Monday, August 13, 2012

School Dreams = Slender Man

Last night, my thirteen year old son interrupted our viewing of the closing ceremonies from London by racing into the bedroom clutching his laptop, giddy and out of breath.  No, he hadn't finished his summer reading assignment (let alone start it), instead he wanted his mother to try a video game: Slender Man.

"Is it scary?" my wife asked.

"Ah, no, Mom, just try it," he said, grinning a.k.a. Cheshire Cat-like.

She immediately passed the laptop to me.

In essence, the game involves traipsing through the woods with tunnel vision perspective, your view illuminated only by the light of a flashlight you control, searching for eight notebook pages before Slender Man (always in tow) finds his way into your field of vision (the screen turns snowy, Slender Man's opaque figure manifests and he catches you).  I found three pages and bit the dust.  It's an unsettling game and churns the adrenalin.  After about fifteen minutes of losing repeatedly, I tossed the laptop back to my son.

At midnight, I went outside with our special needs poodle, Rudy, to watch the meteor shower.  I saw three streak across the northeast sky, Rudy stood next me, head hung low staring at a dead beetle on the deck.  It's a toss up on which of us was more excited.

Bed time...and the the school dream began (insert Twilight Zone music here).

Normally the dream takes shape in my classroom, always overflowing with students, faces I've never seen before.  It's the clinical I-don't-have-control-over-my-students-dream.  It begins simply enough, I am usually just trying to take attendance or get students to settle down and then it escalates.  Actually, now that I reflect on this recurring dream, the only thing that escalates is me.  The students are always calm, but noisy.  I always end up storming out of the room, filling out an application for Wal-Mart, or in the fetal position under my desk, murmuring incoherently, a puddle of drool soaking into the blue carpet.

Dream analysis: I-don't-have-control-over-a-damn-thing-in-my-life and we-are-at-the-mercy-of-our-students-every-day-we-enter-the-classroom.

But last night's dream was different.... (cue Twilight Zone, again).

It began with me hiking in the woods, searching for the professional day workshop.  I arrived, late, but was soon interrupted by the ninth grade counselor.  I was now late for a PPT.  I remember feeling frustrated that I had to leave the workshop.  We were about to sit in a circle on the rug and share donuts and punch.

 I followed the guidance counselor to the main office.  It was over run with activity.  The principal, now superintendent, was showing the assistant principal, now principal (which is true) a book on how to be a principal.  Students were complaining about classes,  secretaries were scrambling about with boxes of staples and paper clips, and in the corner of the chaos sat a circle of old wooden chairs.  Seated about the circle were two students, what I perceived to be the parents, the counselor, and...... Slender Man.  At least I think it was Slender Man, because I didn't want to make eye contact, because then it would be game over.

The counselor handed me two folders explaining that the twin boys would be in my ninth grade English class and there were many modifications. I thought I recognized the students, and remember rationalizing in my mind that I couldn't possibly know them because they were entering ninth grade.  Mom interrupted my thinking, handing me some sort of purple crystal.  She said it plugged into my car radio.

"Here, you need to use this to update us on the boys' progress every hour of the day," she said to me, handing over crystals and adapters.

"What?" I murmured.

Dad chimed in.  "You need to update us every hour on the hour.  It's all in the folders."

"Using my car radio and purple crystals?"

"New state requirement," the counselor chimed in.

The room froze.  Complete silence.  All eyes were glued on me, waiting for my response.

Slender Man coughed.  At least I think he did.

"New state requirement?" I asked.

Everyone in the room smiled, nodding their heads.

"Purple crystals and a car radio.  Well, that makes sense."

That's when my vision clouded and Slender Man got me.

Game over.

Dream analysis:  I-don't-have-control-over-a-damn-thing-in-my-life and we-are-at-the-mercy-of-our-students-every-day-we-enter-the-classroom.

Thank God they're good kids.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

And So It Goes

So... after a year of virtually no word from my literary agent, i finally received an email response...she is no longer representing clients.

Back to square one, as the cliche goes.

