Monthly Archives: December 2017

Free Reading Friday: You’re Never Weird on the Internet (almost)

Never weird on internetI feel the need to be perfectly candid about something upfront in this review: I love Felicia Day. Although not a “gamer girl” myself, I have been immersed in geek culture my entire life, so I relate to her in so many ways. It probably also doesn’t hurt that she was on one of my all time favorite TV shows, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, AND in my favorite web min-series Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog, AND my favorite web series, The Guild. Although I was not overly enamored of her awkward character Vi in Buffy, I simply adored her as Penny and Codex/Syd. I’ve also loved seeing her on Supernatural.

So when I saw her memoir, You’re Never Weird on the Internet (almost) in the display window of my school library, I texted our librarian (school was over at the time) and told her I wanted it first thing the next morning. By the time I’d hit my car though, I was searching the online public library to see if maybe, just maybe, there was an audiobook.

There was. And even better, Day reads the audiobook! I LOVE when author’s read their own works. You get so much more than their stories when they do. You get the emotions that go along with those stories. In a way, it’s like listening to a good friend tell their personal stories. Because the author gets to relive the experience, so does the listener. Not that voice actors can’t do amazing jobs reading audiobooks. I’ve hears some spectacular performances, but an author reading their own work always excites me.

Hearing Day’s stories in her own voice was brilliant. She made me feel just as awkward and quirky and uncomfortable as she felt in so many of her childhood stories. And that was perfect, because I could relate. While I was not home schooled, I grew up in a very strange household myself and I found myself connecting on a very real level with her tales of social anxiety and awkwardness. It probably helps that Day and I are almost the same age, so many of her childhood and teen obsessions were also mine.

I still remember my step-dad bringing home our first computer when I was in 5th grade and the hours and hours and hours I spent playing video games on it. It was so much easier to play those games than it was to deal with real people sometimes. Especially when I was getting ready to start my 5th school in 6 years. Computers were far kinder to new kids than the other students were. Especially when those new kids were a bit chubby, had glasses and were insanely good at school (and serious, serious teacher pleasers to boot).

As an avid attendee of events like Comic Con, I loved Day’s stories of meeting other celebrities because they are so relatable. It’s lovely to see someone I look up to and know I would get a little tongue-tied to meet have the same problems. Her story about going out of her way to buy donuts so she could offer one to Matt Smith (of Dr. Who fame) was hysterical. Considering that until I was in my late 20’s I was the only Dr. Who fan (aside from my dad) I knew, I could see myself doing something similar. Heck, when I met John Barrowman I almost lost my mind. I loved hearing that Day did the same.

I also truly enjoyed reading about Day’s process of staying true to her inner geek by creating her own web series and then her own geek company. I particularly found her message to young, geeky girls inspiring. I wish I’d had someone like her to look up to when I was the only one in my 7th grade homeroom who had seen every episode of Dr. Who and could name all of his companions in order of their appearance on the show. It would have been nice to be able to feel proud of that instead of worried someone would find out just how odd I was. It also would have been lovely to know someone else was writing Fan Fic before there was a word for it. Yep, that’s right, I had notebooks full of Dr. Who Fan Fic back in the 1980’s and early 1990’s!

One of the most interesting and important parts of the book is Day’s account of her experiences during Gamer Gate. After hearing stories like Day’s it is hard to believe anyone could possibly still believe Gamer Gate was not sexism at its ugliest.

I am so glad I read this book and have already recommended it to several of my students, added it to my AP non-fiction list and look forward to talking to students about it.

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Wildcard Wednesday: Laundry is the bane of my existance

I do not like cleaning my house. I know that many people are in the same boat I am in. We clean because we have to, not because we enjoy it. Sure, there are those complete weirdos out there who love the thought of getting out a vacuum or a scrub brush, putting in some real elbow grease and getting things to sparkle.

I will never be that girl.

As much as I generally despise most household chores, I will admit that when I clean my kitchen or bathroom or living room, I do get a small wave of accomplishment and maybe even a bit of pride in how good it looks. It’s never long lasting and it’s never enough to make me want to clean, but it’s enough for me to at least feel good about the time I spent cleaning.

This is true of pretty much every chore I do around the house…except laundry.

