Monday, September 29, 2008

Some Post-game Thoughts

Final score: Steelers 23-Ravens 20 in overtime.

Penalties always hurt.

Some Halftime Thoughts

I don't usually blog much about sports directly. The occasional baseball post around playoff time (that one's coming soon, I reckon); the once-in-a-while comment on college football or basketball. Not much. But, since I am in the midst of watching the Ravens play the dreaded Steelers on Monday Night Football, I thought I would toss out a few observations here at halftime.

1. After ten years of rotating quarterbacks, it might just be that this team has found a suitable field leader. After two and a half games, it is far too early to tell if Flacco is an All-Pro calibre QB, but it doesn't take much to see that he is better than Kyle Boller, Stoney Case, Chris Redman, and even an aging (not in-his-prime) Steve McNair. A strong arm, and a (so far) lack of mistakes--Baltimore hasn't seen that since...well, maybe John Unitas (apologies to Bert Jones, of course).

2. Willis McGahee is not long for this team. Too many injuries. Is McLain a decent replacement? So far.

3. The defense is playing better than I may have seen since 2006. Even with a decimated secondary, they still look good. Of course, Big Ben hasn't had time to test the D backs much...

The second half is under way. Back to the game!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A Dispatch From Parent-Teacher Night

Here I sit during a lull in the flow of parents to my little card table in the gym. The first hour is over. It’s actually about twenty past five, which is nearly halfway through the night. I have seen eighteen parents—actually, that is not true. It’s more like twenty plus, but the first and at least one other parent/parents neglected to sign in. Of those who did sign in (18), they are equally divided among my three classes.

About two minutes ago, a DECA student (I have no idea what DECA stands for) brought each of the teacher’s a Ziploc baggie with two cookies in it. That was nice, but who can eat when you’re this tense. Yes, tense. Even after twenty positive interactions, I still dread the next one. Not because it might be bad, which it might be, but because it is an interaction…with a stranger…I hate those.

However, here I sit, proud of myself for being “strong”(just after I wrote that word, a parent with a name very similar to that word came to visit me at my little card table in the gym—if you will it, Dude, it is no dream). I was going to make a self-deprecating comment about strength being something a bit more impressive than talking to strangers, especially when there are about 120 other people at their own little card tables in the gym doing the same thing. However, my inner monologue all day, all afternoon, and even now is: “Flee! Flee! Flee!” But, I am not doing that. It is some kind of strength, just not a kind one might be commended for.

In addition to being given cookies (oh, by the way, in the midst of this sentence, a second wave of parents descended—I’m now up to 31, and it’s 6:20), they fed us pizza and pork BBQ for supper. It was not sitting well an hour ago, but it is currently behaving itself.

So, to sum up the festivities so far, I have had about 33 conferences, all of them positive, and my anxiety is waning. However, I remember last year’s “Grandma Assault,” when a student and her mother and grandmother read me up and down about how I was conducting my class, and basically blaming my seating arrangements for the student’s poor performance (after which I switched her seating arrangement, and she did just as poorly—somehow, it seemed to me, the fact that she didn’t hand in her compositions had a greater effect on her grade than where she placed her buttocks). That happened in the closing moments of that term’s conferences. I surely hope that does not happen again. We had another visit a moment ago (up to 34). It’s now 6:36. Twenty four minutes and then I can let go of this “waiting for the other shoe to drop” feeling in my gut.

One more visitor—35. Now it’s 6:41 (they ask us to keep our conferences to 3-5 minutes). The fellow conferencing with the teacher to my right looks like a former business associate of my father’s, right down to the bad toupee and the dyed moustache. That guy (and this guy) reminds me of my high school college algebra teacher. He was not a toupee wearing guy. I have to give him that. But, his Irish red-brown hair and his orange moustache that dangled under his bulbous whiskey-sotted nose, matched with a slight speech impediment, always put me in mind of a defrocked priest. We used to write limericks about his “shining bald pate.” Maybe it was his name, which was about as Irish Catholic as you can get. I never liked him. He was also the JV baseball coach. He and the varsity baseball coach, another bulbous-nosed, moustached fellow (who reminded of a defrocked priest for other, creepier reasons), made my life a roller coaster of struggle and disappointment, in math and on the diamond. They invited me to try out for baseball each year after my freshman year…and they eventually cut me every year. Cruel? Maybe. Maybe they hoped I had improved over each summer…let’s give them the benefit of the doubt, eh?