Coincidentally, I just finished reading And So It Goes, the Kurt Vonnegut biography by Charles Shields.  So, in my state of disbelief and detachment from good thoughts, I've been driving my family crazy by ending all of my sentences with that catch phrase...and so it goes.  It's reaching a critical point in the household. I can tell by all of the doors closing as I near the end of speaking a sentence aloud.  Everyone runs for the other room like scurrying ants trying to avoid a can of Raid. Even the poodles are avoiding me.  (Sigh). And so it goes.

After receiving the news of losing my agent, I spent the next couple of days re-evaluating the whole writing career.  It's a dismal time to be in the book writing business.  Book stores are closing, publishing houses downsizing, and apparently the world is ending on December 22.  How will one ever meet that deadline with all this pressure?  Blah, blah, blah... see where this line of thinking leads me?  To the Mayans.

So, I face two choices.  Give up and become a professional Fantasy Baseball player owning thirty-five fantasy teams and driving them into the ground, or roll-up my cliched sleeves and begin anew.

(crickets chirping)

And so it goes.













Sunday, June 3, 2012

Our Noble Profession

Recently, I attended two retirement parties for colleagues that have taught 30+ years in the Connecticut public schools.  As expected, both celebrations were well attended. Banquet rooms filled with family, friends, administrators, colleagues, former students....all sharing in the recollections and accomplishments of both educators.

As I reflect on the speeches and presentations at each separate party, one recurring theme plays out over and over again: Think of the impact you have made on countless children over your career.

And this is so true.

No one can dispute the impact a good teacher can have on his or her students.

It is the connection and positive relationship we build with our students that sparks the learning process.  For if there is no connection between the teacher and his or her students, there is no environment for growth, no desire for the students to learn.  Sometimes these bonds we build with our students transcend the classroom. Some are even inspired to the point where they follow in their favorite teacher's footsteps (the greatest compliment of all).

For 30+ years both of these educators played an important part in every students' day. They were there to pick them up when they needed it, to counsel and guide, to challenge and nurture.

I wonder why we wait so long to celebrate in the work that good teachers do every day?  Why does it come at the end of one's career with a certificate and granite apple?

Teacher bashing is on the upswing.  Take our governor's reform (if one can call it that) for example.  One piece (45%) of the new teacher evaluation process is data showing growth in student performance. What exactly does this mean? What is to be measured?  How will this be measured?  Standardized testing? And if so, how can one measure the intangibles that teachers bring to the classroom every day?  How can one measure the true impact we make in our students' lives?

It reminds me of a scene in the movie Dead Poets Society when Robin William's character, the English teacher Mr. Keating, asks a student to read the textbook definition of poetry.  As the student reads the scientific method of scoring poems, Mr. Keating draws a graph measuring a Shakespearean sonnet.  When the student finishes reading, the class stares at the graph on the board.  Keating breaks the silence with one word: Excrement. 

You can't measure poetry.

And you certainly can't measure the quality of a teacher based on a standardized test, at least in the way the governor suggests.

Teaching is an art, not a science.

And we just said goodbye to two gifted artists.










Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Connecticut Teachers Need to Relax


Governer Dannel Malloy has recently come under fire for comments he made regarding teacher tenure.  In essence, the governor stated that under the current tenure law all teachers need to do is "show up" for the first four years of their teaching career.

Wait...I just had to show up?

I'm actually quite upset this was never pointed out to me when I started this teaching gig nineteen years ago.

No BEST portfolio? No three formal observations a year? No mentoring/mentee situation? No extra meetings? No juggling planning, grading, correcting? No grad classes?

Teachers shouldn't be angry about what Governor Malloy said, they should be angry that previous governors didn't tell us we just needed to show up!

This is a breath of fresh air!

I feel as though all of the pressures of this teaching gig have slipped off my desk.  CAPT starts next week...so what! PSAT prep...phewie!  NWEA progress reports....hahaha!  Data team....schmata team!  Professional goals, LTF training...please!  Core Values, Anti-bullying training, suicide prevention workshop, blood borne pathogens....out the window!  Budget, planning, scheduling, curriculum revision, grading, sorting, shredding, stressing, inspiring, bettering, bleeding from the eyes....teaching no more!

Yes, Connecticut educators, our governor should not be reviled.  He should be celebrated!

Now, by my calculations, the State of Connecticut owes me four years of "just showing up" starting...now (insert sound of stop watch clicking).