Laundry is the bane of my existence. No matter how hard I try, there is always at least one load of laundry in my house that needs to be done. I’m not sure how it is even physically possible for four people to go through clothes the way that we do, but every single time I turn around, I have to throw another load into the washer. Rarely in my house does anyone wear more than one set of clothes per day. We use towels more than once. We wear jeans more than once. We wear jammies for multiple days. Every weekend I wash at least four loads. And yet one of the five laundry baskets in this house is ALWAYS overflowing.

Oddly, it’s usually my son’s.

I don’t actually mind gathering up the laundry. Putting it in the washer and starting it is on real problem either. Moving it from the washer to the dryer is pretty simple too. However, the second that drier buzzer goes off indicating those clothes now need to be taken out of the dryer and folded…that’s when my body starts rebelling and I do everything I can think of to avoid folding clothes.

I hate folding clothes in large part because no matter what I do there are always clothes to be folded. I feel like Sisyphus every time I even get near the laundry room. In fact, right now, I am staring at a clothes basket full of clean laundry that is just waiting to be folded and put away. And I know I have to do it because the next load is in the dryer, which stopped quite some time ago.

Despite my knowledge that I will eventually have to give up, give in and get folding, I have been known to hit the “damp dry” setting on my dryer two or three times to avoid the inevitable.

How can we have so much laundry? Why does it never cease? Why do I dream of being suffocated in a laundry avalanche?

Ok, it might not be quite that bad, but if I had to pick one task to never do for the rest of my life, it would be fold laundry. It’s not that the task is hard. It’s not. I know it. It’s so very simple. It’s just the frequency with which it has to be done that makes me look for absolutely anything, and I do mean anything, to keep me from having to grab that basket and start folding. I’m pretty sure I’d rather watch golf on TV than fold clothes.

How many times can I turn the dryer back on before I start doing real damage to my electric bill?

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Teaching Tuesday: Final Stretch Melt Down

It seems like every year right before break one of my students melts down in a pretty epic way. Sometimes it is over a grade. Sometimes it is over lack of time. And sometimes it is because they get caught breaking the rules and they freak out that I actually hold them accountable.

That’s what happened on Wednesday, the day before finals began.

The tantrum actually has a bit of a back story the Friday before. I was out with a sick child and as always left very detailed, very clear directions for my students. Like every teacher, I hate being absent from my classroom as that is when chaos breaks out. Even the most reliable students get squirrely when a sub is around. Those students who need quite a bit of my attention and redirection when I’m sitting right in front of them often act like it’s Lord of the Flies when a sub enters a room.

I wasn’t entirely surprised that right in the middle of my second block class I got an email from one of my students asking for clarification on an assignment. He understood the expectations, but several classmates were trying to convince the sub of something different. Unlike his peers who were being shortsighted and only thinking about that class period on Friday, he knew that when I got back and found they’d not followed my directions, there would be consequences and he wanted no part of that.

It was in this email exchange that he told me one of his classmates, who is generally good-natured, but has the attention span of a fruit fly, had spilled a drink in my classroom. This would normally not be an issue as I have plenty of paper towels in my room and several kids had already grabbed them and were helping to clean. However, for some reason I still cannot fathom, the young man who spilled his drink decided to go behind my desk and break into my teacher cabinet, assuring the sub that he was sure I had cleaning supplies in there.

I don’t.

And my cabinet was locked, so break in is the right phrase. He yanked my cabinet hard enough to pull the lock and got it open. He then grabbed a can of Static Guard and caused even more chaos trying to clean up his mess with it. The sub finally got everyone calmed down, the can back in my cabinet, but could not get my closet to close again as it was now broken.

As soon as I found out, I emailed the vice principal because as harmless as the kid usually is, I draw the line at breaking into my cabinet for any reason. Students know they are not allowed behind my desk and definitely not in my cabinet, which I keep locked even when I am in the classroom. It’s where I keep my purse and my newspaper equipment (including an iPad, digital cameras, Flip cameras, etc).

The vice principal agreed he’d gone one step too far, especially considering he was also failing my class so badly (due to work he’d never done and 15 absences) that he could not pass my class. She was supposed to place him in in school suspension for the remainder of the class. However, he was absent on Monday, so she assured me she’d talk to him upon his return.

But he didn’t return on Tuesday either.

On Wednesday we were rushing to finish up project presentations, so although I saw him in my classroom, I didn’t want to cause a fuss at the start of class. I wanted to get through all the presentations and then send him to see the VP.

