Thursday, March 30, 2006

Tried to get into Jeopardy tonight.


To Whom It May Concern:

My name is Matt Butcher. I am the junior high writing
teacher here in Nome, Alaska. I am concerned over the
state of parent-teacher conferences and would like to
write an article about the effectiveness of
student-led conferences.

I just came out of conferences that were not
student-led. The previous two years down in Bremerton,
Washington, I went through the benefits of student-led
conferences. Since I was thinking about compiling
information together to submit to my school board, I
would like to do an actual article for your fantastic
magazine regarding this concept.

Please let me know if this is a viable option. If
there are any requirements for submissions, please let
me know. Diane Demée-Benoit at the Spiral Notebook
site asked me to submit this idea to you.

Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to
hearing from you.

Matt Butcher

Matt Butcher

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Wednesday, March 29, 2006


I just got invited to write reviews of older comics at Paradox Reviews by site editor Chris Partin. My grand scheme lately was to go back and review my 80s-90s Justice League comics and see how they impacted the DC Universe of today.

He liked my qualifications and brief submission and wants to see more. "Sounds like you've got the qualifications to really be a strong addition to the site. Consider this email your invitation to join the site."
I am going to start with Crisis on Infinite Earths from 1985 and move into Justice League.

What's important here? There are opportunities out there. And goddammit, I'm going to grab them.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Fwd: USA Today Editorial

Here is an interesting editorial for your

By Patrick Welsh

Failure in the classroom is often tied to lack of
funding, poor
teachers or other ills. Here's a thought: Maybe
it's the failed work
ethic of today’s kids. That's what I'm seeing in
my school. Until
reformers see this reality, little will change.

Last month, as I averaged the second-quarter
grades for my senior
English classes at T.C. Williams High School in
Alexandria, Va., the
same familiar pattern leapt out at me.

Kids who had emigrated from foreign countries —
such as Shewit
Giovanni from Ethiopia, Farah Ali from Guyana and
Edgar Awumey from
Ghana — often aced every test, while many of their
classmates from upper-class homes with highly
educated parents had a
string of C's and D's.

As one would expect, the middle-class American
kids usually had higher
SAT verbal scores than did their immigrant
classmates, many of whom
had only been speaking English for a few years.

What many of the American kids I taught did not
have was the
motivation, self-discipline or work ethic of the
foreign-born kids.

Politicians and education bureaucrats can talk all
they want about
reform, but until the work ethic of U.S. students
changes, until they
are willing to put in the time and effort to
master their subjects,
little will change.

A study released in December by University of
Pennsylvania researchers
Angela Duckworth and Martin Seligman suggests that
the reason so many
U.S. students are "falling short of their
intellectual potential" is
not "inadequate teachers, boring textbooks and
large class sizes" and
the rest of the usual litany cited by the
so-called reformers — but
"their failure to exercise self-discipline."

The sad fact is that in the USA, hard work on the
part of students is
no longer seen as a key factor in academic
success. The groundbreaking
work of Harold Stevenson and a multinational team
at the University of
Michigan comparing attitudes of Asian and American
students sounded
the alarm more than a decade ago.

Asian vs. U.S. students

When asked to identify the most important factors
in their performance
in math, the percentage of Japanese and Taiwanese
students who
answered "studying hard" was twice that of
American students.

American students named native intelligence, and
some said the home
environment. But a clear majority of U.S. students
put the
responsibility on their teachers. A good teacher,
they said, was the
determining factor in how well they did in math.

"Kids have convinced parents that it is the
teacher or the system that
is the problem, not their own lack of effort,"
says Dave Roscher, a
chemistry teacher at T.C. Williams in this
Washington suburb. "In my
day, parents didn't listen when kids complained
about teachers. We are supposed to miraculously make
kids learn even
though they are not

As my colleague Ed Cannon puts it: "Today, the
teacher is supposed to
be responsible for motivating the kid. If they
don't learn it is
supposed to be our problem, not theirs."

