30 June 2005

Nearly Motherless. Yea!

Tomorrow, I will take amom to the airport and send her on her merry way back to Texas. (Later today, I have to go pick her up from the ferry as she went on an overnighter to Canada). When will I see her again? I'm not sure.

Usually, I make the trip to Texas in July. There is nothing like a small town 4th of July celebration. My town has dairy goats (which are used to squirt milk at spectators), flags carried by "raisins" (wrinkly vets), and every cop in the county for the parade. Then, there's the used book sale on the library lawn, food and fellowship at the city park, and a street dance (or "daynce" if you're a native) at the city hall. It is the one time of year that I'm guaranteed to see lots of people from my past. Many of us just come home for the 4th.

I'm waiting to see what will happen at the local university in my hometown. When the science building has its remodel completed, there will be a dedication of the invertebrate collection to the memory of my adad. I would very much like to be there for that...and as it is looking like an early fall kind of event, I'll hold off on a summer visit.

My summer vacation will begin tomorrow after I leave amom at Sea-Tac. There are a variety of small projects on the horizon, in addition to lots of naps, more reading, and whatever else looks like fun.

Twenty-four hours and counting down...

29 June 2005

Reading (for pleasure this time)

A couple of weeks ago, I was getting paid to read essays. Now that summer holiday is starting, I am doing some "fun" reading.

So far, I've worked my way through...
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon. In the story, an autistic boy (Christopher) becomes interested in solving the murder of a neighbourhood poodle, much to the consternation of his father. Along the way, he also uncovers a family secret, learns to navigate some of his fears, and passes his A level exam in math. The story is told from Christopher's point of view and tries to give some insight into the autistic mind. It's a quick and interesting read.
  • The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. This is another debut novel (as was "Curious...") and a hefty one at that. But somehow, I plowed through the 642 pages rather easily. The story has multiple "tellers" throughout---all of whom are following the trail of Dracula (who is still "alive" in the 20th century). The primary character is a teenager who becomes drawn into the chase after discovering some notes in her father's library. There are a few slow parts in the book, however I appreciated the descriptions of eastern Europe. I'm rather interested now in heading off to Budapest, Istanbul, and points in between.
  • Eleven on Top by Janet Evanovich. The Stephanie Plum series is brain candy---and the next installment is always scheduled for the Tuesday following the end of school. So, following this inept bounty hunter is always something to start my summer off with a smile.
  • Honeymoon with My Brother by Franz Wizner. What would you do if your fiance(e) dumped you a few days before your wedding...and then you took a significant demotion at your job...and your house suddenly needed an expensive repair? Wizner grabbed his brother and headed out on his honeymoon to Costa Rica. The two had such a good time getting to know one another as adults and traveling, that they each quit their jobs, sold their possessions, and spent the next two years on holiday around the globe. This is a memoir and it is a delight. So what if Wizner's idea of Life's "lemons" is different from the average Joe? The story is really about understanding what is important while you're here on planet Earth and the interesting way that one guy managed to figure it out.

What's next? Hmmmm. Bmom left me with a copy of The Secret Life of Bees, which many others have also recommended to me. I also picked up the new Rebecca Wells' novel, which gives more prequel information on the Ya-Ya's. But I have several others sitting on my shelf, itching to be read. The new Kathy Reichs' book is also now available, and that will be on my "must" list.

So many books. So little summer.

28 June 2005

Slim Pickins

In recent weeks, there have been several vacancies at my school that needed to be filled. Not everything is going smoothly.

There was an unanticipated vacancy in the math department. One co-chair has taken a job at central office. The other co-chair asked if they could just hire the "number 2 choice" from recent interviews (which she did not participate in) to fill the spot. That strikes me as a little foolhardy. If you haven't seen the information about applicants or been in on the interviews---how can you know if someone will be a good "fit" for your department or school? Are teachers really do interchangeable?

And then, there's the matter of the new ass't. admin we are hiring. We have heard who has been recommended...and I'm a little nervous about the choice. I do know the guy. He's a band director-turned-admin (just like our principal). He is extremely nervous and high maintenance (just like a Chihuahua). But the part I'm most concerned about is simply having two admins in our office who have no regular classroom experience. Can one be a strong educational leader when you haven't ever had to develop a standards-based lesson plan? When you have had the luxury of choosing which students take your class vs. having them assigned to you? I know that the hiring pool of admins has decreased significantly over the years. Are we going to have to make do with more and more who don't have solid classroom backgrounds? What will that mean for students?

Finally, we have ~2.5 science positions to fill. After the first round of interviews, two good candidates were identified and a great deal of work was done on their behalf in order to help them. Neither ended up accepting a job with us. Another round of interviews was completed on Monday and I haven't heard if either of those two looked promising. My guess is that we will have to do more hiring in August. (But hey, if you need a job, by all means, let me know.) It's a little depressing to realize that there used to be nine or ten good candidates for the kinds of jobs we have. And now, maybe one or two.

We'll see what the summer brings. I hope it coughs up some good teachers just itching to work with us. I do so enjoy my little fantasies.

27 June 2005

Whew.

Apart from stopping by in the morning on their way out of town, my time with bmom and hubby is done. We have all had a good visit. I am very tired of having company, though, and am still stuck with amom until Friday afternoon.

Bmom and I have a lot in common. And as someone who wasn't raised with the "nature" part of things---only "nurture"---it's very refreshing. Let's be honest, though. There are no genes for teaching. For cross-stitch. For colour/clothing preferences. And for a host of other choices we humans make. At best, we might be able to say that some neural pathways/structures are encoded...and that would explain why bmom and I act like twins separated at birth. (The "separated at birth" part still applies in a way.) But it is so weird for me to realize just how strong genetics has been in influencing the person I am today. Amom and I don't have a lot of similar interests. I know that this sort of thing is not confined to adoptees.

