby creatures as having any kind of sexuality, but Falwell was not accepting any excuses.

This is a long and rambling lead up to a single link punch line. Salon has done a wonderful article about what Tinkie Winkie thinks of Falwell's passing. I highly recommend it, even if you don't have more than a passing familiarity with the show.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Ding Dong Falwell is Dead!

Jerry Falwell, one nasty piece of work, is finally gone. This is a man who spent more than forty years spreading hatred and dissent in the guise of “Christian Love.” I can't say I'm overly depressed about his passing. Here are a few of the reasons we're glad he's gone:

"AIDS is not just God's punishment for homosexuals; it is God's punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals"

"The idea that religion and politics don't mix was invented by the Devil to keep Christians from running their own country”

"If you're not a born-again Christian, you're a failure as a human being”

"It appears that America's anti-Biblical feminist movement is at last dying, thank God, and is possibly being replaced by a Christ-centered men's movement which may become the foundation for a desperately needed national spiritual awakening”

Monday, May 14, 2007

Bumper Stickers

One of the unfortunate parts about my new car is the color. I said to M just before we set out to buy it, "I don't mind which color as long as it's not silver." Of course this meant that I jinxed myself, and the car is, in fact, silver. Don't get me wrong, I think silver is a perfectly nice car color. However, it is also the most popular car color right now. This means that I can sometimes go out to parking lot and find a row of eight or ten silver cars. Picking your car from everyone else’s takes more concentration.

My first thought to make my car more unique was to paint a wide green stripe starting at the nose, going over the hood and roof, and ending at the bumper. If it weren't for the issue of resale value, I would do it, but it's just not practical. Therefore, I'm left with the more subtle (and more boring) option: bumper stickers.

I have never been a huge fan of bumper stickers since I usually prefer to pick my battles with people. I am especially annoyed by the cars that are plastered with dozens of different stickers advocating a pile of different causes. However, I think one or two carefully chosen and carefully placed stickers might be okay. Therefore, I went on a sticker hunt to see what I could find.

One of the biggest problems is parking at school. As I've mentioned before, there are some very conservative people at school, and everyone knows which car I drive. Thus, some of my favorites become problematic due to extremely liberal or extremely anti-religious sentiments. Now I know many people are thinking that I should grow a backbone, but those people have clearly never worked in this kind of setting. For example, it would become very difficult to work with some people if I put a Darwin fish on my car. Here are a few of the good ones I did NOT choose:

"Speak your truth even if your voice shakes" (ha, ha, that is just what I'm NOT doing)

"Born okay the first time" (love this one, but can't)

"Proud of my country, appalled by my government."

"I miss Pluto" (now that's just a cute idea)

"Where are we going and why are we in a hand basket?"

"Republicans for Voldemort!"

"One nation INDIVISIBLE" (this one is set on a red, white, and blue background. Most people wouldn’t even get the joke, but if you say the pledge of allegiance every day, you understand. This is the controversial one that tempted me most.)

"Dare to keep the CIA off drugs"

"Focus on your own darn family"

I'm currently trying to decide if I can get away with a Flying Spaghetti Monster as long as it's just the outline and the initials. These people tend to be none to current on internet geek humor. My other, cowards, choice is just a sticker from my university. None too controversial unless March Madness or The Rose Bowl are on.

Friday, May 11, 2007


One of our favorite local hikes is the trails on and around Tiger Mountain. A few weeks ago we went for a short walk around the area with an out-of-town guest. We go some great pics of spring in the forest. Finding a perfect example of a trillium was a special treat.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

In Spring We Lose Our Minds

The sun has come out in beautiful force this week. It's nice to wake up with it streaming through the windows, the sunrises and sets are lovely, and I really enjoy a good walk when it's like this. However, the sun also has (pardon me for this) a dark side. All the brains in all the kids' heads quietly leak out their ears.

They run in the halls, they scream at one another, they have major girl dramas (not my term, but very apt) in the bathrooms. They also take even less responsibility than usual for themselves and their learning. Now, I enjoy seeing kids be happy and excited about spring, but I do not enjoy the excuses for laziness and lack of responsibility.

Yesterday I warned three different kids that they were in danger of failing due to missing work. All three looked very solemn, and then tried quite hard to convince me that they had actually turned in said work. Perhaps if this had been the first time missing something I might have given them some leeway, but these three are, shall we say, frequent flyers. Usually, when I remind them of something missing, they just stare at the floor. This time, however, they were feeling feisty. "No Miss L, I'm sure I turned that in." Another one tried a different tack, "Jordan SAW me turn it in so I know I did it." Given that Jordan is another frequent flyer, I didn't give this argument much weight either.