And, of course, busy parents guilt-ridden over the
little time they
spend with their kids are big subscribers to this

Maybe every generation of kids has wanted to take
it easy, but until
the past few decades students were not allowed to
get away with it.
"Nowadays, it's the kids who have the power. When
they don't do the
work and get lower grades, they scream and yell.
Parents side with the
kids who pressure teachers to lower standards,"
says Joel Kaplan,
another chemistry teacher at T.C. Williams.

Every year, I have had parents come in to argue
about the grades I
have given in my AP English classes. To me, my
grades are far too
generous; to middle-class parents, they are often
an affront to their
sense of entitlement. If their kids do a modicum
of work, many parents
expect them to get at least a B. When I have given
C's or D's to
bright middle-class kids who have done poor or
mediocre work, some
parents have accused me of destroying their
children's futures.

It is not only parents, however, who are siding
with students in their
attempts to get out of hard work.

Blame schools, too

"Schools play into it," says psychiatrist Lawrence
Brain, who counsels
affluent teenagers throughout the Washington
metropolitan area. "I've
been amazed to see how easy it is for kids in
public schools to
manipulate guidance counselors to get them out of
classes they don't
like. They have been sent a message that they
don't have to struggle
to achieve if things are not perfect."

Neither the high-stakes state exams, such as
Virginia's Standards of
Learning, nor the requirements of the No Child
Left Behind Act have
succeeded in changing that message; both have
turned into
minimum-competency requirements aimed at the
lowest in our school.

Colleges keep complaining that students are coming
to them unprepared.
Instead of raising admissions standards, however,
they keep accepting
mediocre students lest cuts have to be made in
faculty and

As a teacher, I don't object to the heightened
standards required of
educators in the No Child Left Behind law. Who
among us would say we
couldn't do a little better? Nonetheless, teachers
have no control
over student motivation and ambition, which have
to come from the home — and from within each student.

Perhaps the best lesson I can pass along to my
upper- and middle-class
students is to merely point them in the direction
of their
foreign-born classmates, who can remind us all
that education in
America is still more a privilege than a right.

Patrick Welsh is an English teacher at T.C.
Williams High School in Alexandria, Va., and a member
of USA Today’s board of contributors.

Matt Butcher

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Student-led Conferences

Brian got me thinking a lot more on conferences. I have been teaching now four years with three different districts (yikes, that doesn't sound that bad, does it?). My first year at South Kitsap we had that big room where we sat and waited for the parents to come to us. Bremerton introduced me to student-led conferences, which I thought was going to fall flat. Kids running the show? No way. They proved me wrong. I have written about it before. This year I am back to being in a big room at a table for eight straight hours, just waiting for the wonderful parents to come in.

Student-led conferences worked. They were excellent.

First of all, they made the students accountable for their own learning. I actually sat back and watched, for the most part, as the kids told their parents, via a portfolio set up during homeroom, what they were learning in their classes. They had work to showcase that they were proud of. They would pretty much reiterate how important classes were and what they were learning. It was phenomenal. And I sat back and got to watch the magic. Parents were impressed and students gained confidence and respect.

Second of all, as I am sitting here and talked to maybe 15 sets of parents over two days and ten hours, I think that the turnout is horrible. The student-led conferences, led by a homeroom teacher, were able to schedule a conference time for their parents. They HAD to schedule a time. They had to or it had to be made up. The turnout was well over 95%. That works. That is what you want. That's parent involvement.

Now that I have run the gamut of these conferences, even going back and forth, I know that student-led conferences are the way to go. Let's put the education of the students back into their own hands.

Kick Me

This is another laugh-out-loud funny comic from Nicholas Gurewitch's site. If you haven't checked it out, go there now. Hilarious stuff.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Teacher Efficiency


Because of the projected increase in workload in the coming
years due to the new master schedule and the No Child Left Behind Act,
the district has decided that it can no longer afford for you to
take time out of your busy schedule to go to the restroom.
Instead, to increase teacher efficiency the district will go to
considerable expense to remodel your classrooms over the summer
to accommodate your restroom needs starting in August.

See classroom layout below.

PT Conferences

Ugh. Parent-teacher conferences today. Noon to 8, so a long day.

