Saturday, April 29, 2006

I am on my way on this fine Saturday to take the PRAXIS test for my continuting certification. Doesn't matter to the State of Alaska that I am listed as Highly Qualified in my subject matter. I have to take three tests on basic skills to show that I am, I guess, halfway intelligent. Reading, Mathematics, and Writing including a little essay.

Friday, April 28, 2006

History has been changed

One of the students just asked about Roman numerals. So I took a minute to explain them and how they count up, one through eleven. She was particulary perplexed by how IV was four and not six.

"That's not how I was taught, and I'm part Greek."

"You never have more than three 'ones' in a row. If the one comes before a bigger letter, you subtract, not add."

"That's not how my grandma did it. This was passed on in our family. History must have been changed."

How do I argue with that? This apparently is a conspiracy on the level of the da Vinci code.

United 93

Today, a movie about "that one plane that fought back" on September 11, 2001, comes out. It is called United 93.

I saw the TV spot on it with all the praise from around the nation. Roger Ebert even said, "This is a masterful and heartbreaking film, and it does honor to the memory of the victims."

Is this the kind of movie that you are not allowed to dislike? If the critic lists anything actual cinematically negative, or maybe negative about the construction of the movie itself, will that be taken out of context and make the critic seem like a dick?

Ex: "This movie, while moving, is terribly paced and shot with bad angles, etc. etc."

Response: "You dick! Don't you know what those people lived through on that plane?"

This is a movie that will not have serious constructive criticism. I just looked at the critics's page of comments on Yahoo! and they all list it as an "A-", except one as a "B-". On the user reviews page, most list it as an "A" but a few list it as an "F". Unfortunately, those "F"s only berate what they perceive as "cashing in on a tragedy" and "didn't I already see this on A&E tv?"

I don't know. I haven't seen the movie yet. I just don't know where to get real criticism on it, cinematically, movie-wise.

Roger Ebert does end his piece with some real criticism: "The movie is deeply disturbing, and some people may have to leave the theater. But it would have been much more disturbing if Greengrass had made it in a conventional way. He does not exploit, he draws no conclusions, he points no fingers, he avoids "human interest" and "personal dramas" and just simply watches. The movie's point of view reminds me of the angels in "Wings of Desire." They see what people do and they are saddened, but they cannot intervene. " This is at least real criticism, and it is a comparison to other movies and perspectives out there.

I remember years ago watching Apollo 13 with my good buddies Brian and Jeremy. I thought it was just all right. I've never felt the need to watch it again and feel that it was so-so. Good to watch but that's about it. Jeremy was the only guy with guts to say, "So what did they accomplish? The mission failed! Why are we cheering when all they did was save their asses?"

Will anybody tell the real truth about this movie? Will we see real cinematical criticism? Remember this at Oscar time.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Life is Fine

Life is Fine
By Langston Hughes

I went down to the river,
I set down on the bank.
I tried to think but couldn’t,
So I jumped in and sank.

I came up once and hollered!
I came up twice and cried!
If that water hadn’t a-been so cold
I might’ve sunk and died.

But it was Cold in that water! It was cold!

I took the elevator
Sixteen floors above the ground.
I thought about my baby
And thought it would jump down.

I stood there and I hollered!
I stood there and I cried!
If it hadn’t a-been so high
I might’ve jumped and died.

But it was High up there! It was high!

So since I’m still here livin’,
I guess I will live on.
I could’ve died for love—
But for livin’ I was born

Though you may hear me holler,
And you may see me cry—
I’ll be dogged, sweet baby,
If you gonna see me die.

Life is fine! Fine as wine! Life is fine!

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

"That's a nice picture," Madison says.

Madison loves posing for the camera.

Home early

I had to come home early today because Madison is a little ill. Well, she has the shits, that's all. I can understand how no one else would want to deal with it. She was sleeping when I got home so I got to eat some sardines as there is no one else in the house to complain about the smell. Mmmmm, sardines and pilot bread crackers.