Ah...you hear that?

It's the sound of nothing.

Cause I'm just showing up.




Wednesday, February 15, 2012

You Know Things Aren't Going Well When...

You know things aren't going well when your garbage company picks up everyone else's garbage in the neighborhood but yours (even the container directly resting alongside yours,the one less than two feet away was emptied, yeah, I kid you not). Same color container, same company.

Something stinks here and I'm not just talking about at the end of the driveway.

Oh... and then the town officials suddenly decided to take away my one claim to fame, the misspelled road sign:

                    F-R-A-N-L-K-I-N...is now F-R-A-N-K-L-I-N.

                           (strike that, reverse it)

Oh the horror, the horror.

No warning to prepare, no letter of apology in the mailbox.  No, "I'm sorry for the mistake and thank you for pointing that out in your blog and sending us 100 letters reminding us to fix it."  Nope, none of that. Just some midnight run with Mag-lights. The hum of rechargeable drills biting through the frigid air.  Zip. Zip. "Shhhh, it never happened."

Now I have to correct the incorrection after redoing the correction.  New business cards for all! Have to call the credit card companies, utilities...

"Yes, I know I just changed it from F-R-A-N-K-L-I-N to F-R-A-N-L-K-I-N but I had no warning, really. You want the outrageously high cable bill to reach me, right?"

Wait a minute, hold on now (insert epiphany here)  Maybe this is why I haven't heard from the editor.  Yes!  That's it.  It's the road sign!  The mail is not reaching the correct destination.  It's being returned.  That's why I haven't heard anything for six months! The damn road sign!

But I digress... I haven't written a blog post for months and all because I've been trying to put my mind at ease over two questions that have haunted me since back in December when I traipsed through the mall Ch****mas shopping (If you are wondering why I wrote Ch****mas instead of the complete word, see previous blog post).

I have questions, perhaps someone out there can provide the answers? Place my mind at ease?  Help me get back on track and break through this writer's block?


#1)  Please explain the existence of the following merchandise displayed for purchase:


                                      There must be a reason, I'm sure.  Someone tell me....

#2)  And what about these?


                                           KISS Pandas?  Please explain.

                Until I find the answers to the questions that plague me, until my road sign returns to F-R-A-N-L-K-I-N, I fear all is lost.  I may never write again.  I may just pine away in the corner of the garage, rocking gently in the fetal position.  Wasting away, melting, melting... At least until Boardwalk Empire starts up next season.


Thursday, December 22, 2011

My Brilliant Solution to the Ch****mas Dilemma-- Patent Pending

I recently attended my son's "Winter" concert (formerly referred to as the "Holiday" concert and many years ago...."Ch****mas" concert) and of the ten songs played, only two were even closely holiday related.  This made me take pause, made me consider how things have changed.  In the olden days, we had "Ch****mas" parties...why, we even wished one another "M***y Ch****mas!"  Imagine that?  We exchanged "Ch****mas" cards, passed out candy and "Ch****mas cookies!"  But, it's a new world order.  No more classrooms with children snipping "Ch****mas" snowflakes or creating "Ch****mas" paper chains.

Even a trip down the greeting card aisle demonstrates how the market has changed and devolved into a least-offensive-lets-not-polarize-the-masses-kind-of-time-of-year.

And that's when the perfect solution dawned upon me.

It reminded me of the movie, Mr. Deeds, when the character Longfellow Deeds (played by Adam Sandler) dreams of selling one of his greeting card ideas to Hallmark.

That's the dream that came to me.  And now I share the same dream, and believe I have stumbled upon a real solution to the holiday-labeling conundrum (feel free to contact me for a wonderful investment opportunity).

It's generic.
It's inoffensive.
Unpretentious
Tasteful.
Socially Acceptable.
Non-denominational.
Inexpensive.
And most importantly...politically correct.

Yes,  it's the perfect Greeting Card:



    Front of the prototype Greeting Card Design (patent pending)



    Inside of prototype Greeting Card Design (patent pending)


I needed to Beta-test my design.  I parked the van next to the entrance of CVS, opened the hatch, and began peddling my wares.