These are how the conversations usually go, one of two ways:


Hi there! Your son or daughter is doing great! A pleasure to have in class!

This one happens the most because the good students usually have the caring parents that come in.


Hi there! If your son or daughter would turn in the two one-page essays that we do in class, he or she would be doing fine.

This one happens too often. Apparently, the mid-term progress report wasn't a red flag. Or, they expect a grade for not turning anything in.

I don't know what the answer is but I do know that if Morgan or Madison weren't cutting it that they would be sitting at the dining room table until it was done. We had to get on Morgan for her band grade. She's good in her other subjects but she was getting a C in band, simply because she wasn't turning in enough signed practice slips for the flute. She was doing it but not getting the slips signed and turned in. We made her sit down immediately after school everyday and get it done. We monitored it. And this was just for band. We are on her for her other homework too, but thankfully there is not a problem there.

That's my responsibility as a parent.

As a teacher, I have to give assignments. I have to give something to monitor and grade and assess and see that the student is meeting the grade level expectations. Those cannot be assessed from just watching a student sit there. I give class time for work. Two one-page essays last quarter? Cake walk! That's all I graded. The only reason you can't pass my class is if you don't turn them in. Period. End of story.

I have to rise to the other students that are doing quality work. I have to get them ready for high school and beyond. Sometimes, life is just meeting the requirements of whatever situation you happen to be in: school, college, work, turning in your tax form, etc. One teacher at school said the other day, "I'm not a motivational speaker." Neither am I. Some of the best teachers I ever had simply knew their shit and told it to us.

There is a possibility that I may move up to sophomore English next year. Possibility. That would be better. I at least am more used to that age range.

That will be my day. Luckily, I will have my laptop with me and can surf the net in between conferences. These are walk-in conferences too. I wish they would set up the student-led conferences like Bremerton School District had.


Sunday, March 26, 2006

Classic DC Comics in their entirety at the Comic Book Archive.

I finally got a copy of Warren Ellis' Fell #1.

Phenomenal. Absolute genius. And that art by Ben Templesmith complements it so well.

The real reason we should be praising this comic is what Ellis wrote in the back of the book, about the prices of comics and giving the readers more.

One whole story is nice. Admittedly, if the price were any higher, I may have balked at it and put it back and had to pick up a DC Comic because I have been roped into crossover events. (I admit I have an addiction to these crossovers but that is another story.)

Fell grabbed me because the characterization came through so fast. The whole world came through. The quick pacing and the clues never came together until the detective told us at the end.

Absolutely wonderful.

Whitman definitely found that poetry could speak for the common man as well as any aristocrat

Whitman Unit 10

Matt Butcher

Discuss Whitman’s view on the role of poetry in a democracy as found in his prose, primarily Democratic Vistas. In terms of tone, would you say that Whitman’s views on the future of America, optimistic versus pessimistic, differ in his prose and his poetry. Does Whitman take the role of a biblical prophet in Democratic Vistas, that is, does he take the role of warning fellow Americans of his own and of our own times against certain dangers? What are the dangers Whitman sees?

In The Reader’s Guide to Walt Whitman and in on-line sources, you will find reference to Whitman’s “socialism” and the “hot” or “red little prophets,” that is, his literary and political followers and disciples. What are Whitman’s views on slavery? What do you think Whitman’s views on segregation, Affirmative Action, and race relationships would have been? On women’s rights, where would Whitman have positioned himself? On the wars of our own time, what would Whitman have had to say? In what sense was Whitman a socialist? Why were Americans among the first open socialists in the world—and why was socialism so popular with Americans in the 19tyh century? How does Whitman fit into this group. Who were Edward Bellamy and Charlotte Perkins Gilman?