Why am I writing about this? I guess, since this is autobiographical, in the moment, automatic-type writing, anything is fair game. This is back story, another snapshot in the photo album of my life.

Another visitor—36. It is now 6:55, and the gym is still the site of quite a few parents waiting to conference. I sure hope they make an announcement soon, so that people know that we need to go promptly at 7:00. I got here at 6:30 this morning. That’s a 12 ½ hour day. I get paid for 7 ½, and I’ll never get compensated for that extra five hours.

It is now 6:57. It looks like I am going to make it. I want to detail every last ounce of this conference, so I will write it out until 7. To my left, one of my colleagues is still in conference. It is 6:59. To my right, my colleague is putting away his laptop and getting ready to roll. It is 7:00. Wait for it.


Over the intercom: “Good evening ladies and gentlemen. This concludes parent-teacher conferences….”

As I am packing up my papers to go, a parent introduces herself to me. I have already talked to her husband, but she has a question about her son. I don’t add her to my total, since her husband has signed in already. I answer her questions as helpfully as I can, secretly wishing I could say, “Hey, I know these five minutes don’t seem like much to you, but I’m about spent. Can you email me about this tomorrow?”

It is 7:06. I climb the stairs out of the gym. I climb the stairs to the second floor. I grab my bag, eat one of my cookies, and head for the parking lot. It is 7:11.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

I Don't Even Have Time to Be Doing This, Really

A good friend of mine, whom I have had more than a few mind-blowingly intense and mind-blowingly absurd dialogues, one of which, which took place around a back yard fire somewhere in Minnesota, made its way into a novel that could see the light of day any moment now, used to refer to those busy times at work as being "in the weeds." Well, last week's Devil-may-care attitude has left me in a state somewhat more drastic than that. I feel like referring to it as being "mangled near-roadkill, recently flung by the force of a brutal collision into the weeds growing in a cold, swampy culvert." It feels as pleasant as it sounds.

But, really, this state of work being that I find myself in is not the result of this weekend's road trip wedding festivities alone. It's been brewing for a few weeks. This is by far the hardest year I have had (to this point). Last year was tough, as regular readers will recall, but, I don't think I have worked harder at this job than I am working right now, and my Master's program required me to take 33 graduate credit hours over one academic year and two summers WHILE I was teaching full time. That was hard, but this feels harder. Maybe I am just misremembering how hard the past may have been, but, I don't think so.

I have several theories as to why things are as they are, but I shall not bother with them here. However, one of the factors may be the fact that the district puts so many outside requirements on us. I have a three hour class on Monday nights, I had a two hour workshop last Wednesday, department meeting today, Parent-Teacher meetings tomorrow night. When am I supposed to grade and such? Ah, sorry, I am trying not to complain too much, here.

No matter the density of the "weeds" I may find myself in, Monkey and I still plan on heading south this weekend to visit the old stomping grounds. After all, all work and no play....

Thursday, September 18, 2008

A Pragmatist Prepares to Leave

Monkey and I will be heading due south tomorrow, returning to the scene of the Horse v. Dog Debacle of 2006. My Favorite Berry is getting hitched at the family farm, and we have been invited for the shindig.

It has been a long and grueling week. I feel like I have been behind the eight ball since Monday, and, no matter how hard I worked, I couldn't get out of its shadow. I was at work until 6pm today getting things together for my sub tomorrow, and I feel like I will most likely start Monday feeling about the same way as I ended today. But, being a skilled compartmentalizer, I am going to stick those worries in a box and not open them until Sunday night.