As for my fathers?

It is likely that bdad is dead. When I found him 7 years ago, he had been suffering with Parkinson's disease for some time. I wouldn't be surprised to find that he had succumbed to it by now. You can probably tell that bdad and I didn't build a successful relationship, but I am at peace with that. And I believe he was, too. He couldn't handle admitting to having a child, even a 29-year old one. But he did his best to answer my questions and tell me something of his life.

Adad has been dead for over 6 years now and I miss him everyday. It was his love of the sciences that guided me there...his endearing sense of humor that taught me to laugh and think...and far more.

I like to believe that I have "adopted" bmom's nature and adad's nurture. The truth is probably closer to me being an amalgam of all four of my parents, although not in equal parts. Family is often something that you choose. Our lives are filled with all kinds of people who have contributed to who we are. And as adults, I suppose we have to decide what to do with those gifts. I hope that my family, whoever they all may claim to be, would approve of mine.

Back to school blogging tomorrow. :)

26 June 2005

Mamapalooza 2005

So far, so good. Not that I expected any problems, but it is a relief that the initial meeting of my mommies is off to a promising start.

Bmom and her hubby arrived around 11 this morning---far earlier than I had anticipated. The four of us (including amom) sat and visited before having some lunch, walking down to the beach, and then heading into a nearby town. My most recent guests were settled in at their hotel and then we all went to the older part of the town to browse the shops and eventually have dinner. I snuck off before dessert and gave the waiter my credit card. I wanted to avoid any wrestling for the bill at the table. After returning bmom and husband to their hotel room, I'm home for the evening. And exhausted.

Bmom, as you may have guessed, is not married to my birthfather. Although she would have liked to have been---but he never asked her. They were both schoolteachers (natch) in British Columbia. She was 22 and he 29 when they met. So, they were old enough to understand the possible consequences of fooling around...but who hasn't been foolish in one way or another when it comes to love? I'm certainly proof of that. :) Anyway, bmom never told anyone in her family about me (even when she was pregnant...and even years later after she was married). Bdad did help support her throughout her pregnancy (he was the one who named me: Christine Frances), but really had no interest in being responsible beyond that. Being an unwed mother in 1970 was not simple. So, I was put up for adoption and bmom moved on with her life.

I have no siblings. My bdad never married (which isn't required for fatherhood, obviously). Bmom married someone 30+ years her senior in age. He had already raised a family. My aparents didn't have another opportunity to adopt, so I was it for them, too.

Tomorrow, my various permutations of parents and I will spend more time looking around the area. Bmom would very much like me to show her hubby my school. Hubby, who was in the RAF in WWII would like to visit some of the naval history stuff we have in the area. And I will keep doing what I can to facilitate the flow of things and help them all get to know one another.

It's not important to me that they like one another. In fact, it's never been important to me that they meet. I understand that I am what they have in common and they are curious about one another. I think everyone wants to know that whatever has happened to me in my life---because of all of their different choices they made on my behalf---that it's okay.

And you know what? It is.

25 June 2005

Being a Bastard, Pt I

From what I understand, somewhere between one and two percent of the U.S. population is made up of bastards (a/k/a "adoptees"). I have been trying to find a good source to back up that claim, but I'm not finding one this evening. We'll have to take it with a grain of salt. Besides, depending on who you know, you may have run into a much higher percentage of people you believe to be bastards. :) Where do I get that figure then? It was mentioned a few times when I was involved in searching for my birthfamily several years ago.

The topic of adoption in a group of people will usually engender all manner of positive comments. These usually center around some idea that the kid will have a "better life" than s/he would with their birthfamily---a claim that is just as shaky as the data from the first paragraph. How can anyone possibly know how a life would have turned out if a decision had been different---and that it always would have been "better"?

Looking at adoption from the inside, I can tell you that there are a lot of things about it that most people either don't know or don't think about. For example, in most states and provinces they have no right to their birth certificate. There has been legislation routinely brought up in the US Congress to criminalize searching for birthfamily---meaning that a person who happens to be adopted and does any kind of genealogical search could be fined and/or imprisoned. If an adoptee communicates with the hospital where they were born, they will most likely discover that they are not allowed access to their medical records. How many of you who aren't adopted can do these things (get a copy of your original birth certificate, medical records, and do family history) without roadblocks?

Who would you be if...you took away all the times someone told you that you had the same nose/chin/eyes as someone in your family...you never saw anyone who looked like you or had the same mannerisms? Would you be the same if you never knew any of your genetic or medical history? Where your "people" were from? I bet you'd feel a bit adrift.

I'm not here to knock adoption---much as it may seem. But what I have tried to do in the years since I started the process of searching for and reuniting with my birthfamily is to get non-adoptees to think a little harder about adoption in general. And in particular about the adoptee. Adoption is great for everyone at the beginning, I suppose...but eventually that baby is going to grow up. Shouldn't it have the same rights as other adults in this country? Why should it endure discrimination simply because it was adopted?

Perhaps someday I'll write a bit more about my own search and reunion with my birthfamily. It was an incredible journey. Tomorrow, my b(irth)mom and a(dopted)mom will be meeting for the first time. Quite a personal landmark for all of us.

24 June 2005

Tying Up Loose Ends

It is the nature of Education to leave a lot of unfinished business. Kids move on to other schools, initiatives come and go, and so on. As for me---I hate unfinished business. I like to know how the stories end. I've been thinking that I've left a few in such a state here. So in that spirit...