Whitman definitely found that poetry could speak for the common man as well as any aristocrat. This is obvious by his laboring intensity about the working man, Whitman himself coming from a working family. The tone is intensely optimistic, as Whitman says he reaches for “the lofty aim, surely the proudest and the purest, in whose service the future literatus, of whatever field, may gladly labor.” He thinks that these heights are inevitable when later in the passage he says, “The climax of this loftiest range of civilization, rising above all the gorgeous shows and results of wealth, intellect, power, and art, as such—above even theology and religious fervor—is to be its development, from the eternal bases, and the fit expression, of absolute Conscience, moral soundness, Justice.” He does warn against dangers, but these dangers are really against oppression: “The great word Solidarity has arisen. Of all dangers to a nation, as things exist in our day, there can be no greater one than having certain portions of the people set off from the rest by a line drawn—they not privileged as others, but degraded, humiliated, made of no account. Much quackery teems, of course, even on democracy’s side, yet does not really affect the orbic quality of the matter.”

Whitman does want to share the wealth, and there are underpinnings of a socialist thought. He wants the important farmer to keep farming, and he realizes that some Americans search for wealth. The farmer won’t get that wealth by keeping the rich man’s food on the table. Should not, then, the wealth be shared?

Edward Bellamy wrote the Utopian novel called Looking Backward. Charlotte Perkins Gilman was an American writer and feminist best known for her short story “The Yellow Wallpaper.” I can see how a Utopian (or dystopian) novel of the future and a feminist and supporter of the women’s right to vote ties in with these ways of thinking. I could pick out passages that I read that would support this, especially the women’s rights. “The idea of the women of America, (extricated from this daze, this fossil and unhealthy air which hangs about the word lady,) develop’d, raised to become the robust equals, workers, and, it may be, even practical and political deciders with the men.”

Friday, March 24, 2006

I may actually fulfill my dream of becoming an author. The cool guys from GeekHead Productions liked my pitch for my Revenge comic book. They announced on their site that it is a "potential series." I just finished scripting issue #1 of the superhero incarnation of Harry Revenge. I have to script the next couple of issues this weekend and do some plotting. This is a character and an idea I have had for years playing around in my mind. I can't draw to save my life so they are going to hook me up with artists. I just want to publish something real. I am excited to bring this piece of my life to a comic book that I have always dreamed of.

I haven't laughed out loud at a comic strip in a long time. This one made me guffaw right out loud. Hilarious. Taken from Nicholas Gurewitch's site--check it all out.

Thursday, March 23, 2006


Now this is funny...

South Park has exacted revenge on its former star Isaac Hayes by turning his character Chef into a paedophile and seemingly killing him off.

The opening episode of the 10th series, screened in the US on Wednesday, appeared to be a satire on Scientology.

Hayes, a Scientologist, quit the animated comedy after a different episode ridiculed the religion.

In the new show, Chef is brainwashed by the "Super Adventure Club" - thought to be a veiled reference to Scientology.

The other characters are angry at "that fruity little club for scrambling his brains".

Hayes did not participate in the episode but his lines were apparently patched together from previous recordings.

Chef arrives after travelling the world with the Super Adventure Club and repeatedly tells the children he wants to "make sweet love" to them.

The children take him to a psychiatrist and then a strip club, where he remembers his love for women and is cured.

But he is brainwashed by the Super Adventure Club again - before falling off a bridge and being burned, stabbed and mauled by a lion and a grizzly bear.

At his funeral, one of the children says: "A lot of us don't agree with the choices the Chef has made in the last few days.

"Some of us feel hurt and confused that he seemed to turn his back on us.

"But we can't let the events of the past few weeks take away the memories of how Chef made us smile."

Soul singer Hayes recently announced he had left the show because of its "intolerance and bigotry toward religious beliefs".

But co-creator Matt Stone said: "In 10 years and over 150 episodes of South Park, Isaac never had a problem with the show making fun of Christians, Muslim, Mormons or Jews.

"He got a sudden case of religious sensitivity when it was his religion featured on the show."

US TV network Comedy Central then pulled a different episode, which mocked Tom Cruise and more explicitly lampooned Scientology.

That prompted rumours that Cruise had demanded that the episode be dropped, which were denied by his representatives.

Hayes, 63, was admitted to hospital with exhaustion in January.

clipped from Dynamic Forces.

Madison loves taking pictures. She says to me, "You wanna cheese me?"


There is a strong possibility that I may get to move up to high school next year.

