Professor Hargrave surprised me tonight with a belt test. I’d had a sneaking suspicion he might do something like that, so I got out the manual and reviewed the vocabulary and stuff this afternoon before class. Rather than test us individually, he just had the whole class take turns demonstrating our basics, asked a few questions, and then upgraded the two white belts (a math teacher from Sapulpa and me) to yellow. It was kind of awesome not to know I was being tested until it was over.

I should do that to my kids sometime. Bet I’d get better class participation that way….

As soon as Ryno’s boys finish the first half of their doubleheader against ‘Burque, Ron is taking me out for frozen custard to celebrate.



Many apologies for utterly failing to keep up this blog. Work is eating my life. (Well, OK … work plus obsessively scouring various and sundry baseball Web sites for any scrap of information or unsubstantiated rumor that might suggest which way the wind is blowing in the front office at Wrigley.)

By way of catching up, let’s hit some highlights by category:

1. Baseball: This has to be the strangest season ever for me as a baseball fan. I know the Cubs have sucked all year, but with Quade auditioning for Piniella’s old job, now is not the time for them to right the ship. If they can keep stinking it up for a few more games, there will be one less contender for Sandberg to fend off. Meanwhile, if the I-Cubs win their division (which they are currently leading by a half-game) and kick some butt in the playoffs, that will pad Ryno’s resume and make it harder for Hendry to blow him off … and, of course, another World Series ring for the Yankees would keep Girardi in New York where he belongs, which means I have, in recent weeks, found myself uttering a most distasteful phrase: “Go, Yanks!” Strange days, indeed. Most peculiar, Mama.

2. School: We finally got the End-of-Instruction test results back. I had a 79 percent pass rate, which means my kids not only made Adequate Yearly Progress under No Consultant Child Left Behind, but they met state standards. I’m hoping my Algebra I kids post similarly impressive results next spring. English II is fun, but I’m getting a little bored with it and wouldn’t mind switching to a full-time math gig.

3. Route 66: We went to the Will Rogers Memorial Rodeo last night in Vinita. It was pretty good, although I am pretty sure it sucks to be a calf. This time next week, I will be in Tucumcari. Do I need to tell you how happy that makes me? Two weeks from now, I will be standing on top of a scaffold, repainting the Lincoln Motel sign in Chandler.

Hope your weekend was good.


Highlights du jour

1. Teachers are not supposed to have favorite students … but when you’re a rookie algebra teacher who doesn’t have a class set of calculators yet, how can you not love a bright kid who shows up wearing a calculator watch like that one your mom wouldn’t buy you in the ’80s?

2. Speaking of algebra, I straight-up RAWKED today. I took a piece of information from a Target cup and asked the kids to come up with a math-related question about it, then explain the steps they would take to answer their questions. Some of the kids kind of locked up like they were totally freaked out by the prospect of having to create their own problems, but once a few of them gave examples, which we worked at the board, the others started to catch on. It was totally BITCHIN’.

3. Six of my seven classes now understand what “wax on, wax off” means. Most of them also understand analogy, conflict, and characterization. I love you, Pat Morita.

4. There is nothing better than having former students rush up and give you a hug while you’re pulling hall duty.

5. Except maybe having a former student ask you if you’ll help him start a campaign to get the government to cut the defense budget and use it to hire more teachers. Methinks that activism unit last spring created a monster!

6. Advisory period = awesome. Even if it ends up being a total waste of time, there is something to be said for letting a bunch of kids sit around and shoot the bull with a grownup for half an hour without having to worry about a grade.

7. Honors students are funny as hell. I knew that, but then I forgot.


Back to school

The kids came back to class yesterday. I’ve got a couple of would-be troublemakers who haven’t quite mastered the concept of pack order and will probably have to be Alpha-rolled as a matter of course, but overall, I think I’ve got a pretty agreeable bunch this year, despite some issues with overcrowding.

I have all the sophomores again this year, which is great. I love getting to know an entire class at once. It’s been pretty great to see some of my former students, too. Several have come back to say hello.

I’m looking forward to getting through the first couple of weeks so we can settle into a routine and get into the lesson plans I really enjoy teaching.