  • I ended up Reading 2126 books last week in Lincoln. As predicted, we finished my question by break time on Sunday morning---with all questions finishing less than an hour later. I didn't win the pool we had going at our table, although I should have. However, I was provided with enough blind foolish luck earlier in the week at the racetrack...so I can't complain.
  • Things did seem to end somewhat pleasantly at school for the year. I have learned that our PE chair and Math Chair have both left for other opportunities. It makes me sad, in some ways to see so much change at our school. Out of the 60 or so staff members on board when I arrived, I think maybe 18 are still there. And as much as Suzanne was willing to dismiss me with a "You can go home now." after 9 years of working together, I wasn't quite ready to do that. I did leave a nice gift in her box, wish her well. I hope she finds her smile again.
  • And DC? It looked like he would stay on...until I read my e-mail this morning. This is his lovely parting gift, which he sent to the entire staff of our school:
Howdy All:

I sincerely hope that your summer is going well and that you are relaxing and enjoying the things in life that matter most, in my case family. With that thought in mind, I am writing you to let you know that I have decided to leave for greener pastures. Unfortunately, I am not leaving with the best of feelings.

I have had my opinions of the school's leadership, direction, and spirit, which admittedly, are not the highest. I just wanted you to know that I have greatly enjoyed working with the staff, it is the leadership (or lack there of) that has caused me to finally part ways, not my colleagues. I hold most of the staff in high regards and hope that I have positively contributed in my own way.

The final straw that broke the camel's back for me was the leadership's decision to not hire my highly qualified, very experienced, and well recommended wife as a science teacher to fill one of our two vacancies. We were hoping that this school was a more progressive and family oriented school with a closer "feel." What I encountered was not what I had anticipated. The only way to effect change is to realize that you need to change first.

Ironically, most of the people involved in making decisions are very uninvolved and uncommitted to the school. So, yes, I feel unwanted, unappreciated, and uninspired to stay as my wife and I had hoped for a considerable time. My family and I were very stressed and upset over this, but no one seemed to care. I am sure that someone in the Science Department will take up where I left off with the Science Club and they will all stay there for twenty plus years of dedicated service. (Please excuse the sarcasm.)

As I said before change only happens when people stand up and acknowledge that change need to happen first. I need a change and the school needs a change of leadership Where was the vision, the family atmosphere, the forward thinking? Oh well, as I also said, it is not you but the leadership that I have serious issue with. I just wanted to let the staff know why I am leaving, please do not listen to rumors or think poorly of me, and realize that I truly do like working with you. I just could not stay now knowing the circumstances and dealing with the leadership. I apologize if this causes discomfort for some of you (Controversy happens.)

God had always taken very good care of us and I think that there is a purpose in everything. Basically, I think that this school was not the right place for us. Oh well. Just as things were looking bleak a ray of hope appeared. As my best friend always reminds me "If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans for the future." Also, as the old adage goes, as one door closes another opens. I have accepted a position for an integrated math/science teacher in another district. It is more me (I guess I'm a small town country guy at heart and we already live on the "other side" of the bridge anyhow.). This school has come through where OHS did not.

Unfortunately, do the untimeliness of the hiring process; I was robbed of the chance to say goodbye in person to you or my students. As we say in the Navy, "Fair wind and following seas." Take care and God bless. I will miss you all.

Sincerely, DC



Oh, boy! What a way to start the day. I can't say that I'm surprised by his leaving. I can say that his wife wasn't offered a job because she wasn't qualified for the position. I can also say that most of his comments in the e-mail are very unprofessional, in my opinion. But at least he is out of our hair.
If there are any other tales from the year where you need "the rest of the story," send along a reminder and I'll do what I can to fill in the details.

23 June 2005

Can't Slow Down...Yet

I made it home yesterday. Travel can always be challenging and the trip back did have its share. I arrived about 1:30 a.m. This gave me a short window of time to get settled and have some rest before going to teach a short course that started at 8:00 a.m.

Oddly enough, I was functional for the class. This may have been due to a caffeine and adrenaline combo. Our district runs a "Summer Institute" the week after school is out. This gives staff an opportunity to take some free professional development courses. Because I am primarily housed in the district curriculum office, I am expected to have an offering for the Institute. I chose Problem-Based Learning. It is a way to organize curriculum for (nearly) any subject and grade level. It allows teachers to roll together standards, thinking skills, authentic assessments, and more into one neat package. It also gives students a larger responsibility for their learning. I've enjoyed doing units like this for several years now. My audience yesterday seemed genuinely interested in the topic and fortunately the time went quickly.

My adoptive mother arrives later this morning. It will be good to see her, even if she is a handful. On Sunday, my birthmother and her husband will arrive. The two mothers will be meeting for the first time. They have been in contact via e-mail and snail mail for several years now---and my amom has met two of bmom's sisters when they were traveling in Texas. Although Sunday will certainly be a landmark event in all of our lives, it doesn't appear that anyone is uneasy about it.

By next weekend, my duties as daughter and hostess will be complete and I can begin decompressing from the school year. I am looking forward to having some unscheduled time. I know it will pass all too quickly.

18 June 2005

Nearly to the Bitter End

Two questions are now done Reading...but not mine. My table has a pool going for when we'll finish tomorrow. I guessed 9:53 a.m. :) The CB didn't update the question totals today, so I'm not sure how close we are to finishing---but I'm guessing no more than 7000 more exams. This is easily doable by 96 Readers in under two hours.

Even if we are finished, we still have to sit quietly at our tables. Why? Because the CB is paying for our time. Our fannies are their provenance until 5 p.m. tomorrow. However, my guess is that all Reading will be done by noon. After lunch, they'll do the "debriefing" session where we hear about the other questions. I may or may not go for that. If they start at 3, I definitely won't---as I have a date with my Sweetie.