One of the English teachers is moving out of the area. I put in my transfer request immediately. I am best qualified of those already here because I am certified 7-12 and highly qualified in the subject matter, per state guidelines and their definition of "highly qualified."

That would work best. I did 9-12 before for three years and think it is my perfect fit. This new position would be for sophomore level mostly, exactly what I have been trained for. That is the grade level where they have to worry about the state-required HSGQE test that is one of the graduation requirements. They must pass it to graduate. With my training grading the Washington state test and with writing rubrics (not to mention that I would get the reading and literature component back into my life!!), this would be a great fit for the district.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

100 Days to Superman

Only 100 days remain before the opening of the movie Superman Returns on June 30, 2006. I have been keeping track for almost two years on my classroom boards, counting down every day.

The sad part is that we may not get it first run here in Nome. I may actually have to wait even longer. Me. Super-fanatic.

Monday, March 20, 2006

More pictures of the banquet to come. I had the pleasure today to have Terrie Hanke, the Teacher on the Trail this year, come to my class to talk. She shared stories of the Iditarod and what she got out of it this year. The presentation was set up more for a student from the lower 48, being that the lower 48 barely hears of the Iditarod, if they hear about it at all. My mom said she heard one little blurp about it on the car radio while going into work. Even with the "expert" kids since they live here, they loved hearing from her and were actually really attentive. It went very well, even though it was interrupted for ten minutes due to an unscheduled fire drill.

Here's the happy couple together at the banquet.

This is Jeff King, winner of the 2006 Iditarod, waiting in line for the food. There was a choice of halibut or prime rib. Amy and I both had the halibut. Awesome.

This is a better picture of the winner's trophy.

Here's the humanitarian award (I think I remembered that right--there were so many and I wasn't taking notes). This one garnered the most applause. They treat the dogs here very well during the race, even though a couple have died this week, from the mushers that weren't in yet. They know that the dogs are the real athletes here.

More awards.

These are some of the trophies that various participants in the race get to win. Some of these trophies are for the first musher to certain checkpoints during the race. One is for rookie of the year. One of the most prestigious has to be the humanitarian award for handling the most healthy dogs. Another is an award for best sportsmanship going down the trail.

Funny thing was that the roof leaked for a few minutes at our table down at the far end. The bucket here is catching quite a bit of water.

This is the trophy for winning the Iditarod race. This one went to Jeff King, his fourth win.

At the banquet, we got to hear the musical stylings of Sitka Tex. He played a bunch of Johnny Cash and Woody Nelson, just like you would expect a guy that looks like this to play.

Amy was all dressed up and happy. She is so happy to be here.

Last night was the Iditarod Awards Banquet. This is a pretty big deal in Nome. Amy and I actually had a date together and got to go alone. Morgan watched her sister--she's old enough now to watch her for a few short hours. We got to sit at the Wells Fargo sponsor table, right down front. We saw all the bigwigs of the race and the area. We bumped into a mayor, a congressman, a senator and all the mushers.Phenomenal experience. It is held in the Nome Recreation Center, the same place we had all the volleyball games at the beginning of the year.

Over the next few days...

Over the next few days, I will be putting up some pictures of the Iditarod Awards Banquet that Amy and I went to last night. We were at the Wells Fargo sponsor table so we were right down front for a great view.

Today I get to have the Iditarod Teacher on the Trail come in to show a presentation to my second period class. Hope to get some pictures there too.

Saturday night some of us guys in the apartment building finally started a poker night. We plan to do it bi-weekly. While no pictures were taken that was a lot of fun. Got to crack into my poker chip set that I won at the Safeway Christmas dinner.

Lots of pictures to come.

This week I have to start the fourth quarter. I can't believe it is fourth quarter already. School gets out right before June. The kids now have to start their research paper process. We are going to be choosing topics this week on Alaskan issues and possible solutions. Topic choice will probably take a whole week here. We are going to concentrate on the PROCESS of writing it, including sources, citing those sources, paper set up, etc. I almost do not care about the final product here but the work it takes to get to that final product. Gotta get them ready for high school. Research papers are a must. Learning how to do a research paper is sometimes skipped.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Here's perspective of how small that guy really is.