Funny thing is that I might have come home earlier but the office looked at my schedule. They looked at the roster for fourth period and said, "We can't put anybody else into the class with THOSE kids." I kid you not.

So now I get a few extra hours with Madison and my thesis paper.

This thesis is gonna kill me. The research that I have to read is almost overwhelming. I first have to compare and summarize all the research that's out there and then do my study. I have only five pages already and I haven't really started. I basically have to summarize 200 years of Tennyson research first.

Here is my thesis proposal that my advisor signed off on:

Matt Butcher
National University, San Diego, CA
Prospectus for Thesis Project

This thesis will deconstruct the concepts of the mourning and acceptance of death as defined in the book On Death and Dying by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross throughout Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s In Memoriam A.H.H. In this body of poetry published in 1850 and written after the death of Tennyson’s friend, Arthur Henry Hallam, that Tennyson experienced the stages of the acceptance of death as later recognized and published in the 1969 book by Kubler-Ross. This psychological recognition in a work published more than 100 years before the psychological study showcases how this theme of literature transcends the centuries.

The death of Tennyson’s close friend in 1833 was a serious blow to the poet. In a series of 131 poems plus epilogue that took seventeen years to write, Tennyson explores how this death has affected him. The poetry is definitely set up in stages, from the complete denial of such a thing to his eventual acceptance. It is this work that gives us the phrase, “’Tis better to have loved and lost / Than never to have loved at all.” It is the understanding that this explication of Tennyson’s poetry along Kubler-Ross’ five stages of the acceptance of death not only validates the theories of Kubler-Ross in her 1969 book, but also gives a broader and more universal appeal to Tennyson’s work.

Complete explanation of Kubler-Ross’ stages of the acceptance of death will be made. Tennyson’s work “In Memoriam” will be divided into the distinct five sections as delineated by Kubler-Ross’ theory. These sections will then be examined and shown distinctly how they match up to the five stages of Kubler-Ross’ theory. Some emphasis will be made as to how this makes the poetical work even more universal in appeal.

Thesis Advisor:___________________________________________Date:___________
Program Director:__________________________________________Date:__________

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Out our back window, 10:41 pm on April 24, 2006.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Brevity is the Soul of Wit

In the interest of being brief, I must say that I have not posted here as often as I would like to lately.

I have plenty to say, and even plenty to reference. I want to talk about life, the universe, and everything.

This thesis for my Masters is starting to consume me. I am at that stage where doing anything outside of reading for my thesis or researching gets put to the side. No fun stuff for me lately.

I will be up for a long while tonight. I told my thesis advisor that my second chapter (don't ask me why, but they start with the second chapter known as "Review of the Literature") would be done for tomorrow night but I have yet to write a single word.

Father. Husband. Teacher. Then comes student.

I really hope I finish this by the end of May. The paper is supposed to be about 45 pages. However, if I don't finish in two months, I receive Incomplete and actually get a six-month extension to remove the Incomplete. With June removing the "Teacher" role, that may be a viable option.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Madison's Third

Today is Madison's third birthday.

When I woke her up this morning, I patted her back and asked her if she knew what day it was.

She lifted up her head. With the hair falling down around her eyes, she triumphantly said, "It's my birthday!"

Played her the two birthday tradition songs we play around our house, Beatles' "Birthday" from the White Album and Cracker's "Happy Birthday to Me", as she opened up her first present of the day. She really loves Mermaids right now so she got a package of two Barbie-Bratz type Mermaidia figures. She loved them so much she wouldn't leave them at home when we had to bring her over to daycare.

Three years old. Where did the time go? I remember the feelings and emotions exactly on that morning she was born.

Three years have gone by fast.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Daddy and one of his girls enjoying the late evening sun.

Look how happy she is! No bike, but she found four eggs!

More eggs!

There's Madison in Anvil Square by the church hunting Easter eggs. She is in the 0-3 section. Morgan was way over in the 10-12 section and she said it was a fight. In some of the plastic eggs, six I think, there were tickets for bikes they were giving away.

