Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Maybe he was listening to me after all...

Guess what my boy wants to be for Halloween?

"A bloody man!"

Saturday, October 25, 2008

On Knitting and the Meaning of Life

I've been knitting a lot. There's still a sleeve and a half, plus a button band, to go on the Purple Cardigan that Would Not End, but I finished a pair of mittens today (Christmas knitting) for someone who shall not be named, and downloaded the pattern for the Yarn Harlot's Unordinary Hat, just in case. There's also the pretty cashmere hat for the baby who was born far too soon, and the lovely scarf in the wave pattern (the yarnovers of doom) which will surely end sooner or later.

"But why, dear, are you knitting so much?" I can hear you all asking. "What is driving you to this frenzy of yarnitude?"

I'm so glad you asked.

It's all because of that dude I worked with a couple of years ago, who I shall call Joe.

One day at lunch, Joe and I were discussing teachering, and writing, and reading, and fun stuff like that (he was a poet; I kid you not). Then he said these words:

"My grade 11 English teacher changed my life."

This is why I am knitting. Because I want, with all my soul, to be the teacher who changes some kid's life. I want one of my kids, my adolescent, crazy, silly, wonderful students, who howl with mirth when they hear the word "abutment," to look back and say "I am who I am today because of her."

But part of my first year teaching includes an evaluation process, which has just begun, and which is scaring me half to death. Not because I'm doing anything awful in my class (we do human sacrifices in the second semester) or because my principal is evil (he is, in fact, so good at his job that I think he should be cloned for the betterment of the human race) but because I want so badly to be someone who is good at this teaching gig, who changes the course of a student's life, that I can't bear to think that a person I respect very much indeed will be looking at my teaching and saying "hmmmmm.... well, I guess she's got some potential."

Knitting is easy compared to this. Knitting is a couple of stitches, a bit of yarn, the right-sized needles and the ability to read. Knitting is something that you can screw up six ways from Sunday and still end up with a product that is vaguely useful. Your sweater will not say to you "I hate English because of you." The mittens that you knit will not inflict third-degree burns on their wearers, or force them to despise poetry for the rest of their days. That scarf will never remember the hurtful remark you made without even thinking; the cardigan will not ever want to burn you in effigy.

Worst case scenario? If you screw up your knitting, you rip it back and start again.

I'm knitting up a storm this weekend because knitting is easy. But teaching? Teaching is hard.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Because I would hate to keep you in suspense.

The conference was very good -- it was in fact offered by the union and not the board, so the jargon (while still present) was a whole new kind. It was sort of refreshing, to have some new jargon.

So I hung out with my colleague (who kept a handout for me from the Saturday session, bless her heart) and met up with some people from teacher school and learned about a dozen new things and generally had a chance to sit and be talked to.

A good time was had by all.

Also, I thought I would tell you that when I become a hermit (not IF, but WHEN), this is where I am going to do it:

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The view a year later

I wrote this last year when I was just starting my practicum: it seems somehow oddly applicable here.

September 21, 2007

I have these dreams. I wake up (last time it was 3:17 am) in a literal cold sweat, thinking about teaching. I dream that I’m in front of a class and I can’t get their attention. I dream that the big kid in the back is threatening me and there’s not a damn thing I can do about it. I dream that my students fail, miserably, because I told them the wrong thing. I remember that someone very important to me said they wouldn’t be surprised if I’m one of those teachers who burn out in the first five years. I think of the thousands of dollars I have to repay in student loans, I think that my training as a writer and editor means I’m essentially unemployable, I think that I’ve spent the best earning years of my life, the time I should have spent solidifying my career, farting around in art school and then learning how to teach when I have no business being in a school.

I think of the horror stories I’ve heard about how hard the first year is. I think of how hard I’ve been working this week, just coming up with one unit plan for one class. I remember that I snapped at my son the other day because he was chattering about something while I was trying to figure out how I would grade this short story critique. I remember the bottle of Pepto-Bismol, which I now keep in the kitchen for easy access, and how the level has gone down in the last few days, even though I’m still scalding with heartburn in the middle of the night.

Someone refered to the thoughts we have in the middle of the night as 3 AM psychosis. It doesn’t feel psychotic at three in the morning, it feels real. (I try to remember those nights when I nursed my baby, and the grand plans and crazy fears that assailed me then. It seems very far away.)

But eventually I get back to sleep, and soon it’s morning. I make sure everyone has what they need (breakfast eaten, teeth brushed, lunches packed according to preference and facilities available, dog has been out and come back in, dog’s water dish is full, beds are made, we are all appropriately attired and well-shod, the boy’s agenda has been checked, library books are tucked in the bag, I have the books and materials I need, wallet, sunglasses, keys) and off I go.

And here’s the funny part. I walk in the front door of the school and I smell that school smell (floor polish, dust, books, eau de Adolescence, feet, Essence of Large Public Building) and get into the classroom and a kid comes up to me as soon as I’ve put my bag down and asks me a question about how to write a thesis statement and I think:

Oh. It’s alright then, after all. It was just a dream.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Comment is Free

I am going to a conference tomorrow; one for new teachers. I'm pretty excited, because it's supposed to be good, but it runs Thursday night (that's, oh, right now) all day Friday and most of Saturday. I'm signed up for it, but I'm only going to the sessions tomorrow.