For now, I am going to roll up my Sunday-go-to-meetings in my saddle bag, get a good night's rest, stick my toothbrush in my pocket at first light, and head on down the trail to Indian Territory.

Let the Devil take Monday. I'll deal with it when I get there.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A Shock to the System

Reading the other day of the suicide of 46 year old writer David Foster Wallace took me aback. I've never read any of his novels (although Infinite Jest has been on my mental list for about eight years, now), but I remember being enamored with his essay "Consider the Lobster" when I read it in Gourmet in 2004. It was such a remarkably entertaining piece of writing. In 2005, I found his cover article in The Atlantic, "Host," about political talk radio. The article used footnotes in a visual way that was completely innovative. I began to realize that not only was this guy a good writer, but he was perhaps a writer of the best footnotes I had ever read. His short stories (the few I have read) are the same way, innovative in perspective, and containing some unexpected nuance that makes a reader appreciate not simply the joy of story, but the craft of writing.

And then, I read his book on the history of infinity, Everything and More. And I knew this was a brilliant human being. I had to put him on the side of the table with the other people smarter than me (more and more, this side of the table is growing...ah, for the ignorant cocksurety of youth!). And now, we'll get no more brilliance.

It is a tragedy when someone takes their life. It is a tragedy when a writer whom people admire departs this world. It is a tragedy of the highest order when someone so talented and so bright chooses to leave the rest of us behind.

Rest in peace, Mr. Wallace.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Family's Unowned Boy

It's just a house burning, but it's not haunted.
It was your heart hurting, but not for too long, kid.
--Okkervil River, "Our Life is Not a Movie Or Maybe"

Watching Will Sheff on stage is mesmerizing and sometimes heart-stopping. He careens about onstage during a song's more energetic moments, crouching, kicking, spinning, ricocheting from one side of the stage to the other, curling around his battered acoustic like it is the most important and vulnerable part of himself. Then comes the inevitable moment when he stumbles, his ankles enshrouded by the serpentine cables that he has been carousing amongst, or he lunges for the mic stand to steady himself, only to discover that his hoped-for support is precariously balanced on the apron of the stage. For a slow-motion second, Sheff teeters--it's unclear whether he will stay vertical or not--only to right himself and resume his frantic pin balling. Sheff and Okkervil River always give it their all. This is the heart-stopping.

The mesmerizing comes when this thirty-two year-old man turns a certain way into the spot-light, his eyes closed, his mouth agape, his pale skin glistening with sweat, and his moppy reddish hair tousled around his face, and he looks like the most sincere child you've ever seen. He energetically strums his capoed guitar, and I can't remember if I am watching a performer who collaborates with several bands and has his name attached to recordings (and writings), or if I am standing against the wall of the old RagTag, watching a band of sixteen year-olds on Academy of Rock night. When he steps to the mic and sings, the lyrics make it clear--sometimes. Is he a skilled, mature writer, penning thematically-linked poems set to music about life, loss, love, and longing, or is he a student, addicted to purple prose? Much more often than not, Sheff is the former, but, I couldn't stop thinking last night: he's a boy...he's a man.

A typically robust set last night. Starting with The Stage Names' "A Girl in Port," the bespectacled Sheff and his band mates (including a pair of new additions to this tour (I think)), made their way through songs old and new, leaning heavily on the "mid tempo, mid-volume" side of the catalogue. Several times, the band lowered the volume, only to make it clear to me, in the swell of conversation that filled the crowded Slowdown, that maybe a lot of folks came to see the opening band, Omaha favorites Neva Denova.

The band plowed through the din, and seemed to focus on the attention and adulation they received from those patrons surrounding the stage (that was me down there--house right, behind the two big guys wearing the pork pie hats). Okkervil River has been to Omaha countless times, and it seems that Sheff remembers every one. ("Who saw us at the Junction," he asked. "Who saw us at California Taco? We've been here a million fucking times.") Moreover, it looked like the band was having a great time up there. They always do, but, last night, they seemed particular ebullient.