Then we went to St. Joseph's Easter egg hunt for kids at 2 pm. It was cold and windy, something we were not used to for Easter yet. Usually Easter is spring and the girls wear spring dresses, right? Not today. Snow still covers the ground and the wind chill was like 5 degrees. Amy joked that we shouldn't color our eggs and hide them outside, white on white!

Amy starts cooking our spiral ham. She cooked all day but it was well worth it. Now we have leftovers all week too!

Easter 2006. Egg hunting and candy. The kids are absorbed with activities of the morning.

Monday, April 17, 2006

New Superman Returns figures

The new line of Superman Returns action figures shipped on April 10. Amy was able to pick one up for me in Anchorage while she was away. The head swivels like a real neck, sort of like a bobblehead but not that loose, the first time I have ever seen that in an action figure.

They are pretty neat figures. Costume is impeccably detailed, even down to the Shield symbol on the back of his boot. The blue part of the costume looks bumpy like the closeups of the costume I have seen.

Superman has a moustache

The new Got Milk? campaign shows new superstar Brandon Routh as Superman.

Review for POST-NUKE is up

Independent Propaganda just put up my review of the independent web comic POST-NUKE by Andreas Duller.

Check it out at:

Friday, April 14, 2006

The Art of Conversation

What has happened to the art of conversation?

When you meet somebody, don't you say, "Hi. How are you doing today?" At least, do you say, "Hiya"?

Several times today, I have been trying to have itty bitty conversations, just to elicit some human interaction.

"Whatcha readin'?" They hold the book up at me without a word. "Do you like it?" They shrug.

Some kids come into my room in the 15 minutes before the first bell rings to use the three computers that I have to check their email, etc. I say, "Good morning!" Nothing. Not a word.

So has conversation died? Do we walk on in our lives without making small talk or without responding to direct questions. Are we being taught to keep to ourselves?

There is a kind of magic in a person that can greet another with enthusiasm. The air feels electrified when two people make a little chit chat and learn something new.

Now we email in little clips and phrases. We text message in such new spellings that the researchers at the OED (Oxford English Dictionary) must be pulling their hair out.

I can't even write a complete coherent paragraph here. In effect, I am talking to myself.

Amy helps me out with this because we talk. Just last night, we had a conversation while we were trying to watch "Criminal Minds" on CBS, a show about a kidnapping. "Could you, Amy, commit the perfect kidnapping?"

"No, I couldn't do it."

"We've laughed about committing the perfect murder but you couldn't kidnap someone?"

With perfect lucidity and grace, she responds, "With murder, I am only accountable for myself and my own actions. Throw that other person in the mix and now I'm responsible for another's actions. I'd get caught. I could cover my own tracks but not another's."

Fun, entertaining, and silly conversation. Doesn't have to be deep, hell, it doesn't even have to be realistic. We're not going to kill anyone, but Amy and I love to play Devil's Advocate.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Morgan's Messy Room

Silverstein - Messy Room

Whosever room this is should be ashamed!

His underwear is hanging on the lamp.

His raincoat is there in the overstuffed chair,

And the chair is becoming quite mucky and damp.

His workbook is wedged in the window,

His sweater's been thrown on the floor.

His scarf and one ski are beneath the TV,

And his pants have been carelessly hung on the door.

His books are all jammed in the closet,

His vest has been left in the hall.

A lizard named Ed is asleep in his bed,

And his smelly old sock has been stuck to the wall.

Whosever room this is should be ashamed!

Donald or Robert or Willie or--

Huh? You say it's mine? Oh, dear,

I knew it looked familiar.

Boca Java's Boca Sunrise blend

I’ve never been one for a lot of stuff in my coffee. It may have come from the famous phrase of
the short-lived television show Twin Peaks where The Agent used to take
his coffee “Black as midnight on a moonless night.” Most probably it
stems from the fact that the offices I have worked in always had
coffee but ran out of creamer and sugar awfully fast. Anyway, I
learned to love coffee pitch black and simple.