"It's completely blank," said one anonymous woman (we'll call her respondent # 1), flipping the carefully folded prototype card back and forth.

"Exactly!" I answered, clapping my hands together.  "Brilliant, no?"

"And how much is it?"

"Retails at $3.99."

"No envelope?"

"Not needed."

"Where do you sign?"

"That's the beauty of it," I said.  "You don't!  That way no one, not even your sworn enemy can possibly be offended.  Am I right?  Am I right?!"

"So, you send it completely blank?" she asked, shaking her head and thrusting the prototype back into my hand.

I hastily scratched notes in my record book.  Respondent #1 declined purchase.

"Excuse me, Sir."  It was him (Respondent #2), disguised as a CVS manager.

"Ummm, hey," I smoothly replied.

"I understand you are selling Christmas cards in the parking," he said, arms crossed.

I covered my ears.  "Did you just say Ch****mas?"

"What?"

"The word.  You said the word!"

"Christmas?"

"Aaaaaah!  You said it again!"  I fumbled for the hatch of the van, slamming it down.

"What's wrong with the word Christmas?"

"Aaaaaaahhh!"  I screamed running for the driver's side door. "Okay, you win!"  I shouted, throwing my prototype samples out the window,  "I'll leave....just don't say that word again!"

By now, another CVS employee had joined the fray.  "What's that dude's problem?" I heard him ask, as I slammed the van in reverse.

The manager shrugged.  "Guess he doesn't like Christmas or something."


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Shameful Re-post of a Christmas Classic


I've dusted off last year's Christmas Post because, like re-runs of Frosty and Rudolph, it never gets old (it's only been a year, after all).  The following incident is true...really.




Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree, Where's My Albuterol Inhaler?




It's the most wonderful time of the year, and I as I pulled into the driveway after a hectic day at the 'ol Academy, I saw that a package had been dropped at our doorstep.  73 pounds of something, in a large, elongated cardboard box, and blocking the front doorway.

But what to my wondrous eyes could it be? I wondered, redundantly, stooping to take a closer look.

Why, it was an artificial Christmas tree.

And as I dragged the hefty box inside and down the stairs, settling in to unpack the festive limbs, I realized that this was no ordinary artificial tree.  Uh-uh.  This was a replica 6.5' Norway Spruce with 5,280 tip points and 600 color and clear lights, complete with a remote control with the option of snapping on color, clear, or both color and clear lights at the same time!

I re-heated some coffee and set to work bending and shaping the branches, donning the white gloves generously included in the box. When it was finished, we gathered around the tree, alternately taking turns clicking the remote.  Color, clear, both...color, clear both.  Ah, Christmas in the 21st Century.

It wasn't until later that night when it finally hit me.  The purchase of this artificial Christmas tree signaled the death knell of a time honored family tradition, sawing down a live tree.

Though, as I recall, our first such family endeavor wasn't exactly a Norman Rockwell moment.

(Insert Rod Serling Twilight Zone music here)

Picture, if you will, a pristine winter day, fifteen years ago.  Location:  Allen Hill Tree Farm, Brooklyn, CT.  On a whim, the family and I wheeled into the parking lot of the local tree farm, bent on selecting the perfect yuletide tree.

The temperature hovered near freezing, a bright December sky with traces of snow lingering in the air from the fresh coating that fell the night before.  The fields were dotted with people ducking in and out of lines of trees crisscrossing the landscape.  My stepsons, Michael, age 9, and Matthew, age 4, set off with their mother down the dirt path while I secured a tree cart and wood saw.

It took a bit of effort to catch up with them, but I managed, shuffling along the slushy road, the cart dragging behind, the cold air pressing in on my tightening lungs.

"This one!" shouted Michael.

"No, bigger!" yelled Matt.

The kids were flying in out of trees at breakneck speed.

"Mike, Matt, be careful, there are other people out here," said my wife, Beth.

And indeed, we were convening on a popular spot.  To my right, a family of five had circled around a tree.  They looked resplendent in LL Bean wear, the children in matching scarves and fluffy ear muffs.  The father was sizing up an 8 foot spruce, while the mother was dispensing a Thermos of hot chocolate in mugs clutched in tiny mittened hands.