Before I could do that, he pulled out his cell phone in the middle of class and started texting on it. My school has a strict no cell phone policy during school hours. Teachers aren’t even supposed to see cell phones sticking out of pockets or being used as music players. Students are definitely not supposed to be texting in class. If we see their phones, we are supposed to either send them to ISS or if they hand over the phone (which we give to the administration), they can serve a detention instead.

I am a rule follower. And, I’d had two other cell phone violations in my classroom where I’d clearly followed the policy. I knew that even though I didn’t want a scene, I had to follow the policy in order to be fair to all of my students. He refused to hand over his cell phone, preferring to take ISS. As I was writing his pass to ISS, I expressed my disappointment that he would have his cell phone out, especially in light of his behavior on Friday when he broke into my cabinet.

He didn’t even let me finish talking before saying, “I do what I want.”

I thought I misheard him, so I said, “excuse me?” Confusion filled my voice.

He responded quickly, “Did I stutter.”

At that point, I took a deep breath and told him ISS was no longer an option and that he’d be going straight to see the VP. He told me he didn’t care and that he didn’t have to listen to either of us. He then waved his hand dismissively at me and walked out of the room.

He definitely got his ISS wish as he spent the remainder of the school year in there. While his absence definitely made the final two days calmer and easier for me, I hate the fact that he chose to do something so foolish.

While I know not every student enjoys school, I don’t understand why students don’t want to do the bare minimum needed to get by and graduate. I already knew this particular kid wasn’t going to graduate (and not just because of my class), so I can’t help but wonder if he felt he had nothing to lose by being rude to me during the last few days of class. I also find myself wondering how successful he could have been if he spent even just a tiny bit of his energy in a positive way.

I also find myself contemplating what will happen to him in the next year or five or ten. I realize that failing one high school English class or even failing out of high school may not spell disaster for every kid out there, as there are still jobs that do not need even a high school diploma, I can’t help but wonder what will happen if kids pull the same attitudes on bosses that they do on their teachers.

On days like last Wednesday, after I get over the initial upset of the situation, I try to take a deep breath and remember something one of my mentor teachers told me, “life is a wonderful teacher.” Maybe I won’t be the one to teach a student how to achieve, but my hope is that someone out there will be able to get the message across. My guess is that for students like the young man in my classroom, those lessons may be very painful and may come from sources I’d rather they not, but my hope is eventually that someone gets through to them and they get their lives back on track.

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Free Reading Friday: Call Me By My Name

Call me by my nameI am not generally the kinda person to pick up a book about football. Scratch that, I’m not the kinda person to pick up any book about sports. It’s nothing against sports or the people who like them, but sports have never been my thing. I don’t like to watch them or talk about them. And I certainly don’t like to read about them.

However, Call Me By My Name by John Ed Bradley is on the Eliot Rosewater nominee list for 2017, so it means it’s also on my must read list. It’s actually one of the last books I had to finish off the list and I might have left it at the end of my list because it’s a sports book.

Despite my lack of enthusiasm for all things sporty, I did enjoy this book. Bradley manages to make a topic I find uninteresting, actually interesting to me through his character driven narrative. I liked the characters of Angie, Tater and Rodney, and because I liked them, I wanted to read about what they went through, even if that was football practice or football games. Bradley manages to create believable, empathetic characters whose literary lives mattered to me and made a real impact on me.

I’ll admit it, when I read about the final football game in the book, my eyes started to well up. Since I was in the middle of class (it was silent reading time), I knew I couldn’t cry. My seniors would NEVER let me hear the end of it, but I wanted to and I was in serious danger of letting it happen.

Although I thought a few of the character’s had pretty sudden “epiphanies” about their former notions on race and race relations, I’m glad that Bradley didn’t let every character be completely won over by Tater as it would have made the story unrealistic given the time period. However, I will admit that despite what I consider a pretty decent grasp on American history, I couldn’t help but be repeatedly shocked at the amount of overt racism found in the town Bradely created. Not because I didn’t realize such overt racism existed, but because the book takes place in 1970/1971, only five years before I was born. I’m sure it came as such a shock to me since the book is set in Louisianna and most of my childhood was spent in Southern California, which is quite a different atmosphere. Still, it is so insane to me to believe that so much still had to be fought for by Tater and Angie. It broke my heart and was very sobering.