The problem with black coffee is that you can go through a lot of bad
cups. Sometimes you have to stomach the ubiquitous and ever-present
grocery brands. While not entirely bad, they are not entirely good
either. That is why when I found Boca Java, I decided that since I
drank coffee as if an I.V. were attached to my arm, I ought to start
drinking some good stuff.

I was not disappointed. First of all, I tried the super-cheap sampler
set. Enticingly, I had to start with something called “Boca Sunrise,”
which the label says is their “signature blend” and “one of the best
cups of coffee you will ever drink!” Those are boastful words about a

First of all, I poured a cup of this coffee and noticed the inviting
aroma. It was not too strong or pungent, but seemed to ask to be

The taste was full of this light yet full coffee flavor. It was not
bitter, as some coffees get. It did not taste as if it was trying too
hard. It simply tasted like coffee. This is the kind of blend that you
can take out for company and know that everyone will be pleased. I
don’t know about you, but I have found that to be rather rare.

Boca Java’s Boca Sunrise blend performed admirably for that wake up
blend and for that afternoon pot after getting home from teaching. As
simple coffees go, this one is simple yet retains that complex feeling
of a lot of work behind it to get it that way.

Fwd: Coffee Is On Its Way - Any Others Who Can Review?

Dear Coffee Reviewer
Hi, Fellow Blogger:

Congratulations, again, for being selected as one of
our 500 coffee reviewers of Bloggers Blends! You will
receive your coffee shortly.

We are looking forward to your feedback. We still
have a few openings for Coffee Reviewers, and we
personally invite you to ask up to two other bloggers
to participate and receive a complimentary Coffee
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Thank you so much for reviewing our coffee, compiling
your thoughts, and sharing them on your blog and at

Blog On!

Bruce and the Bloggers Fuel Team!

Matt Butcher

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If I wrote for Saturday Night Live...

Picture: a trailer for a movie, Basic Instinct 3.

Sharon Stone, now 80, is in the interrogation room again, going to sit down in a short skirt and show off her....

Instead of it being her....., we see sagging breasts coming from underneath the skirt.

Voiceover: Some secrets...are best left...covered up.

(Can I copyright this idea?)

Very Superstitious

I only remember this once every week or two. I have to write it now because I will forget that I do it until next time.

I don't clip my fingernails in order.

Years ago while living in Bolingbrook, Illinois, I often visited the Fountaindale Public Library. Often isn't the word. I went every day. One summer, I think it was like sixth grade or something, I took my bike and rode the couple miles to the library, right after the rerun of LOST IN SPACE was over at 9 am. I would then be there for the 10:00 am opening.

That summer I read a lot. I used to roam the stacks looking at everything I could imagine. I read a lot of those bad Daniel Cohen books about Aliens and UFOs and Abominable Snowmen and Men in Black (way before the movie or comic). I also liked looking at encyclopedias and reference stuff. I would look through just about everything. I read a ton that summer.

That summer I found a book on SUPERSTITIONS. Now, I am not very superstitious. I don't have a lucky shirt or anything and I could care less about black cats or walking under ladders. Breaking a mirror isn't bad luck, just a bad accident. Did you know that buttoning up your shirt wrong, if you did it by accident, is actually good luck?

The book was filled with the origins of superstitions. For instance, it explained why people throw salt over their shoulder or why you have to say "Bread and butter!" while walking with someone as a post gets between you. There was one superstition in particular that stuck with me.

"While cutting your fingernails, they should not be cut in order, one finger after the other. Only the fingernails of the dead are cut this way."

That one made me think. It's right. I'm alive and can change up what I'm doing, to not be comfortable and in a proper order. If I were dead, my fingernails would be clipped quickly and efficiently, one right after the other. Being alive meant you should shake things up.

So to this day, I still clip my fingernails out of order. I take one at random on one hand, then go to another random one on the other, different every time. Funny thing is that I have tried to clip them in order since that book. I get two or three fingers and just can't do it. Something tells me not to push my luck or something.