We are not allowed to discuss the individual ramblings of students. Every year, though, I learn all kinds of new things. I won't give any specific student remarks, but here are some general observations students made:
  • Mosses aren't as successful (evolutionarily) as flowering plants because they're not pretty and don't taste good. Also, they're parasites---primarily of trees..the poor bastards.
  • Plants are very private with their sexual habits. Hence the need for flowers and other adaptations. No sense in being indiscreet, right?
  • Alternation of Generations (plant life cycle) involves the crossing of a red flower with a white flower and getting pink flowers...which then produce red and white offsping.

I will say that this question didn't generate as many funny comments from students as the ones I have read in the past. There were still plenty of essays about Marilyn Manson, prom, and how much a particular AP Bio teacher/class sucked. As Readers, we are required to read everything a student writes---just in case a point is hiding in there somewhere. Oy. I've read so much bad biology this week that I can hardly remember what the real facts of the matter are.

My 5.5 day total stands at 1980 books. I will probably Read 100 or so more and that will be all until next year. It's kinda exciting.

It is unlikely that I'll be posting anything until Wednesday. I'll be with my Sweetie until late afternoon on Tuesday when I'll head back home. Sometime after midnight I'll tumble into bed, only to have to get up and teach a class at 8 a.m. the next morning. Oh, and my adoptive mother arrives the next day (with my birthmother following shortly thereafter). Should make for an interesting couple of weeks.

Stay cool and I'll catch up with you next week!

17 June 2005

Ag Hall, sweet Ag Hall

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Ah, there it is. The land of AP and the home of the Read.

This point in the Read is always the hardest in terms of staying motivated. This morning, Sunday sure seemed like a long way off. The Chief Reader was kind enough to let us quit at 4:30 today, which was just as well. I think everyone's brain had about gone mushy. Plus, we're doing really well and will definitely finish on time. I fully expect two of the questions to be done by the end of the day tomorrow. Here are the current totals for all you sports fans:
  • Question #1: 83,954
  • Question #2: 95,996
  • Question #3: 84,828 (I've done ~1550 by now)
  • Question #4: 98,221

One of the best things about doing this job is the ability to "network." AP is such an odd animal. It's nice to find people who have their heads wrapped around parts of it and can share their wisdom. It's also good to catch up from year to year and find out how everbody's time has been. People have been telling me this year that I look good and seem happy. It's validating to know that...to know that whatever choices and changes I've made in my personal and professional lives agree with me. I think they're good, but if people I only see once a year notice, then maybe I really am doing things right.

It is Friday night in Lincoln and most of the Readers are headed out on the town---either to the festival at the Haymarket or to the Saltdogs game. People do love to play hard while they're here. As for me, I'm thinking about doing some laundry. Perhaps that's not quite as exciting as checking out a street festival---but then, it would also be nice to not go home with a suitcase of sweaty clothes. The other thing I have to face is organizing my thoughts for the class I'm teaching Wednesday morning.

Merry Weekend, to those of you who will have one. As for me, it's back to the Ag Hall bright and early tomorrow morning. (Sunday, too.)

16 June 2005

Still Reading...

Today was another full day for the Read. Lunchtime marked the halfway point (in terms of days), but we are not quite halfway through the books:

Question #1: 57,697
Question #2: 67,615
Question #3: 58,097 (I have now read ~1100)
Question #4: 70,123

Tomorrow will be the hardest day. It's still too far from Sunday and the amount of books left to score is beyond overwhelming. We'll keep plugging away.

After we finished, I went to the racetrack to watch the ponies. The track is just behind the Ag Hall where we are working and many Readers took advantage of the beautiful evening. I only watched four races. I spent $1 to get in...$2 on beer...$1.50 on tacos...and $6 in bets. And I won $46.70 on the second race. Not too bad, eh? My Sweetie and I were needing a little extra cash for the weekend as we are changing some plans. How nice to have this windfall---and all from liking the way a horse looked (and had 22:1 odds).

Meanwhile, back at the ranch...

Today was the official last day of school. I managed to do my grades long distance, my sub survived her tenure this week, and summer has officially started. One of our new teachers passed along the list below. If you're part of the Edusphere, you will no doubt recognize these:

YOU MAY BE (or have been) A SCHOOL EMPLOYEE IF......
  1. You believe the playground should be equipped with a Ritalin salt lick.
  2. You want to slap the next person who says, "Must be nice to work 8 to 3:00 and have summers free."
  3. You can tell it's a full moon without looking outside.
  4. You believe "shallow gene pool" should have its own check box on a report card.
  5. You believe that unspeakable evils will befall you if anyone says: "Boy, the kids sure are mellow today."
  6. When out in public you feel the urge to snap your fingers at children you do not know and correct their behavior.
  7. You have no social life between August and June.
  8. Marking all A's on report cards would make your life SO easy.
  9. You think people should be required to get a government permit before being allowed to reproduce.
  10. You wonder how some parents ever MANAGED to reproduce.
  11. You laugh uncontrollably when people refer to the staff room as the "lounge."
  12. You encourage an obnoxious parent to check into charter schools or Homeschooling.
  13. You can't have children because there's no name you could give a child that wouldn't bring on high blood pressure the moment you heard it.
  14. You think caffeine should be available in intravenous form.
  15. You know you are in for a major project when a parent says, "I have a great idea I'd like to discuss. I think it would be such fun."
  16. Meeting a child's parent instantly answers the question, "Why is this kid like this?"