I say that because I was in the staff room at lunch (first time in a couple of weeks, as a reward for fighting my way out of a pile of marking) and another teacher told me she was going too. She's going to attend every single moment of the damn thing, and she was horrified when I told her that I'm only going tomorrow.

"Why aren't you going to all three days?" she asked. "Can you do that? Is it allowed?"

And I'll tell you, people, I got mighty defensive very quickly. (I blame the marking, actually, I wasn't seeing straight.)

So HERE'S WHY, if you're interested:
My boy has spent upwards of 12 hours a day away from me this week. He's started to mix up my name with his babysitter's. (I love his babysitter and I'm glad that he does too, but really. It's the principle of the thing). (Also, I just typed "principal" in there. I think I need a break.)
The conference is in the deepest darkest northeast, and I live quite substantially south west. I'll drive there and back once, but not three times.
I have given ENOUGH of myself to my job lately and I need some time that is not related to teaching. Perhaps I need to spend some more time knitting.
A large part of my professional life has been given over to attending conferences (ask me to tell about the funeral service ones some day) and I have a pretty good idea of what I'll be missing on Saturday.
And, finally, my board has a great fondness for jargon, as all large organizations do. (I am going to count the number of times I hear the word "diversity" tomorrow.) As a writer, I don't have a lot of time for jargon, and I anticipate hitting my tolerance limit quite quickly.

So there.

In other news, I have changed the "comments" thing on this blog so that anyone who is so inclined can comment. Just watch your apostrophes, people.

Also, I am reading a young adult novel with the best title EVER: "I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You." Heh.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Sunday, October 12, 2008

After a brief delay...

Back to the book list.

I’ve been neglecting this a bit due to the pressures of a new job, etc., but I’m still reading as much as I can. (Did I mention that the town library is only one block from me? Last week my friend C. saw the boy and I (and the dog) taking a walk. She was sure that something was wrong, because we were heading away from the library.)

I’m up to book #160, "Saving Francesca" by Melina Marchetta.

There’s a couple of great things about this book. First of all, it’s Australian, and Australian literature is something about which I am woefully ignorant. (Why is that? I’m up to date on Canadian lit and British lit and even mostly au courant about American lit, but the Aussies have completely slipped under my radar. Weird.) The second great thing about this book is that it’s by the lady who wrote “Looking for Alibrandi.” That was a wonderful book about a teenaged girl who suddenly meets her father and has to form a completely new relationship with him…. I loved it. (I loved it so much that I kept it, even though it belongs to my mother. Thanks, mom!) I saw "Saving Francesca" in the school library the other day and snatched it up, hoping it would be good… I was not disappointed, the book was wonderful.

It’s about a girl (Francesca, obviously) whose dynamic, strong willed, opinionated, successful mother one day stops getting out of bed. She has slipped into a serious depression just as Francesca starts a new year at a different school: one that was, until the arrival of her and her classmates, a boy’s school.

Marchetta did a fabulous job of the first person narrative. First person is tricky because you’re trying to do two things at once: tell the story of the person who is the main character, while at the same time telling the reader what is really happening. At its best it’s about a narrator who is either reliable (you trust that what they say is true) or unreliable (you know that they are telling the story as they believe it to be, not as it necessarily is). At its worst, first person is irritating and self reflective and doesn’t work. Francesca is one of those narrators who begins as unreliable (but as the reader, you always begin by believing the narrator) and who gradually begins to understand what is really going on.

Another reason why I loved this book is because the author is a teacher, and she knows her kids. You can always tell an author who is writing about youth but hasn’t had enough exposure to them to be able to tell the truth. Adolescence is brutal, and the best thing you can say about it is that it doesn’t last. Marchetta understands that, and gives her readers hope that they just might make it through, too.

I read a lot. (You already know that.) One of the reasons I read so much is in hope of a book like this: one that makes me love reading all over again.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008


The other day in one of my ESL classes we had a conversation about things you really shouldn't say. (Conversations like this are one of many reasons why I love teaching ESL.) One of my students had been using the expression "Holy crap!" a lot, and I told him a couple of times that it really isn't appropriate to say in school. He asked if "holy cow!" was better and I agreed that yes, it was an improvement.

Here's the hitch, though: every time he wants to express astonishment (or pain, or horror, or excitement) he doesn't yell out "crap!" any more: now he says "cow!"

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


Yesterday we were reading a short story in my grade 7 English class. The story included the word "hoarfrost" which had the students in absolute hysterics (as did the line in the next paragraph that mentioned a character had slept at the neighbours').

I almost said "what are you, TWELVE?" when I realized that yes, actually, they ARE twelve.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Be afraid.

So the other day my grade 7 English class had to talk about superstitions. All the usual ones came out (and a couple of unusual ones -- did you know that in Denmark on Halloween, they hide all the brooms so that witches can't come along and steal them? Cool) and then the students had to draw a picture of their favourite superstition.

One student came up with an elegantly rendered picture of a hat: it was black, possibly a fedora, with a lovely little flower on the side.

"What is that?" I asked, unsure if I'd ever heard the superstition about fedoras. My poor student looked confused.

"We just talked about it, teacher," he said. "If it crosses your path you get bad luck -- it's a black hat!"

I could not make this stuff up.