Now I simply cannot clip my nails without switching the order. I can't. I don't even think it is necessarily bad luck, per se, but every time I do it, I think that if I clip in order, then that means I am cutting them for my death bed or something.

It is almost like the button on the island on LOST tv show. I think I would keep pressing the button too. I know I would clip my nails out of order, as I have done for at least twenty years now.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Boiling Point

I'm boiling over this week. I know I shouldn't be. I know I should take everything with a grain of salt and just move on, but there are so many little things that I cannot fix that make me wish that I was in control of more things.

I cannot be in control of some of these students. F's don't scare them. Not at all. In School Suspension doesn't scare them. They actually try for Out of School Suspension so they don't even have to come.

And the whole thing behind my eyes, as I seethe and ferment in my own anger, is why they bother coming at all.

I know it is public education. But what happened to wanting to better yourself? What happened to earning a high school diploma?

I don't know what to do about it.

I kicked out two kids in my troublsome seventh period yesterday. They have been a continual problem all year, even after specific parent-teacher meetings with all the teachers. There's simply no answer. One does well enough to get a D- every quarter, turning in bare minimal work, and the other one doesn't care at all. Getting them to REVISE anything in a writing class, making them rewrite anything is like asking them to build the Great Wall of China. But I tell ya, once I kicked them out, the rest of my class was golden. I got through that hard lesson on turning information into MLA bibliographic format. Worked very well, even through a tough lesson. They apparently got into trouble disturbing another class in the library. But should I care? Are they my charge after that? I was teaching about ten kids that wanted to do something. Shouldn't my primary focus be on those that are learning? Yeah, it should.

I might get into trouble too because I called them losers under my breath as they were leaving and I think they heard me. Oops.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Word of the Day

Today's word of the day that you will not believe the students have never heard of before:


Can't believe how many times I have had to explain that in the past week or so.

Note to self: Next year, be sure to get better step by step worksheets to teach how to write up a Works Cited page (bibliography). Apparently it is much tougher than I thought to give them the book's info and have them put it into the correct format. Oh my god, how hard was this. What is so f-in' hard about "last name, first name"? Explaining the difference between a magazine and a magazine article was like being in the seventh realm of hell today.

And then, we teachers all got on today about how much we need a detention after school. They won't do it because they say we have to have a bus service and hire someone to stay for supervising detention.

Excuse me? A bus service for detention? I would have always been in detention if I got a bus ride home! I remember the few detentions I had in middle school being such a drag because I didn't want to walk all the way home, or even worse, have to have mom or dad come pick me up. That would be it right there. One pick up and that would never have happened again. Detentions kept me in line (for the most part). Plus, there are some behaviors that are just worth some time spent after school. Not everything is a referral-to-the-vice-principal affair. Plus, I hate calling home.

Detention should be a bad thing. It should be very easy for a teacher to give, as a quick consequence to those silly little behaviors that add up. When one girl today had her third straight day of staring at a piece of paper, I just want to walk over and say, "If this doesn't get done like everybody else is doing, you are going to have to stay after school to finish it." Instead, I have no options there because I apparently need to take time to call home and everything before I write up a referral. When these things happen a couple or three times a day, I can't make all those phone calls. I have my own kids to get home to. I take care of my business at home.

Detention should be tough. It should inconvenience the parents to come pick them up. Then they would think twice about shit during the school day. It made me not be such a smart ass. (Now, when I got my own car and had morning detention for my Spanish teacher, that was a different story--I didn't care because the only one inconvenienced was me and I was a morning person anyway.)

I need a detention option.

While the cat's away...

Amy leaves town tonight for a few days. She is going to Anchorage for a work seminar. She is learning to become a full-fledged banker. I am taking care of the kids until she comes back on Friday. That's longer than it seems when it is during the week.

Last night for instance, Madison did not take a nap and she finally fell asleep at 6:30 pm. We thought we'd let her try to make it through the night. No dice. She woke up a little after midnight, thinking it was a new day. I managed to get her to sleep about an hour later again, but that means I didn't go to sleep until after 1:00 am. Waking up at six, that makes me awfully tired.