15 June 2005

Tidbits

I'm too tired to pull together much of a coherent post for the day. (Some of you may wonder if I ever do.)

Summer arrived here today. For me, this is my first taste---as we still have unseasonably cool and rainy weather where I live. It's nice to have blue sky and feel the heat. The walk to and from the Read is about a mile (each way). I enjoyed walking it twice today. Being out and moving around was good for my body and mind after sitting still and concentrating for several hours.

The walk takes us past a cement mixing company. We also pass some sort of building owned by the University that has a sign saying that all the trees in its area have been treated with fox urine. I don't know why they feel compelled to share this information. There are also several sets of train tracks---and frequent trains. If you don't time things well, getting to the Read becomes a rather Darwinian sort of exercise.

It is always a guessing game as to whether or not we will finish Reading all the exams by the end of the Read. According to the College Board, we have to (even if it means longer hours)---although in years' past they have made other arrangements when a question didn't finish. Out of the 120,000 exams, here are how many are done (as of 4 p.m. CDT today):
  • Question #1: 34,200
  • Question #2: 42,649
  • Question #3: 35,300 (of which I have Read ~850)
  • Question #4: 44,475

The Read ends on Sunday, but no one really wants to be there all day. There are two newbies at my table who are S-L-O-W. They're definitely going to have to pick up the pace if we are going to finish.

We are not allowed to make any marks on student papers. So, if you were to spy on us, you would see several hundred people counting on their fingers or other more unusual ways to keep track of points.

There are things to do here in the evening. Many people head downtown and/or to the Haymarket to eat, drink, watch movies, and be merry. Some take in a Saltdogs ballgame or make the trip to Omaha to see part of the College World Series. Tonight, the campus bookstore is staying open until 8:30. Morrill Hall, which has a fantastic collection of fossil elephant skeletons (and more) along with the planetarium will be open until 10. There is also a lot of beer and bs available in the "biology lounge."

I'm anxious to get out of here on Sunday as I have a hot date in Omaha with my Sweetie. All work and no play makes a Goddess a very dull girl. For now, though, I'm okay with being a dull girl. :)

14 June 2005

Accommodations

The College Board does do its best to take care of us Readers. There are huge amounts of food for all 3 meals...plus 2 heavy duty "snacks" each day. Various forms of entertainment are available in the evenings (if one is so inclined). And we all get a room in the dorm.

Keep in mind that most of us haven't lived the college life in more than a few years. We stay in the Abel and Mari Sandoz Halls here at UN.

Each Reader has his or her own room and there are community bathrooms. For some reason, the rooms are made up for 2 people:

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As you can see, there's a bed with an ancient blanket. I originally thought it might have dated to the War Between the States, but I have since upgraded its time period to The Great War. There's a desk and nice window (facing west).

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There's also a bit of closet space, a chest of drawers and a mirror that is the right height if you happen to be at least 6 feet tall with a long reach. Actually, I can't knock it too much. Last year I was staying on a floor that is used by men when college is in session---and I could only see the top of my head in the mirror. This year, I can see from the shoulders up.

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I managed to snake through about 300 books today. The question isn't reading quite as speedily as I would hope. We've only gotten through about 11,500 books. Another question has completed over 17,000. I'm guessing that they'll have to start moving some Readers over to my question in a couple of days if we are ever to finish by Sunday.

13 June 2005

What It's Like on the Inside: AP Reading Edition

Today was the first official day of The Read. We trained on the scoring guides during the morning session, which is always the worst part. There are always a variety of troublemakers who want to bring up every hypothetical they can think of---never mind that they'll never actually see a paper with it. Anyway, after lunch, we trooped over to the Ag Hall of the Nebraska State Fairgrounds to begin our task.

There are about 120,000 exams this year. This is what they look like when they arrive and are waiting for us:

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And this isn't even all of the boxes of tests. (There are 500 total.) Anyway, all the tests kids took from all over the world are here after being trucked in from Princeton, NJ.

The boxes are then distributed:

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As we Read, we can hear the creak of the handcart as boxes with completed exams are dropped off and new ones arrive. By Thursday or Friday, we will begin to dread this sound. It will seem like the stream of exams is endless.

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The "rooms" for each of the four questions are really just curtained off areas within the big space of the Ag Hall. Monitors have a few boxes of tests on their tables. As you can see, each box has marks on the outside for questions 1, 2, 3, 4. These are "x'ed" out as the question for those exams is complete. The boxes are rotated to different rooms. Inside the boxes are nine yellow folders. Each folder holds 25 student exams.

Here is a shot of most of my "room":

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There are twelve tables of eight Readers each. We have our scoring guides at hand. The College Board also gifted us with umbrellas this year. Special pencils and erasers must be used, which the CB also provides. Although the CB keeps us supplied with plenty of food and drink, open containers are not allowed on the table. The risk of damage to exams from spills is not one we're allowed to take. (Rumor has it that a kid's test was "washed away" last year when some water spilled on it and the water-soluble ink the kid had used to write their essays didn't survive.)

I should mention that those windows you can see toward the top of the picture represents the area where the PTB hang out. That's where stats are kept, newsletters are generated, and who knows what other nefarious activities. We don't get to go up there.

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The pink things are the actual test booklets. Since we only score one particular question, we read through each booklet in a folder. We have a bubble sheet to record each score, along with our particulars. All of this information is then scanned and tracked.

So, there you have it---the setup, anyway. With all of the training, buddy reading, etc. today, I only ended up doing about 50 books on my own. Tomorrow the real work will begin. Stay tuned for accommodations.

12 June 2005

I'm here!