After shedding his standard black suit jacket (at least, it's become standard, the last couple shows I've seen), his glasses, his tie, and after running through an hour-plus set, and a first encore, the band returned for a second encore. Sheff stood at the mic, now stripped down to a hand-made t-shirt, and launched into the crowd's clear favorite of the night, the second-best American song about killing someone ever written, Don't Fall in Love With Everyone You See's "Westfall." And, as a bizarre trio of kids crowded in front of me and gyrated against each other in the most inappropriate display of enthusiasm I may have ever seen, I watched that mannish-boy up in the lights (and his mates) leave it all out on the stage...again.

Friday, September 12, 2008

I Don't Want A President I Can Relate To

Perhaps the biggest attribute that supporters of the Popular Right side of the presidential spectrum of candidates (of which there are at least a couple dozen) cite in their attraction to the VP nominee is that they can relate to her. She's someone like them. Well, that's just great. One of the oft-spouted comments of support that people cite in support of the current chief executive is that he is someone they can relate to. People seem to love it when their candidate/leader is "just like them" (or at least, their chosen one appears to be). And, of course, the same folks criticize the opposition for not being someone they can relate to, for being an "elitist." As if having the ability to deliver an adequate speech in Standard English makes one an "elitist." What has happened to this country?

How many of our first thirty presidents were folks that people could relate to? Well, judging from history, maybe two, Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln. Jackson, the first "populist" president (in name only), oversaw the brief period in US history when we were debt-free. He also signed the Indian Removal Act and the Treaty of New Echota, which resulted in the deaths of 4000 Cherokee Indians on the Trail of Tears. Lincoln, arguably the greatest US President, wasn't really a "regular guy," even if he chopped a few logs in Kentucky. Regular guys don't have the fortitude of Abe Lincoln, the eloquence, the astute understanding of what historical moments require. Lincoln was clearly extraordinary.

If we look at the other presidents, the twenty-eight "elitists" between Washington and Coolidge, as well as the two after Coolidge, Hoover and Roosevelt, we find several presidents who were remarkable individuals and the right men for the right time. George Washington, James Monroe, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt (don't even try that "regular guy" stuff with Teddy--it doesn't wash), and FDR. All of these men would be considered "elitist" today (except maybe Teddy). But, that is just what a president ought to be.

When I lay my head on my pillow at night, I want to rest easy knowing that my country is being lead by the best and brightest possible person. I don't want a president I would feel comfortable having a beer with. I don't want a president I would invite over for a backyard bar-b-q. I don't want a president (or vice-president) I could go skeet shooting with. I don't want a president I make fun of when he/she talks. I don't want to see someone who reminds me of me when I watch the State of the Union address. I don't want a president I can relate to.

I want a president intelligent and empathic enough to relate to me. I want a president smarter than I. I want a president stronger than I. I want a president more astute, communicative, and virtuous than I. I want a president I can be proud of. I want an elitist.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Preaching to the Converted

If I held you up to fire I would see a reddish frame
Of rust around your soul's transparency
And you, you with your beauty
And I with my spleen
I'll hitchhike to your bonfire
In my suit of gasoline.
--Centro-Matic, "The Fugitives Have Won"

It's been a long time since the Monkey and I have ventured out on a school night to catch a show. It's been a longer time since we've trooped farther than fifteen minutes to see such a show. But, last night was an opportunity not to be missed. Unfortunately, only about fifty other people seemed to agree with me, and most of them had a far shorter distance to travel than Monkey or I.

The show, Centro-Matic with The Broken West, was a bargain. Eight-fifty. That was a pleasant surprise. We got to Slowdown at about a quarter after nine, and when we walked in, we were met with a pair of other surprises.