Here's the little ones with all their detail. Note that you might not understand how little they are yet.

When you open up the doll, you get successively smaller ones inside.

I had to get a closeup of the handpainted detail here. This is a seal. Lots of Eskimos are seal hunters and they make a lot of food with it and with the seal oil.

Now here are some pictures of the matryoshka nesting doll we bought. I love these things. This one was made in Russia.

Here's that print I bought by Karen Olanna. I really like it. It's hanging here above the computer table now. I can always think about this with our first Iditarod now.

We bought a cool print of a sled dog and team by Karen Olanna (I'll post a picture of it later) and from this table here we bought a small Eskimo matryoshka nesting doll (I'll post a picture of that later too). Here is what I mean by native crafts. All that white stuff is hand carved ivory. I would love to collect those ivory figures but each one of the small ones is at least $100. Those mukluk boots are made of real fur. They also had hats and mittens made from all sorts of different furs.

This is inside old St. Joe's. All sorts of native crafts were on display. I joke about this with Amy that this kind of place, with all of the real fur and walrus ivory carvings, would never be allowed down in the lower 48.

We also stopped off at the arts and craft show at old St. Joe's. This is the Catholic church here and a rather prestigious landmark. Unfortunately, they don't hold mass in here anymore. This is almost a type of community center now.

Closeup of the burled arch from the other side. This shot looks down Front Street in Nome.

Then we stopped at the OTHER end of the burled arch, the finish line of the Iditarod. I had to get a picture of looking at it from the other direction.

I got a picture of this dog in mid-howl.

They treat these dogs very well.

We also saw where they let the dogs hang out. We hear that they sleep for three solid days but are then raring to go again!

Lance Mackey. Came in a solid 10th place in the 2006 Iditarod.

The coolest thing that happened was when we met Lance Mackey. My family loved that one picture that I took of him coming up the hill into Nome so much that we printed a couple of photos off to have him sign. We are going to frame one and Amy's dad is going to get one. He looked at it closely, making sure it was him, and then asked us where we got it. He probably thought it was a commercial photo. We told him that I took it and then he said to us, "Oh, I was going to ask where I could get one!" Amy and I will be at the banquet tomorrow night so we said we'd bring him one. He also wrote on the back of one of those little yellow bumper stickers there his address in case we missed him at the banquet. That is pretty neat that he liked my picture. It's been my desktop image for a couple of days now--perfect for a desktop photo. And now I have his signature on it. His father and brother both won the Iditarod before and he himself beat cancer a few years ago.

Here's a photo of Jeff King, winner of the 2006 Iditarod, signing autographs.

Here's the crowd, all lined up at the stairs, waiting to get in there and get autographs.

We weren't even allowed down in the pit until 1 pm.

The mushers were all at tables at 1 pm and then you could go around and have them sign things. We were getting our trail map posters signed. Some people were having hats and shirts signed. Some even had the specially made Iditarod and Alaska Monopoly board to be signed. We got a good dozen signatures, including Jeff King, Martin Buser, Jeff Swenson, and Lance Mackey.

It was busy inside. Funny thing is that Nomeites are saying that it is too busy for our little town. I think over half the town was there.

Went into town today to Meet the Mushers down at Iditarod Race Headquarters, aka the mini-convention center. We got to walk around and talk to the mushers and get their autographs. It was like going to a comic book convention, except no quarter bins.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Lance Mackey and his sled dog team. I really like this picture.

Up the hill...

Here comes Lance Mackey up the hill.

Lance Mackey coming in.

We were getting cold so we decided to get going. We had heard the siren going off but the girls were just too cold to wait. As we started driving away, we saw a crowd gathering on the hill where the mushers get up from the ice and onto Front Street. We stopped to watch our fifth musher come in (fourth in a row) and the last of the top ten finishers. This is Lance Mackey, fan favorite, coming in off the ice.

There goes Mitch Seavey.

These dogs are a lot smaller than we figured. Distance runners.