After a long day of travel, I'm finally in genuine Nebraska. The trip was uneventful and I am thankful for that. Highlights included a guy with the worst case of dandruff I've ever seen---who was removing his jacket and shaking his "snow" all over me in the security line. Then there was someone next to me on the first flight with an extreme case of dragon breath.

But I really need your help sorting out some things. On my first flight, the movie shown was Million Dollar Baby. I had been wanting to see it and figured that a bowdlerized airplane version would at least pass the time. And it did. In fact, we arrived in Phoenix 30 minutes ahead of schedule---which means that there was no chance to finish the film. I'm guessing there was about 10 minutes of it left. (Frankie had just been to the priest to talk about pulling the plug on Maggie.) I am very interested to know the answers to the following, if anyone can provide some insight:
  • Do we ever learn what Maggie's nickname (Mo ---) means? If so, what is it?
  • Does Frankie pull the plug?
  • Do we find out why Frankie and his daughter are estranged? Please do share.
On the bus from Omaha to Lincoln, I sat next to a very nice Cuban immigrant who is here for the AP Physics read. It was nice to gaze out at the cornfields and ponder a different landscape.
Tomorrow, the real fun begins. Here is the question that I've been assigned to Read this year:
Angiosperms (flowering plants) have wide distribution in the biosphere and the largest number of species in the plant kingdom.
  • Discuss the function of FOUR structures for reproduction found in angiosperms and the adaptive (evolutionary) significance of each.
  • Mosses (bryophytes) have not achieved the widespread terrestrial success of angiosperms. Discuss how the anatomy and reproductive strategies of mosses limited their distribution.
  • Explain alternation of generations in either angiosperms or mosses.
What do you think? Pretty exciting stuff, eh? The last two years, I have been assigned to the questions which I was least interested in. And this year, my ship has come in---as I get my favourite topic.

I'm off to meet and greet for a bit...catch up with people I haven't seen in awhile...and unpack. I hope your week is as interesting as mine looks to be.

11 June 2005

The Read

I'll leave early tomorrow morning for Lincoln, Nebraska, home of the 2005 AP Biology Read. You see, last month about 120,000 students (including 21 of mine) took The Exam. The Exam includes 100 multiple choice questions which are scored by computer. It also includes four free response questions which must be scored by mortals.

This is my third year as a Reader. I applied for the position at the end of my first year of teaching AP Bio and was sent along following my second (even though the College Board would like you to have three years of experience teaching the course). The CB makes all the travel arrangements, takes care of your accommodations, feeds you wonderful food, provides entertainment and transportation while you're there---and generally does whatever it can in order to make it simple for you to focus on your work. (And yes, they provide and honorarium, too.) Readers come from all over the world and from all walks of education: public ones like me, nuns from Catholic schools, college professors, teachers from overseas, some from private schools. There will be about 400 of us who will do this job sitting in an agricultural exhibition hall on the Nebraska State Fairgrounds.

At the outset, things appear grueling. A Reader is assigned to score only one question. This means that you may read a couple of thousand books containing responses to the same prompt. You Read for eight hours every day that you are there. A system of checks and balances is built in: you sit at a table with 7 others, one of whom is the Table Leader. The TL spot checks essays you have read to be sure that you are scoring consistently. There is even a Question Leader who samples all of the tables. Huge amounts of statistics are kept: how many books you read, what your average score is, what your standard deviation from the overall norm is, and so on. All of these things are designed to make this process as fair to a student as possible. After all, it shouldn't matter which Reader scores their question, whether it's the first or last day of the Read, or what time of the day it is. It also doesn't matter how much we like the scoring guide or if it is how we would do things in our classrooms. It only matters that we score things as consistently as possible. It's not "hard" work. It is a "brain drain." By the fourth day, it is pretty darned difficult to have any kind of motivation about going back and Reading again.

Why do any of us do this job? For me, it's about being a good teacher for my kids. If I'm not invested in the process---how can I share it with them? It's a way for me to learn how The Exam is scored and then demystify the process for students. It also reassures my kiddos that real people are indeed reading their work and doing the best that they can to be fair.

I am excited about my travel plans tomorrow...about the opportunity to connect with people I haven't seen for a year...to learn some new things and participate in different adventures. My laptop is traveling with me (as is my digital camera), so updates will be forthcoming.

And now, back to packing...

10 June 2005

No more pencils, No more books...

Sigh. I do like knowing that I've reached the end of another school year. It means that for a few weeks, my time and headspace will be different---and that's always good.

I haven't decided much about my summer. I usually make a trip to visit my hometown to visit family and friends. My Sweetie and I try to find some time for a trip of our own. Other than that, I tend to take things day by day: read, stitch, take day trips, nap, and so on. I always bring home summer work for school. These are the larger projects to organize...the grand ideas I had during the school year but couldn't develop for one reason or another.

This evening, I tend to relax. Perhaps even break open a bottle of wine and toast the end of another year. Tomorrow, another type of reality will hit me in the face as I get ready to go to Nebraska for a week of scoring AP essays. Tonight, though, the illusion of summer will hold.

09 June 2005

Farewell, Class of 2005

When I was in high school, long ago and far away, seniors didn't get out earlier than anyone else. We didn't officially attend school on the last day, but we did have mandatory graduation rehearsal and other school sponsored faldaral in its place.

Here and now, I'm always amazed. School isn't out until next Thursday---and yet today was the last day of class for seniors. (One school in our district let its seniors out 2 days ago.) I'm not sure how we get around the whole "180 days" thing, but I guess it really isn't my concern. Anyone who is not a graduating senior was very ready for the seniors to be gone. Maybe it's just as well they go away now and leave us in peace.