You’ve got to be kidding me.

So we went to the Evil Empire (Wal-Mart) this afternoon to buy oil for Ron’s car (for some reason, nobody else carries the weight he needs for his Insight), and while we were there, I decided to pick up some baseball cards to use with my Algebra I kids. You can pull a LOT of algebra problems out of a baseball card.

Or, at least, you could when I was a kid. Apparently those days are over.

When did it become OK to sell baseball cards without any stats on the back? Seriously: I bought a box containing nine packs of Upper Deck “Baseball Heroes” cards, and not one of them gave the player’s stats. For example, Ozzie Smith’s card tells us only that he earned 13 consecutive Gold Gloves between 1980 and 1992. Nice work, and you’ve got to respect the Wizard, but seriously: What was his fielding percentage? OBP? RBIs? Batting average? Slugging percentage? Bueller? … Bueller?

While we’re on the subject, when did it become OK to sell baseball cards five to a pack? Didn’t they used to come in packs of 10? And where the hell is my bubblegum? As my mother used to say: “I have lived too long.”

You kids get off my lawn — and don’t come back until you know the Red Baron’s lifetime ERA.


Ups and downs

Today did not begin well, but it ended well.

I started my morning with the faculty meeting from hell: Two and a half hours’ worth of talking to explain about 15 minutes’ worth of information. Yecch.

After a rather disappointing lunch (Starbucks was out of scones, the pound cake tasted like lemon Pledge, and I burned my tongue on my cappuccino), I battled through midtown traffic and a thoroughly jacked-up construction zone to get to another meeting, where the presenter spent an hour and a half telling us that math is important (because a roomful of math teachers probably can’t figure that out on their own) and taking gratuitous swipes at math teachers who hold degrees in other subjects.

I would like the record to show that I did NOT stand up and say, “Listen, Bucko: I’ll see your integral of f(x) from negative one to eight and raise you an in-depth analysis of the tension surrounding issues of racial and sexual identity in Faulkner’s Light in August. Mad props to you for finding the limit of my patience with arrogant, overpaid Powerpoint jockeys as X approaches 4, given that X equals the end of my contractual obligations for today.”

That was big of me, don’t you think?

On the up side, Ron and I went to the Drillers game tonight and watched the guys beat the Midland Rockhounds 10-4. It was a pretty sweet performance that included two absolutely beautiful double plays and one of the most graceful slides I’ve ever seen.

My classroom still isn’t quite where I wanted it to be by this point in the year, but I think I’ll be more or less ready by the time class starts Monday. If a few minor details aren’t quite in place, I’ll improvise.


Slow start

Nine hours and fifteen minutes from the first faculty meeting of a new school year, I still feel a little behind and a little overwhelmed by the prospect of beginning another semester, but I’m slowly catching up, and I’m slowly starting to get my energy back after an exhausting summer that ended on a pretty but weirdly introspective note.

A visit from several former students today at school helped nudge me back toward my old self. I’ve finally finished writing the syllabus for Algebra I, which turned out to be easier than I expected, and my department chair gave me her English II Pre-AP course syllabus, which I modified and blended with the one I use for the regular English II classes.

Swayze gave me some welcome news today: On their End-of-Instruction tests this spring, my kids didn’t just make Safe Harbor (a status that basically means you suck less this year than you did last year and helps get the government off your back); they actually met the state standards, which is a major leap from where we were when I started teaching again two years ago.

I’m proud of my kids, and I’m glad my boss is happy with me, but I still contend that the metric used to determine “progress” under No Child Left Behind (or as one astute former student called it, “No Child Left a Dime”) is bunk.

Claiming credit for improvement based on the fact that one group of students posted higher test scores than the previous group of students seems rather disingenuous; that would be like saying Lou Piniella had “improved” this year because Alfonso Soriano is batting .260 this season, while Carlos Zambrano batted .217 in 2009. You can’t measure improvement by comparing the performance of two different people (or two different groups of people) in consecutive years. You have to look at where each individual or group started and ended; otherwise, your stats will not yield any legitimate conclusions.

