Friday, February 26, 2010

The Olympics, Lady Bug, and the Ceilings in Our Bathrooms


I couldn't sleep last night. We decided to make breakfast for dinner. So out came the eggs, asparagus, cheddar cheese, spinach, hash browns, turkey bacon, and of course, one can't have breakfast without a pot of coffee, right?

Big mistake.

So at 11:15 PM, eyes wide shut, I tuned into the Olympics. I must confess, I haven't watched any of the Olympics to that point, so when I discovered the evening's event was women's figure skating, I almost switched to a re-run on Nickelodeon. But I stayed with it for a few minutes, and soon found myself caught up in watching the skater's perform. Something about it kept me riveted.

Perhaps it was the back stories of the skaters, like hearing about the fortitude of Canadian skater Joannie Rochette competing days after her mother's death.

Or perhaps it was the simple beauty, the grace, the precise execution of a difficult routine. Maybe the pressure to perform at that particular moment, years of work and practice coming down to a few minutes on the ice, and one bad landing, miscue, or fall, and the dream was dead.

Korea's Kim Yu-Na's routine was flawless, and the sixteen-year-old American, Mirai Nagusa, put on quite a show. Sixteen and almost garnering a medal at the Olympics. Amazing.

When I was sixteen I was trying to pass math class, hit a few foul shots in the driveway, and get a girl to notice me at a dance. Barely passed math, went 6/10 at the line, held up the wall at the dance. I'd give that a 6.2.

Lady Bugs

Once in a great while the English department at Bacon Academy gets a request to host a student teacher, usually either from Connecticut College or Eastern Connecticut State University. Such a request came several months ago, and I agreed to meet the candidate, but in the back of my mind, I had already decided I would say no. While some might think having a student teacher take the reins lightens the load, in reality, particularly when one has sophomores (CAPT pressure, remember?) it's not as easy as it looks.

I've had four student teachers over my seventeen-year career, and three out of the four were wonderful experiences. One of my former student teachers is now a colleague at Bacon, another a Library Media Specialist at a school in the northwest hills, and the third, left teaching to become a successful entrepreneur. The fourth, well, I'm not sure where this individual ended up.

So, on to number five. I met this individual at ECSU, and was immediately impressed, especially when she indicated that she'd like to come in over her winter break to observe and get to know the kids. So, as we talked about her teaching philosophy and ideas for lesson plans, the "no" firmly planted at the back of my mind became an instant "yes." We're now nearing the halfway point of her experience, and she seems like a natural in front of the kids. She's competent, plans well, is reflective, and adjusts.

Which finally brings us to the lady bug.

I happened to be watching a lesson unfold earlier this week when a lady bug descended from on high. It was interesting to see the reaction from the kids. Some exclaimed, "aww, a lady bug," others recoiled and screamed, "get it away!" Still others announced, "it brings good luck." And so the lesson derailed, as lessons sometimes do, but within a minute or two, the student teacher got the class back on course. Interruptions are part of the business, and the teacher's ability to adjust or incorporate the distraction develops over time.

A lady bug, a fire drill, a student having a bad lesson often goes as planned. A teacher has to constantly monitor, adjust, regulate, repeat, etc. I'm not sure outsiders understand this. It falls under that heading "teaching as an art." It is often not precise or scientific, especially when one considers we are dealing with the human spirit, the human emotions. We have to be open to moments that cross our threshold. Sometimes they're worth embracing and not mere annoyance.

The lady bug appeared in several other classes, with varying degrees of disruption, comment, and care. That is until period seven, when a young lad decided to stomp it into the rug.

Freshmen have their moments, don't they?

Ceilings in Our Bathrooms

In our quest to ready the house for sale in March, I rolled up my sleeves to right a wrong from my past. Many years ago I vowed to re-do the bathroom off our bedroom. Fell short a bit on that one, particularly when it came to the ceiling. It was a popcorn ceiling, so I decided to scrape it down and create a smooth surface. Big mistake. It was hard work, and judging from my efforts, I'd say I successfully scraped about 80% off to make a smooth surface.

Now it was time to right a wrong. So, in my infinite wisdom, I bought a new can of ceiling white, and a sand additive to make a pock mark surface. Not quite popcorn, but enough to hide my inconsistencies. I have to say, after three coats, it came out pretty darn good. Only took me three years, four months, seventeen days, and 5 hours to finish my original ceiling project. Not bad, eh?

I mean seriously, how often do you really look at your bathroom ceiling?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Rewrite on the Horizon, or hang on, don't take that dumpster away just yet...

So, it seems that my dream of one of the big houses offering a deal for The Mist is fading fast. It looks like a few months of rewriting and resubmitting are ahead of me.

I realize it's just part of the process, but one can't help but be initially discouraged at this point. It's been more than three years, and it feels like I'm back to square one.

But I suppose I shouldn't complain. There have been quite a few positives along the way, and I've made it further than some. After all, on the basis of the first few chapters, the book won the PEN New England Discovery Award, I landed an agent, and have received feedback from some major publishing houses. I should be grateful that the manuscript actually got through the door and on some editors' desks.

I could just blame the lousy marketplace. Bad economy. Far too many obstacles in the way...but that isn't it at all. There's always room for improvement, and I just need to roll up my sleeves and make the book better. My agent has offered her assistance, and I gladly accept the work ahead.

Another consistent positive is that the editors have all acknowledged that they like the writing and that the book is something they haven't seen before. That's refreshing, I suppose. Glad I left out the vampires. Then again, maybe I should have included a few blood suckers. Probably would've landed me some movie rights by now.

Who the hell knows.

The elation of purging

Last week, I spent the majority of days and nights filling a thirty-yard dumpster with accumulated junk. Sifting through discarded odds and ends in our carriage shed, I uncovered a wealth of our consumer history. Discarded baby carriers, toys, and broken chairs. Several old mattresses, bed frames, desks and dressers.

Much of what resided in the shed lay ruined or beyond repair because of neglect, moisture, and the fact that it wasn't in very good condition when we bought it in the first place.

I've concluded that more and more we are a throw away society. Nothing's really built to last or be repaired these days.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Frenetic Musings

I spent yesterday's snow day installing a new shower kit in our bathroom. I enjoy taking a break from grading papers to roll up my sleeves and tackle a hands-on project. After a few minor miscues and miscalculations (including having to place a call into tech support because one of the parts shipped in the kit was badly deformed), I completed the job just before dinner.

Tonight I'll test for leaks (fingers crossed).

As I was caulking the joints, it occurred to me that this "hands-on" project or break from the norm is something our students need incorporated in their day. As our school moves to block scheduling next year, this idea becomes an even more important ingredient in planning lessons and units. Application of skills and moving beyond the text is something our students need and with the current schedule is difficult to accomplish.

Depth vs. breadth is the shift we're making with longer blocks of time, a philosophy I completely embrace.

The Mist...

Still no word from the other eight publishers and we're approaching the five month mark. I'm hoping I'll hear something soon and with my luck, it will all come on the same day.


Beth and I are working round the clock to ready the house to be sold at the end of the month. The amount of work is overwhelming, but we keep plugging away room by room. February break will be Purge week. We're getting a 30 yard dumpster and decluttering. It's amazing how much junk one can amass in a 15-year period.

Anyone want to buy a house?

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