First, the floor of the hall was shut off by a large partition, just like it was when I'd been there for the Jens Lekman show a few months back. The difference this time was that no one was doing a sound check behind the panels. Tonight, as we passed through the doors, Centro-Matic's alter ego, South San Gabriel was in the midst of a laid back set of their own music. I knew they have toured this way, opening up with some SSG tunes before the opening act, but, I didn't expect them to be starting at 9pm. Judging by the length of their set, we probably only missed about half of a song. They played a pair of tunes from The Carlton Chronicles and several more that I did not recognize, all from the comfort of their chairs.

Second, there were about forty people in the bar. That was it. It was like being in somebody's basement. In that way, it was kind of cool, but, I was surprised at the low turn out, Wednesday night, or not.

After SSG, a trio, Mal Madrigal took the tiny corner stage for a half dozen classical/European influenced folk-y tunes (yawn). They were followed by The Broken West, a band that impressed me, and put me in mind of several other bands.

I have this bad habit, sometimes, of talking about bands through the medium of other bands. I always say a certain music sounds like this, or reminds me of that. It's a useful and legitimate manner of description, and it gives me a frame of reference, but, in the end, it is a thoroughly unoriginal way to describe a band. But, guess what? I kept at it last night.

The Broken West made me miss Lloyd Cole and the Commotions. They made me think of The Alarm. They have strong pop sensibilities, and I liked it. As a matter of fact, I like it much more live, as, like a wine connoisseur, I sniffed their riffs and melodies and scented strains of Arcade Fire with hints of White Rabbits, then I have ever liked any of their recordings. Go figure.

Lastly, just after Wednesday became Thursday, Will Johnson and the boys took the stage. I leaned over to Monkey in our booth (yes, it was that uncrowded (maybe 70 by the time it was headliner time) that Monkey and I got one of four booths) and remarked how each of the four bands had hardly any commonalities in style. SSG is low-key, pedal steel and electric acoustic, kind of atmospheric. Mal Madrigal, well, that was sort of a curious Joan Baez meets Django Rheinhardt kind of thing (maybe?), The Broken West we've covered. And Centro-Matic is different from, but in the finest tradition of anything ever to grace the pages of No Depression.

But, as is my wont, I digress. C-M played a solid hour set, spanning most of their recordings. Johnson's sometimes obscure, often realistic, and occasionally disgusted lyrics seemed to be well-received by the crowd. Of course, this is no surprise, since this is the band they came to see, I imagine. Highlights included "Infernoesque Grande," "Calling Thermatico," "Supercar," and "Argonne Limit Co." The band were on top of their game (they traded instruments back and forth a few times), polite (Will referred to all in attendance as "good friends"), and the sound was awesome in the shrunken space. I just wonder how the climate might have been improved by a greater turn out, some uninitiated, who may have been turned on to the stark images and melodious anger of one of the finest songwriters working today.

We stumbled out into the dawn, as the band unplugged amps and wound cables, and, after a few brushes with nodding off arrived home at about 2:30 am. Right about now, I am running on fumes after a hair over three hours of sleep last night, so...good night, all!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Stuck in the Middle

Wednesday. Hump Day. The day of the week that signals the sparkle on the calendar's horizon of a new and glorious weekend. Friday afternoon is in sight, with its promise of rest, relaxation, and the ever-present household chores. It's a day of hope; it's a day of promise. For Monkey and I, it signals a first mile post in a marathon week of events.

Tonight, we are heading to Omaha to see Centro-Matic and Broken West. Expect a full report. I am expecting Will Johnson and Co. to put on an awesome show.

Friday brings a momentous occasion, as Monkey and I celebrate our tenth anniversary! Big plans have yet to be finalized, but, we won't be traveling to KC this year. Something more "in the vicinity," we think. I already know what I am getting her, I just don't know how to deliver it.

Saturday, Will Scheff and Okkervil River come to town, touting their brand-spanking new album (released yesterday), The Stand-Ins. The review in the Times mentioned that the tracks had been recorded at the same time as OR's last album, The Stage Names. And, they gave it a good nod. Okkervil River has never disappointed, from The Blue Note to The Waiting Room. I expect the same from them at Slowdown.