I can manage, although we really miss her when she's gone. It ain't the same without her. In fact, we spend most of the time just plain missing her.

Morgan and I played RISK on a good old board at the kitchen table this weekend. It was a lot of fun. I now dominate the entire world, by the way.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

} To Thee Old Cause

To thee old cause!
Thou peerless, passionate, good cause,
Thou stern, remorseless, sweet idea,
Deathless throughout the ages, races, lands,
After a strange sad war, great war for thee,
(I think all war through time was really fought, and ever will be
really fought, for thee,)
These chants for thee, the eternal march of thee.

(A war O soldiers not for itself alone,
Far, far more stood silently waiting behind, now to advance in this book.)

Thou orb of many orbs!
Thou seething principle! thou well-kept, latent germ! thou centre!
Around the idea of thee the war revolving,
With all its angry and vehement play of causes,
(With vast results to come for thrice a thousand years,)
These recitatives for thee,--my book and the war are one,
Merged in its spirit I and mine, as the contest hinged on thee,
As a wheel on its axis turns, this book unwitting to itself,
Around the idea of thee.

Boca Java Reviews

Hi, Fellow Blogger:
Thank you for your interest in Bloggers Blends by Boca Java. Your registration form was one of the first 500, and you have been selected to become a Coffee Reviewer of Bloggers Blends.
We are looking forward to your candid feedback as only you can provide it! Your input will guide the ongoing development of the Bloggers Blends line of gourmet coffees so that they can help to “fuel” your continued success as a Blogger!
In the next few days, you will be receiving a complimentary “Bloggers Coffee Review Kit,” which includes:
An 8 oz bag of coffee for each of the 6 Bloggers Blends
An “Always Blog on a Full Tank” Mug
An “Always Blog on a Full Tank” Hat
You will also be entered in a drawing for 5 winners of Coffee for a Year!
Can you please send a quick reply email to and let us know whether you prefer your coffee to be whole bean or ground. If we do not hear from you by Monday, April 10, 2006 at 5:00 p.m., we will assume that you would prefer your coffee ground. We will then roast your coffee, and ship to you directly within the next few days.
Thank you so much for reviewing our coffee, compiling your thoughts, and sharing them on your blog and at
While we are roasting your coffee for you, and you are awaiting delivery, be sure to check out and join in to Bruce’s Blog where you can blog directly with the President and Founder of Boca Java! You can also check out our Coffee Forum and talk “coffee” with other bloggers. You can access this forum from the homepage.
Blog On!
Bruce and the Bloggers Fuel Team!

Pretty nice! I get free coffee! Drink and review. Not too bad a proposition.

First Review Up

My first review is up at Paperback Reader. I am reviewing older comics, especially in understanding the current comics. This starts with DC'sCrisis on Infinite Earths #1.

Check it out at:
Review by Matt Butcher

Thursday, April 06, 2006


Got the go ahead to do the thesis on the connection of Tennyson's In Memoriam poetry with Kubler-Ross' On Death and Dying. Mrs. Lehman would be proud.

Just bought the books I needed last night through Barnes & Noble's website. Should be able to really get going on it very soon. Much of my time will be taken up with that. Thank goodness I got some new coffee from that Boca Java place because I see many late nights in my future these next two months.

But then my Master's will be done. I will have my degree. Then I can eventually pursue my doctorate.

More Nome

It's odd to me. Well, different anyway. Here is is April 6th and it is -10 degrees outside. Snow still on the ground.

The odd thing is that even with daylight saving time, the sunrise is still at 8:00 am with plenty of visible dawn beforehand and, get this, the sun doesn't set tonight until 10:10 pm. There will be visible twilight until at least 11:00. Putting the kids to bed is difficult when it is that light out. Even putting myself to bed is difficult. Every night, it goes against every instinct to go to bed before dark. It almost feels like you are going to lay down for a nap with all that light. Different mindset.

Growing up in Chicago, the lightest twilight possible was, what, 9:30 pm? Max? Seattle saw a few days go toward 10:00 pm.