There was a barbecue for the graduating class today. One of my colleagues asked if we teachers had to go (we don't, but can if we want to) and was relieved to find that he could spend his time elsewhere. He said he was "senior'ed out" and that it was already too long of a goodbye. After all, we had their awards night on Monday..."Moving Up" assembly yesterday...check out procedures and barbecue today...breakfast tomorrow...and graduation is on Saturday. Whew.

Every class has its own personality. Some you adore and remember for years afterwards. With others, you hope to never hear from them again. This class falls somewhere in between. They were nice kids, but not much was distinguishable about them as a group. Maybe they just haven't blossomed yet.

Tomorrow, the building will seem empty without the seniors, but there will be a good buzz among the rest of us who will be moving forward together next year.

Best wishes to the Class of 2005.

08 June 2005

The Carnival of Education

I haven't much to blog about at the moment, but plenty of people do. Please do stroll down the midway over at Edwonk and check out the 18th edition of the Carnival of Education. There are lots of great posts from all over the edusphere.

07 June 2005

What it Means to Wind Down the Year

I think it's safe to say that for most teachers, the job is all-consuming. There are few moments between September and June where your mind isn't full of "stuff": problems with kids, lesson planning, figuring out ways to avoid meetings, and so on. Those things crawl around in your head even when it's your "personal" time.

But as the school year rolls to a stop, it's wonderful. Your headspace starts to come back. I've actually been sleeping through the night. And dreaming all sorts of dreams. I'd forgotten how nice it is to do that. (Seems like Mz. Smlph had, too.) I read two books this weekend. I've started thinking about stitching again. I am starting to consider doing something other than work at 6 a.m.

My Sweetie knows that my favourite day of the year isn't my birthday...or Christmas...or any other recognized holiday. I absolutely love the last day of school. There is this feeling of freedom and hope like none other. To drive away from the building for the last time and into the summer is just plain wonderful.

You may wonder why I teach. If the end is so fulfilling---why bother starting up again? I really do enjoy my job, even when I have insomnia. I get a lot of joy from being with the kids and working with my colleagues. Teaching is a challenge I adore. But being able to walk away for a few weeks and "recharge" means that I can go back in the fall with the same passion I had when I first started in this profession. The end of one year only means that something new will be waiting for me in September---and that's exciting, too.

06 June 2005

Moving On

A week from now, I will be in genuine Nebraska at the AP Biology Read. This means that in addition to my all-expense paid trip to Lincoln, I get to read essays for 8 hours a day. In fact, I read student responses to the same question for a week. But more on that later.

Since school isn't officially out until next Thursday, I will be missing the last 4 days of school to go and score test booklets. This means that I have until Friday to get my poop in a pile in terms of wrapping up the school year.

Most of this isn't too difficult. Seniors will be gone, so my sub will really just have 2 classes to manage. She and I will e-mail my gradebook back and forth and she can handle a lot of other details.

However, there will be a new teacher in my room next year. We will be hiring him/her in just a couple of weeks. And at some point, this person is going to want to move in and get settled...which means I have to haul out all of my ephemera. I've been using spare moments to pull down things from the walls and box up my books.

The kids are terribly unnerved by this. I'm not sure why. They should have long outgrown the idea that we teachers sleep in our desk drawers. But I keep getting panicked questions about where I'll be next year (they want to know the exact room) and what I'll be doing ("You mean you won't teach Honors Biology next year?!"). My students don't seem to understand that the classroom isn't my personal real estate.

They'll be all right. We'll all keep busy this week and the time will fly by. At least I hope so. After all, I can't wait to get to all those essays on plants waiting in Nebraska!

05 June 2005

Juggling

I'm starting to make some headway on my "to do" list. Next stop? Rearranging next week a bit.

You see, I thought I had things all planned out. My AP kids have been diligently working on a variety of projects of their choice---some of which had a presentation requirement. So, I allotted time this week for the presentations. And wouldn't you know it? In one class, I have 18 of them scheduled between Monday and Thursday (the last day of school for seniors). In the other class: one. One presentation...which leaves me with a whole lotta time to fill. And my sophs? Well, I was going to do an outdoor plant ecology lab with them tomorrow and Tuesday. But it's looking like we'll have rain and cool temps. Neither one is conducive to an outdoor lab. I suppose that I could flip my M/T plan with my W/Th ones...but that creates another problem in terms of getting things graded before my last day on Friday. It just can't be simple, even at the end of the year.

Good thing I'm a fairly good juggler. Even better that this is my last week to have to do so for awhile. :)

04 June 2005

In Search Of...

Motivation.

I'm having a terrible case of "endofyearitis." I don't think a course of antibiotics will do me any good.

This is my last weekend of work for the year. I have projects from my APers to mark...a set of labs from my sophs to correct...and I need to finalize some handouts for a short course I'm teaching later in the month. But it's so hard not to fantasize about next Saturday (and the many Saturdays thereafter) where none of this sort of stuff will be a part of my life.

You'd think that being so close to the finish line would be motivating. (Hey, it's the last time!) But I just can't quite work up the enthusiasm that way.

I'm trying to work a little and play a little today as a way to keep going. The day is passing quickly...the "to do" pile is starting to shrink a bit...and maybe this evening I can change over to just "play."

For now, "play" consists of

03 June 2005

Because It's a Tradition

Traditions are a part of every culture---large or small. They create some "norms" for the group. They include those all important rites of passage. You may anticipate or dread a variety of traditions that you are privy to, but you can't escape them.

Or can you?

Is it possible that some traditions can and should become obsolete?