Beth sidled in close to me, nodding toward the Christmas scene unfolding before our eyes. "Look at that.  Isn't it nice?"

I coughed.

The father asked the family if this was "the one." They answered in perfect unison, "Yes, Daddy, yes."  The family encircled the tree, and then began singing Silent Night, while the father knelt down, gracefully wielding the saw, and within six passes of the blade, the tree silently fell to earth, nestling into the snow.  As if on cue, a tractor appeared, towing a trailer of trees and more singing LL Bean families, rosy-cheeked and swilling cider and cocoa.

 "Got room for you," said the tractor guy, dressed as Father Christmas.  He hopped off the John Deere and helped the father wrestle the tree onto the trailer.  The family climbed aboard and off they went, tractor, trees, cocoa. Up the road and out of sight.

We were left alone.

I coughed again, redundantly.

Mike and Matt reemerged.  "Found one!" Mike announced.

Beth and I followed the boys through a maze of trees and ended up standing  in front of a stout 6 footer, round and full.  Beth circled it.

I coughed.

"This one's not too bad," she said.

"What do you think boys?" I asked, testing a sharp tooth of the saw.  My numb thumb began to bleed.

The boys started whipping pine cones at each other.

"Wanna get in a circle, around the tree?"  I asked.

A pine cone whizzed at my nose.

"Sing a carol or two?"

The boys began wrestling as another family emerged with a perfect tree.  Tractor number two arrived.  This one driven by a plump elf.  Everyone dressed in flannel, festive hats, smiling.  Everyone was singing.  The tractor drove off.

I turned back to Beth just in time to see Matt, dressed in torn jeans and a ragged sweatshirt, take a header into the only mud puddle visible for 9 acres.  The kid was covered in brown muck.  Suddenly, the sun sank 10,000 miles and a strong chilly breeze kicked up.  I decided to take matters into my own hands and knelt to cut the tree.  The branches were thick and low to the ground.  I crawled beneath, pulling in close to the trunk and raking the saw against the base of the pine, but couldn't maneuver my body at the right angle to extend my arms to effectively cut it.

Beth and Mike were attempting to retrieve a sobbing Matthew from the puddle.  Through the branches I could see him, resembling more of a mud-fudge popsicle than a crying little boy.

I struggled to get the saw going.  I could feel my chest tightening, the coughing jags increasing.  Five minutes of sawing and I was only a quarter of the way through.  Beth and the boys stood nearby now, slowly inching closer.

I started wheezing.

"How's it going, honey?"

"I'm c-c-c-o-l-d," chattered Matt.

"This sucks," said Mike.  "I want some hot chocolate.  What's taking so long?"

Zhee-Zhee-Zhee-Zhee.  Ten minutes of sawing and I was only halfway through the tree.

It was at this point that I started to notice the stares.  You know, the ones from onlookers who sort of want to lend a hand, but don't want to infringe.  They stand off to the side, with that "no I'm not really paying attention to your sawing inadequacies, but I am looking at you with that rubber-necking car crash stare."

Zhee-Zhee-Zhee-Zhee.  "What the hell," I yelled.  "Is this a pine or oak for Chrissakes!"

"Ah, honey?"  Beth asked.

"@#$^%!!!! tree!"  Cough, wheeze, cough, wheeze.

"Say, Mister, I gotta chainsaw in my truck," a man finally offered.

Zhee-Zhee-Zhee-Zhee.  My lungs locked into a spasm.  "%^^%$!!!  You're mine now, tree!!!!  Yeah!!! Going down, sucker!!!!"

"Mommy, why is that man screaming at the Christmas tree?" a little girl asked.

Zhee, Zhee, Zhee, Zhee.... "Yeah! You dirtly little mutha!"

The tree tumbled down, and I pulled myself into a kneeling position, a predatory grin crossing my frozen face.

The two families standing nearby slowly edged away, mothers holding their little ones in close.

I turned to see my family gawking, staring silently at the wheezing lumberjack hacking up snowball-sized phlegm before them.

"Good job, Pop," Mike finally said.

Tired, cold, wheezing, and on the verge of vomiting, I dragged the tree to the edge of the road waiting for the arrival of Father Christmas or that fat little Elf on his John Deere.

They never came.