Not long before I finished this book, one of the teachers in my department commented that she needed more book suggestions to give to her male students who were struggling to find good books to read. She was a bit disappointed that John Green’s latest protagonist was female as she admires Green and was hoping for a male narrator. Even before I finished Call Me by My Name, I added it to a list I created of quality books for teens, especially boys who are struggling to find male protagonists to relate to. While I believe this book is a good read for any teenager, I think it may have a bigger impact on teenage boys who often struggle to find their voices in the books they read.

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Throwback Thursday: Home Alone

At school we are having a Christmas tree decorating contest. Well, sort of. One of the clubs is sponsoring a contest where teachers deck out paper trees, and by default at least a portion of our hallways. This year each department got to pick a holiday movie as the theme to base our decorations around. I’m not sure if we actually win anything for really decking the halls, but this year my department has gotten into it.

Not that I think we’ll win. While we may be one of the bigger departments in the school, we are all bogged down in research papers and somehow it seems there’s always another department who recruits students to help them really go all out. As much as I’d love to do that, we have too many standardized tests going on and too much prep to do before finals, so instead of sacrificing class time, we are sacrificing our own time.

Although we’ve done this contest for several years now, I’ll admit my department has never really gotten into the spirit of it. The first year I was the only one who really did anything for our fake tree and all I did was create ornaments for it. Now, the ornaments were pretty fantastic: they had the body of Frosty with the head of our principal. Thankfully I knew he’d enjoy it. The ornaments were cute, but nothing compared to the display the art department put on, complete with not only the most elaborate paper snowflakes I’d ever seen, but also snowflakes digitally projected all over the hallway.

This year, seconds after the email announcing the contest came out, my newest colleague ran across the hallway to confer with me about our theme. She wanted to make sure we got first dibs on our movie: Home Alone.

I handed the paper tree to her and told her to go nuts. And she did! She decked that tree in garland and wrote “Merry Christmas ya filthy animals!” She draw an amazingly accurate picture of Macaulay Culkin, complete with hands on face in mid-scream. She also added a great drawing of an iron to the top of the tree. She then created a window and looking at the tree from outside are the two male members of our department dressed up like the bandits–one even has a iron mark on his face.

Seeing what she created kicked a few more people, including myself into gear. I made paint cans which we tied to strings and hung from the ceiling in front of the fake window. Another of my coworkers created Kevin’s battle plan for dealing with the bandits.

Looking at it, it reminded me of my first experience with Home Alone, when I worked at the movie theater…during the sequel’s original theatrical debut. It opened on Thanksgiving day and it was a crazy day. Every employee had a Home Alone 2 button attached to our oh so stylish red polyester vests. There was a giant Home Alone 2 display stand, complete with a NYC skyline in the background. I remember several of my coworkers wanted that display and our manager had to raffle it off. He also had to raffle the posters off.

What I remember most about that premiere is having to do so much cleaning at the end of the night because we were so busy the place was trashed. Even behind the concession stand there was popcorn, butter and soda everywhere. Still, I loved that job and there are definitely days where I might not miss the pay, but miss the fun and simplicity of the job. I also greatly miss the camaraderie we shared. We were high school and college kids. For most of us, it was our first job. We got to watch free movies and eat popcorn. It was a blast!

While my current job may be more fulfilling and I may love it, a piece of my heart will always belong to General Cinema.

I’m not sure when the trees we’ve decorated will actually be judged, but I hope we at least get an honorable mention for our creativity and dedication.

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Wildcard Wednesday: Lifetime Fitness

As part of my husband’s new job, he got a membership to Lifetime Fitness. As long as he goes at least 7 times a month, his membership is free. Not long after he found out about this new benefit, he headed over to check it out.

In the 15 years I have known him, my husband has not had a gym membership. He did have a small workout room with some free weights and a few cardio machines at his old job, so he’d often go in on his lunch hour or right after work to sneak in a quick workout. He didn’t do this with any sort of regularity, but he’d get on streaks where he’d pop in 3 or 4 days a week and come home quite proud of himself.

I’ve been a member of Planet Fitness for five or six years now. Although there have been moments in my life where I have been more dedicated than others, for the most part I go at least once a week and often two or three times a week. For the money, PF is a pretty good deal. Sure, there are no classes, no pool, no childcare and it’s hard to get any sort of trainer to set up a routine for you, but considering that mostly I just wanted to do cardio or circuit training, that was fine with me.