As we move toward the end of the school year at my school, I have to question some of our "traditions." Yesterday was the "school picnic." A whole day devoted to play. There was an assembly where the gymnastics students performed while the jazz band played. We had a car show, badminton, staff vs. student softball game, barbecue lunch, and more. All of these were fun, but as the years pass, more and more students opt to stay home that day. Why come to school if we're not doing anything? How do you tell parents that their kid can serve detention for not coming to school for a picnic day?

Next week we have a "Moving Up" assembly. This is yet another rah-rah event to glorify the seniors. (Trust me, there are plenty of scheduled events to celebrate their accomplishments.) A couple of teachers speak...some seniors sing or read poetry...somebody will cry on stage...and baby pictures of graduating seniors are shown. At the end, the staff lines up and shakes the hand of every senior while the lower grades "move up" into the seniors' seats. The originator of this tradition has long since left our building...along with most of the enthusiasm for this particular event. This year, only two seniors bothered to try out to do something for this assembly. Why on earth are we still doing it after all these years? Is it enough to say "because it's a tradition"?

Maybe these events just need to have meaning restored to them. But there are few people still working in the building...within the culture...who remember the glory days of these traditions. They certainly aren't interested in being the guardians of them.

I'm not sure how to decide when a tradition has outlived its usefulness...how to ease it gently into that good night. I have watched a larger ongoing debate here about whaling, and society as a whole doesn't seem to have good agreement about these things. Will it be easier as a smaller body...as a school...to do so?

I do know that next year will look different. Not just for me---but for the 1/3 of our population who will be new to the building and have no knowledge or expectations for our traditions. I wonder if there's some way to get them to help us create some new ones.

02 June 2005

What's in a Name?

Talk to any teacher, and I'd bet that s/he will tell you that there are some "bad" names. Names that send a chill up the spine. Names that when seen on your class roster at the beginning of the year make you want to beg the counselor to create a different schedule. And I'm not talking about the last names of kids---I'm talking about their first names.

One of my cohorts recently became an aunt. Her sister had the baby names all picked out...and if the kid was a girl, she would be named "Harley." My friend and her mother (who are both teachers) pleaded with the mom-to-be to use another name. Why? Too many bad experiences with students named "Harley." They just couldn't stand the idea of a family member with that name. (Luck was on their side. The baby was a boy.)

Some interesting research published recently seems to indicate that a student's name does play a role in the classroom in terms of teacher expectations. This Miami Herald article will give you the full details (id: bugmenot[at]123[dot]com; password: june2005). Some highlights include
  • Teachers have lower expectations for students with names like Da'Quan because they assume the parents who choose names with unusual letter combinations and apostrophes are poorly educated. But teachers did not have the same low expectations for siblings with more mainstream names.
  • The research goes beyond distinctly black names. In other papers also on track to being published, it is asserted that girls of all races with feminine-sounding names, such as Rebecca or Elizabeth, are less likely to enroll in high-level math and science classes.
  • Studies have also found 263 ways to spell Caitlin or Katelynn, mostly among white parents. The further away someone gets from the two most common spellings, the more likely the girl is to have trouble reading when she reaches third or fourth grade.

But why? There are all sorts of possibilities and the article does get at some of them. I really think it has a lot to do with the previous experiences of a teacher. If the first "Caitlynn" you have also happens to have some spelling problems, you may assume that Kaitlinn will, too. Did Du'Quan have a mother with little education or income? Maybe Shaniqua will have the same. And those Fry kids? Holy terrors, I tell you. I had two of them...and five more are coming up through the system. Better hope you don't get one of those. Better hope you get a "Phan" instead because all those kids are geniuses.

None of these are reasonable. As teachers, we shouldn't have a bias against a student because of their name---any more than we should for their gender, skin colour, or religious preference. But it's out there and I have certainly been guilty of the "name game." (Even a Science Goddess occasionally has some superstitions.) I think I will be far more aware of it in the future.

One thing I have tried in the last few years is to have students turn in papers with a "code word" at the top, instead of their name. That way, when I mark them, I rarely know which kid wrote a paper. And it's a simple way to remove any expectations I have based on previous performance to a current assignment. (But now I wonder if I have some expectations based on the code word they choose!)

It's unreasonable to expect that every person be able to be unbiased in their approach to all relationships. We're human. We look for patterns and then apply them to try to make sense of the world. But if we can raise our awareness of some of the more unintentional biases (as with names), perhaps we can make a bit more of a difference.

01 June 2005

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes...

The end of a school year brings about a lot of endings...many "lasts"...and many farewells. Obviously, my job is changing next year. My "roommate" out in my portable building is moving to China. Some at our school are lucky enough to be retiring. And today, we got the official word that one of our assistant admins is going to have another position with the district next year. A few of our part-time teachers won't be back as their jobs are "downsized." Soon, we will lose another crop of seniors to the Great Wide World. I'm sure more interesting news about staff and students will happen during the summer holiday and we'll get hit with it in the fall.

My Sweetie has often told me that the only person who welcomes change is a wet baby. He may well be right. I like my ruts just as well as anyone else.

At this time, though, I am welcoming of a change in my life (in terms of my job). And with so many others I know at my building who are moving on for one reason or another, I have been reflecting on whether it is nicer to be with the group who moves on or the one that stays behind. (You can't go home again, right?)

The thing with teaching is that you tend to stay in one place while the world moves up and around you. Kids enter as sophomores...graduate not long after...and before you know it, they're in med school. Or back teaching with you. Or showing off their spouses and babies. Or dying in Iraq. And in the meantime, you're still doing the same thing. It's a Neverland weirder than anything Michael Jackson dreamed up.

I'm curious, after 9 years, what it will be like to be on the "outside." What will happen when I leave Neverland for Central Office-land? What is it like to be one of the ones who moves on?