(Heh. I must really be into this cross-curricular thing, because I just managed to cram P.E., civics, and math into a single rant. Go, me!)


Every little thing

As my decidedly less-than-relaxing summer limps through mountains of freshly applied fertilizer toward its inevitable — and unceremonious — conclusion, I am clinging for all I am worth to this bit of wisdom from Bob Marley:

I’d love to go into the metaphysics of Marley tonight, and I have some reflections on my trip home that I’d like to share, but they will have to wait, as I need to watch a movie, write a course syllabus, check in with Sierra to find out what’s happening in Coldwater tonight, and put together my first week’s lesson plans before I sleep.

I’ll try to come up with something meaningful to say tomorrow. In the meantime, enjoy the song. I owe you several Folk Thursdays anyway. This should clear part of the backlog.


Home run

I’m heading to Southern Illinois first thing tomorrow morning. I’d initially planned to make one last New Mexico trip before school starts, just to get my Tucumcari fix, but then something unexpected happened: I felt a vague pang of homesickness for Southern Illinois.

That’s never happened before. Not once since I moved have I actually missed my home area.

I never felt really comfortable in Southern Illinois. Grew up there, spent the better end of 30 years of my life there, but never felt like I really fit in there. Oklahoma, on the other hand, felt like home from the minute I arrived.

Then I had my brush with fame at the ballpark last week, and I came back to Tulsa bubbling over with excitement, telling everybody who’d listen about how I’d met Ryne Sandberg … to which they replied: “Who’s Ryne Sandberg?”

For the first time in my life, I caught myself starting a sentence with: “Where I grew up…” and for the first time in my life, I caught myself feeling just a little bit smug about where I grew up.

For the first time in my life, I was proud to say that I come from Herrin, Illinois, where we grew up listening to Harry Caray on WGN or Jack Buck on KMOX. I come from Herrin, where the high-school softball team went to state so many times that the boys finally had to stop saying, “You play ball like a girl!” for fear it would be mistaken for a compliment. I come from Herrin, where for the latter half of the ’80s and well into the ’90s, you could not drive two blocks without passing a handmade plywood cutout advertising the owner’s baseball allegiance. I come from Herrin, where we damn well know who Ryne Sandberg is and aren’t likely to forget him — or anybody else from the 1989 Cubs’ starting lineup — anytime soon.

I come from Herrin, and tomorrow morning, I will rise with the dawn, get in my car, and drive back to Herrin to spend a few days looking at my hometown with fresh eyes.

Maybe I’ll play a little catch with my goddaughter and her older sister. Maybe teach Jamie where his strike zone is. Maybe rent “Field of Dreams” and watch it with Daddy and try not to cry. Maybe go out to the ballpark and run the bases when nobody’s looking.

Maybe slide headfirst into home.


Jogging and cruising

What a great way to spend a Saturday. My friend Jackie and I ran the Route 66 Quarter Marathon together this morning. It was her first race, so she had to get used to the minutiae: packet pick-up, timing chip, bib, starting line procedures, pacing, water stops, etc., etc., etc.

It’s funny: When I run by myself, I don’t think about what I’m doing. I just run. But running with Jackie, in this role as the informal coach/trainer/whatever, I felt responsible for her. I wanted her first race to be as good an experience as possible. So I thought about what we were doing, and I put together what ended up being one of the easiest and most pleasant runs I’ve ever had. We jogged very slowly. We took frequent walk breaks. We pushed past walk breaks I didn’t think we needed. We attacked the steepest hill in the race — an overpass about half a mile from the finish line — just to make sure we weren’t intimidated by hills. We even had enough energy at the end to finish with a good kick. It was great.

The only disappointment of the day was the lack of finishers’ medals at the end. We’ll get ours eventually, but they’ll have to be mailed, and I’d really been hoping Jackie would get to collect her medal at the finish line.

Oh, well. It was still a great run. We’ll ratchet up the mileage a little bit next week and see how it goes.

After the race, Ron and I cruised Route 66 to Clinton for dinner at White Dog Hill, with a stop at the Okie Twist-Off at the 66 Bowl in OKC, where we ran into an old friend from Texas.

Hope your Saturday was as nice as mine.