And, yes, expect a full report on Sunday.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Sports Conspiracy Theories

According to ESPN, Patriots (I hatriot the Patriots) quarterback Tom Brady will undergo season-ending surgery after a low tackle by Kansas City's Bernard Pollard tore Brady's knee ligaments in the early going of Sunday's game in Foxboro. This is bad news for Patriots (I hatriot the Patriots) fans. But, hope is still alive.

Before I continue, a disclaimer: if you haven't figured it out yet, I am NOT a fan of the New England Patriots. I have loathed them since Steve Grogan retired. After that, they provoked my further ire when they changed their uniforms from the AFL beauty of red, white, and blue to the current (and inexplicable) blue, red, SILVER, and white. What is that, some nod to Paul Revere (he was a silversmith)? At the same time, they ditched the straightforward, totally bad-ass Pat Patriot logo on the side of their white helmets for the "modern," streaking colonial head on the sparkly SILVER (again!) helmet. Unbelievable.

Granted, having never lived anywhere near New England, I was never a huge fan of the Pats, but, after they defiled what I thought was one of the more classic uniforms of the former AFL, my attitude turned to one of outright loathing. And then, along came Tom Brady.

A great quarterback? No doubt, but his pretty boy looks, his reincarnation-of-Broadway-Joe-Namath lifestyle, his willy-nilly impregnation of super models, and his employment by the Patriots all add up to my negative attitude toward him.

That being said, I wish him no ill will. I am sorry to see any athlete get injured. Well, except Albert Belle, but that's a story for a different time. However, I don't think we have to worry a whit, or shed one tear for Golden Tom or his SILVER (I still don't get it) Patriots. For Bill "Snidely Whiplash" Belichick clearly has an ace up his sleeve.

His announcement that Brady is done for the year rings untrue to me. After all, this guy is known to put his whole team in the "Questionable" column of the required weekly injury report. Add to that some potential cheating here and there, and I smell a conspiracy.

At halftime of this Sunday's game, with the Brett Favre-led J-E-T-S JETSJETSJETS! (and we won't even begin to address that circus) up on the SILVER (why?) Patriots 17-3, Brady will jog onto the field and eventually lead his team to a rousing victory with a last second forty-yard pass to Randy Moss. The media will go wild! Front-runners everywhere will rejoice at the return of the cover-model quarterback! And Belichick and the rest of his loathsome SILVER (I'm shrugging over here)-clad minions will snigger in their locker room, as they show the world once again that they are calling the shots.

Mark my words, man. It's gonna happen.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Science is Fun!

Recent discoveries have shed new light on the origins of “humans” who settled the Americas. A skeleton believed to be more than 13,000 years old was found, along with three others, in an underwater cave off the western coast of Mexico. The discovery is sending archaeologists back to the drawing board, trying to develop a new theory of how the North and South American continents were settled. Now-rickety theories once included the belief that humans from northern Asia crossed a temporary land bridge across the Bering Sea. However, the age and location of these remains, the shape of the ancient skull, and the presence of fish-like appendages on the skeletons now lead scientists to believe that the Americas were populated by creatures similar to that found in the Black Lagoon, who crossed under the sea on a long, arduous journey that began somewhere near what is now Java. The aquatic humanoids island hopped their way across the South Pacific, eventually landing near Cancun, where they immediately began work on a resort hotel.

In related news, fossils of Siberian wooly mammoths have been found to possess strong genetic links to North American wooly mammoths. Wooly mammoth scientists now suggest that the mammoths originated in North America and crossed over to Siberia via the aforementioned land bridge. Such evidence clearly supports the new theory that the Americas was not populated by humans who crossed over the land bridge, since, I imagine, they would have been trampled by the herds of, well, mammoth wooly mammoths coming the other way. Or, were they not trampled, they most surely would have been gored by the mammoths' extremely long tusks. Most importantly, however, this new discovery demonstrates population dynamics in action, since, about 3,000 years after the arrival of the carnivorous, resort-building aquatic humanoids in the Americas, wooly mammoths began evacuating the North American continent in droves.