Two of the three eventually found the missing work (what do you know!) in the trashcans they call lockers. The third one did not. I took several minutes to find copies of the missing work and explain things to him. He took the packet, looked up at me with his big brown eyes and said "Are you sure YOU didn't lose it Miss L?" Must...Not...Scream...At...Children! Only seven weeks left! Only seven weeks left!

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Great Quotes From Big Niece

Part One: TV
BN: Hey Auntie, have you ever seen that one cartoon with the rabbit?
Me: Which one?
BN: You know, that rabbit that walks on its hind legs and has that hunter guy chasing him? And then he gets on the guy's head and wiggles his toes.
Me: You mean Bugs Bunny?
BN: Yeah, that one. Have you ever seen that one?
Me: Um Yeah. I've seen that one once or twice.
BN: That's a good show.
Me: Yes, that's a good one.
BN: Hey Auntie
Me: Yes
BN: Have you ever seen that one show with the bird that runs around and gets chased by that dog?
Me: (Making the Roadrunner noise)
BN: Yeah! That one! That's a good one too!
Me: Yep, that one's good too.
Part 2: Cars
BN (sitting in the back of my new car): Hey Auntie, what's this?
Me: What?
BN: This thing right here
Me: What thing?
BN: This rolly handle thing
Me: That rolls down the window
Me: Yes. We don't have power windows in this car. All cars used to be like this.
BN: You can't lock out my window?!
Me: No
BN: Ha! Ha! (Rolls window up and down about 100 times)

Part 3: Physics Knowledge
Me: I'm not sure you should play on the tire swing since you just ate dinner.
BN: I LOVE the tire swing.
Me: You might feel sick and throw up if you spin around too much.
BN: I never feel sick.
Me: Okay, but it's your problem if you get sick.
BN: (Climbing on the tire swing) I never get sick. Spin me REALLY fast.
Me: Okay, if you really want me to... (Much spinning and shrieking follows)
BN: Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!
Me: (Stopping the tire swing) how are you feeling?
BN: (With a crazy gleam in her eye) my head is EXPLODING!
Me: What do you mean?
BN: My head is exploding with Physics Knowledge!
Me: Where did you hear that?
BN: (Cackles) Physics knowledge!
Me: What is that from?
BN: (Refuses to respond at any time about where she got this idea)

Friday, May 04, 2007

During Times of War...

We are currently studying Washington State history. Our topic this week was Washington during World War I. We studied the war effort, isolationists, and the response of the government war opposition. The question on the final quiz was as follows:

9. The Government passed the ____________________ Act, making it illegal for people to speak out against the war.

The correct answer was "Sedition." However, this is a word with which many students are not familiar. About half got it right, the other half gave such answers as suction, edition, sunction (?!), sedation, and my personal favorite, seduction! I suppose it is a Friday.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

National Prevent Teen Pregnancy Day

What an incredibly silly idea! Or rather, what an incredibly silly way to title this idea. Awareness about the problem of teen pregnancy is one thing. Having one special day of prevention just gives me images of volunteers chasing around after teenage couples. Any sign of kissing and the Prevention Brigade will pounce! But only for that one day of course.

How about preventing teen pregnancy by giving kids real information about sexuality, health, and relationships (this only happens in some high schools, most are gagged by the federal abstinence rules)? What about having honest conversations with them about maturity and responsibility? What about making contraceptives, a wide variety of contraceptives, available to both boys and girls. The abstinence only programs are a complete joke (as that recent study showed). Teens WILL have sex (some anyway), Teens have always had sex. We have to deal with this issue realistically. We have one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the developed world, and it is due largely to the fact that we allow religious conservatives to set policy for everyone. I would like to propose National Get Religion out of Classrooms Day.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

"Corruption of Blood" and Other Fun Legal Terms

Recently my class studied the constitution of Washington State. We were reading the "rights" amendments and translating them into "everyday" language. The kids were really getting into the activity, and we were humming along nicely for the first few sections. However, as we went on, some of the terminology became an issue. What is Habeas Corpus anyway? What are "emoluments"? What do they mean "by due process of the law" (hopefully we all know that one already) Section 8 was quite confusing:

SECTION 8 IRREVOCABLE PRIVILEGE, FRANCHISE OR IMMUNITY PROHIBITED. No law granting irrevocably any privilege, franchise or immunity, shall be passed by the legislature.

Then came the part that really threw them for a loop:

SECTION 15 CONVICTIONS, EFFECT OF. No conviction shall work corruption of blood, nor forfeiture of estate.

Wow! Who knew that the Washington State Constitution was so full of blood and gore! I think many of them were imagining demon blood or some sort of horrible infection. They were kind of disappointed when I told them what it really means. This lesson was so full of teachable moments that I couldn't possibly address them all. I love the fact that kids really do get excited, I mean really excited, about civics when you point out the impact it has on them. The blood and gore don't hurt either.