However, when my husband got his membership to Lifetime, he also got me and our kids a trial membership. It was basically love at first sight. The gym is ENORMOUS! Seriously, it is huge. They have a rock wall, three pools (one outdoor for nice weather) with water slides, a full basketball court, tons of cardio and weight machines, a cafe, a spa, a sauna and all sorts of classes. What’s more, they have a childcare facility, so instead of waiting until my kids are in bed and then slipping out on my own to work out, we can take our kids to the gym with us and they can play while we work out. We can also take our kids to the pool or to the rock wall, which they love.

The only downside to this new gym is that it is a bit more expensive than PF. For myself and our kids, it’s actually about 7 times my current no frills basic PF membership. That gave me more than a few minutes of pause. Is a gym membership really worth that expense?

Well, as it turns out, my daughter’s swim lessons are even more than that. So, by canceling her lessons and signing up at the gym where we have constant access to the pool, we actually save about $14 a month. Sure, it means I have to work with my daughter to help her strengthen her swimming skills, but that just means I get to spend time in the pool. Plus, as great as her swim lessons have been for her, they are only 30 minutes once a week. We can replace that with gym time AND my son will get to practice his swimming as well. Plus, we’ll be able to add a whole other activity to our weekly schedule this summer. Unlike our current swim school where we can only take advantage of open swim M-Th from 12-1, this coming summer we’ll be able to swim all day, every day if we want to.

While I’ve only technically been a member of the gym for three days now, I did take advantage of that trial membership as well. I’ve gotten in four really solid workouts and it’s been great. My hope is that since it is a rather substantial expense compared to PF, I won’t feel like I can blow it off the same way I did working out at PF. I also hope having fun activities for the kid will help my entire family become more active.

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Teaching Tuesday: Retro pay

Due to laws that I do not even pretend to understand, bargaining for teachers’ contracts cannot formally begin in Indiana until after September 15th. For those schools on a standard school year, this means that bargaining for salaries and benefits cannot begin until about a month AFTER school has started. For schools on a balanced calendar, like mine, that means that bargaining cannot begin until school has been in session for 6-7 weeks.

For 4-7 weeks, teachers must work on a status quo contract, meaning everything from the previous year is frozen in place. There are no pay raises, even for those rated as the most highly effective. Teachers who are hired in brand new to the corporation can be hired in with extra benefits and bonuses, but those established teachers who have returned for another year have to start off financially with everything the same as it was the year before.

To make matters even crazier, negotiations for the new contract do not have to be finished until November 15th. So that means that in some school corporations, like mine, teachers will have been working for as many as 15 weeks on last year’s contract.

For a variety of reasons, my school was not able to settle our contract until the November 15th deadline. Even on that day, last minute fixes were being done to it. It was a serious mess.

The good news is that once the contract is ratified, schools then have to compensate teachers retroactively for the year. Teachers don’t actually lose out on any bit of their pay increase. Nor does the pay increase simply get applied to the remaining 18-22 pay checks.

Once the contract is agreed upon, teachers get retroactively paid for those lost weeks before and during negotiations. While this can be a bit of a drag at first, if usually means at least one check that feels like a really nice bonus, even if it’s really just pay back for what you’ve missed while you were working.

Unfortunately since my district waited so long to work out all the contract details, our retro pay fell on the same payday as our extracurricular pay. Although many teachers do get small stipends for extracurricular work we do (coaching, sponsoring clubs or academic teams, etc), the law says those extras cannot be paid monthly, but rather distributed once in the fall and once in the spring, depending on the activity. For activities that take all year, like yearbook or student government sponsors, teachers get paid half of the stipend in the fall and half in the spring.

Our fall stipend pay usually falls the first payday in December and our spring stipend pay usually falls the first payday in June. Yeah, I realize those are really winter and summer dates, but accuracy in titles isn’t the real concern. What is a concern is how heavily our paychecks were taxed. Although it was all money owed to us for work we’d already done over the last 15 weeks, one or our paychecks looked categorically huge in relation to all the others and got taxed at a different rate.

Now, I’m not complaining about taxes. I understand their purpose and pay mine with little complaint as I believe in the betterment of society. My complaint (and it is a smallish one), is putting all that “extra” money on one pay check, therefore forcing hardworking teachers, who are already underpaid to pay higher taxes on money that was ours but simply being withheld from us due to rather arbitrary negotiating dates. My district could have done it in two separate pays, but decided not to.

Sure, it’s really nice to have that extra big pay check right before the holidays, but it would have been even nicer for it to be spread out among two regularly taxed checks.

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