It is obvious to this amateur scientist that the mammoths were driven off the continent by one of two factors. Either the aquatic humanoids pursued the mammoths for meat to the point where the creatures had no choice but to leave, or the resorts that the humanoids were building began to encroach on the mammoths' natural habitat, and they were forced to seek out new wind-whipped, snow-covered, blizzard-ravaged lands.

One other ancient question that these new discoveries answer: what happened to the land bridge? Most likely, the sheer weight of all those mammoths caused the land bridge to slowly sink into the cold Bering Sea, probably taking thousands of mammoths with them, but leaving huge deposits of petroleum that the Republicans would love to drill, baby, drill.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Miley Cyrus, You Put A Helmet On, Right Now!

Okay, people, I am no Tim Gunn. I have no real sense of what others should or should not be wearing, although I do really like what seems to be his mantra, "Make it work." These are truly words for all of us to live by. However, I don't know about his recent appraisal of Katie Holmes (sad, sad story) or Miley Cyrus.

One thing I do know: one should always try to be as safe as possible when riding a bike. Monkey will tell you that I don't always practice that "safety first" mantra when driving a car. I've been known to clock a few miles with no bandolier to keep my melon off the windshield--stupid me! But, with a few unavoidable exceptions, since I was old enough to know better, I've biked exclusively helmeted. Too many cars and drivers who think they are better drivers than they are make for the always present possibility of having your body thrown from your bike and your cabasa making high-speed contact with the asphalt. No thank you.

So, while I find it admirable that Miley and the Cyrus clan seem to enjoy a pedal around the sunny streets of whatever entertainment paradise they live in, I think she ought to set a better example by wearing a helmet.

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "What the hell has happened to ol' ATR? What's with this obsession with Miley Cyrus?" Well, calm down. It's no obsession. It's just a coincidence that two unrelated news items made it into my Google reader on the same day. Or, at least, I read them on the same day.

But, enough with Hannah Montana. The NY Times says James and Kirk and Lars (and Robert) are coming back from the artistically dead to kick all of our asses...80s style.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Labor: Today, Yesterday, Tomorrow

Labor Day traditionally marked the last day of summer break for our nation's younguns. Many folks claim that the duration of summer break originated due to the need for children to be at home to work on the family farm. This may just be a rural myth. But, myth or no, it seems that the start of school is creeping inexorably into the month of August in many districts. On this Labor Day, I find myself enjoying a three-day weekend after a week and a half of classes (and two and a half weeks of contract days).

So, what has our first full week wrought? Well, for starters, I think I have some good classes. Academically, they seem average or below, but, behaviorally, they seem to be on the ball. I can work with that. I wonder, however, about the strengths that my students possess. I have a range of kids, like always, from those who struggle to put two sentences together, to those who, by virtue of the class they registered for, are capable of (or willing to try) thinking in an analytically and critically advanced manner. So far, the sentence-level challenged are performing up to their previously-demonstrated abilities. The "advanced" students, on the other hand, aren't showing me a whole lot.

In other districts, I have had the pleasure to work with the same range of students. I know that some of the more academically challenged kids are doing the best they can, and that some of them may make great strides this term, given the right combination of challenge and support. But, I am concerned that maybe my more advanced students aren't as advanced as I wish them to be (or--more troubling--aren't as advanced as they think they are). After all, they should be preparing for AP classes in their future, but, except for one or two of them (so far), I don't see that happening. But, that being the case, and, in a similar vein to any student, given the right combination of challenge and support, they may make great strides this term. Perhaps some of the kids at that other school where I used to teach just spoiled me.

Whatever the case may be, I hope to grow this year, as I hope for every year, into a better teacher, a better colleague, and a better person. And, with the right combination of challenge and support, I may make great strides!