I'm sitting down to a movie at 10:00 at night and have to put the shades down!

It feels so much different than what I've been used to for over 30 years.

At the summer solstice, they have a festival here in Nome called their celebration of the Midnight Sun. They have games and events. It will be well past midnight and you can still read a book with no light bulb.

Different worldview. Different perspective.

Frustrating is...

Testing day again. This time it is the wonderful math test that always gets kids excited. (Can you hear my tongue in my cheek as I say that?)

It's frustrating when I have to sit here and watch a couple of students waste their potential.

One kid right now is just filling in the bubbles. No computations whatsoever, unless he has some Einsteinian brain, which hasn't been the case. You know, there's a part of me that doesn't care, that says, "Let him rot." There's also a part of me that is pissed off because his frickin score is going to bring down the average of the entire grade's testing. Statistically, throwing a zero into any average is going to bring it down immensely. The others could all get 100% and our average wouldn't show it.

For instance, yesterday was the writing test. I peeked over his shoulder and saw that he tried really hard...on the first half of the test. He even wrote a rough draft on his scratch paper and everything for one of his paragraphs. The second half was left blank. Blank. Apparently, he was at his threshold. So even if he did very well on that first half, his second half brings his score immediately to a maximum of 50%--not passing.

It is frustrating because in this current climate of "No Child Left Behind," which sounds great on paper, reflects MY teaching. I'm his writing teacher. No one will see when the scores come back that Johnny Student didn't do half his test in writing or just filled in the bubbles in math. They will only see that he scored low. By default, it must be the teaching, in today's climate anyway.

See, the reason the politicians accepted the "No Child Left Behind" act anyway was because of whoever thought of the name. This was the masterstroke to the entire piece of legislation. No child left behind. Say it again to yourself. Doesn't that sound good? How could any politician vote against that? If someone voted against it, people immediately say, "Oh, that congressperson must want some kids left behind!" Then you get into the debate of which kids are you leaving behind. They start dragging socioeconomics into the mix. The congress looks to which standards are suitable for which people. No, they don't do that. No child left behind. I can't vote against that. I can't rant against that. If I do, I must be some kind of monster that wants kids left behind.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Boca Java

I recently came across this new coffee place online. Thought I should order some good coffee for a change, instead of just Folger's or Yuban. Their Surfin Safari coffee, with vanilla and caramel, is awesome.

Go here and buy some coffee--I also get $10 added to my account when you do. Keep my tank full...

Do-de-do-de Twilight Zone

This week is three straight days of SBA testing (Standards Based Assesment). We are in our second day today. First day was reading, today is writing, and tomorrow is math. The kids have been remarkably good, even sitting here with minimal breaks for a good four hours of testing a day. I tell you what, it is more tiring as a teacher to sit here and procter a test, to just watch them, than it is to teach. The day is looooooooooooong.

This reminds of a an episode of The Twilight Zone I watched once. The entire premise was that a family was gearing their son up for these important tests. The whole time, they were stressing how important these tests were. It was a kind of future-era. The whole thing boils down to the end of the show when we hear that the son did not do very well on the tests and his funeral was set for a certain day.

I don't want to go as drastic as that, but I do want some high stakes attached to these tests. These are the numbers that they look at to see how well the students and the grade levels are doing. They have already made the Alaska test, the HSGQE, mandatory for graduation as the Washington State WASL test is. You must pass all three parts, reading, writing, and math, to get your diploma. There are even retakes available each year. Minimum competency tests.

However, try telling that to an eighth grader. Yesterday I watched one student fall asleep and drool all over her test booklet. I saw one writing "IDK" (which stands for "I Don't Know," a kind of short hand for real laziness) on the short answers during thereading test, and I am watching another one right now just staring at the piece of paper for a good twenty minutes without raising his pencil. Look at that: another girl is using her time to write all over her arm with the pencil. I'll give them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they're thinking.

Then again, maybe they just hate tests. Test, test, test. Next week is MAP testing (I forget what the truck it stands for). Next week. Another test. I remember doing these tests as a kid. I did them because the alternative was being supremely bored and staring at the wall. I also remember a buddy in high school that used to fill in the bubbles as fast as he could because he wanted to read his book, as he was a prolific reader. The test meant nothing grade-wise or graduation-wise. Why should I take it? he would ask. What does it do for me?

Should these be the tests that say whether or not they pass their grade level? That's an interesting thought. If they don't pass they have to take the grade over again, social consequences be damned. We aren't killing the kid, but if these tests are so important, why isn't there a catch? We already will pass on way too many students that received F's in the majority of their classes all year, in order to keep them with their grade. I personally think this says to the other kids, "Why the hell should I do well if that jerk got to pass without doing a damn thing all year?"

I'm starting to swear, which means I am getting vehemently upset about this.

All year long, we teachers would build towards these tests--and let me get this straight: it ain't "teaching to the test" if these are state-mandated minimum competency grade level expectations--and get them to pass the tests. Nothing wrong with that. Then there would be stakes. There would be a mountain to climb.

Sure, you would have 15-year-old fourth-graders. Maybe then they would realize how important this free state-provided education is.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Classic Literature vs. High-Interest Reading

We had this debate the other day at school and the consensus among the actual teachers is unanimous. It is better to have the students read high-interest material than force them to read classic books.

High-interest can be many things. The reading teacher, Lynn, has several series of novels that are sort of like the old after-school specials. Family problems, high school problems, dating problems, high sea adventure, real-life stuff. The point that she likes to make is that the kids are READING. She has some recalcitrant students actually come in excited to read the next chapter.

There are several community members and people around here that are pushing her to read "high-level classics." I put that in quotes because what exactly makes it high-level? Lynn pauses at the regular old textbook anthologies and says that most of the stories are just plain boring to a junior high student. I have to agree wholeheartedly. Isn't it better to get the kids to read ANYTHING rather than watch them fake reading a story that they have no connection with?

I see myself in this category of learning and I am a high level reader with a degree in English and education and almost finished with my master's in English. I absolutely HATED The Scarlet Letter when I was a junior in high school. I wasn't ready cognitively and emotionally to understand exactly what Hester Prynne and the Reverend Dimmesdale were going through. Marriage? Infidelity? Passion? Religious views on this stuff? I hated it.Then I had to read it again a couple of years ago because I HAD to teach it to the juniors at South Kitsap High School. As I read it on my own this time in order to refresh myself on it, I couldn't put it down. I LOVED it. Maybe it was because I was thirty years old now and had more maturity and experience. Possibly. I was more ready for it now. Awesome read. Same thing happened two years ago when I chose to do Ethan Frome in my senior lit class because it was the shortest novel to choose. I LOVED it. Read it in almost one sitting. Phenomenal story and pacing. But then I had to teach these books. No matter how enthused I was at them, it didn't rub off. No matter how much we worked together, I couldn't get them to understand what these characters were feeling. How do you understand extramarital affairs and how they hurt the heart when students had trouble finding a bloody date? It never connected. Even though Ethan Frome is a hundred or so pages only, and a quick read and no where near as dense as The Scarlet Letter, the kids hated every minute of it.

I also recently had to read Frankenstein for my master's degree. Ugh. It felt drawn out to me. Much of it was told through dialogue, not action. I have to say as an English degree holder that it was okay--I saw the importance of the novel through the time period and why it is remembered today. Being a high level reader, I was excited a bit by the climax. I just felt that while reading it, I was trudging along. I didn't want to pick it up some nights. And it's not a long book. I wasn't struggling with it or anything, just didn't want to read it. If I had been reading it on my own, I never would have finished.

Also, I must say that I read some of my absolute favorite books in a college class called Young Adult Literature. That class introduced me to Robert Cormier and Susan Cooper, amongst a myriad of others that I would rather read than some other books labeled as classics. What's wrong with these books?

I don't care whether students are reading comic books and horrible paperback novels. I do it too. I just finished a Star Trek novel, for crying out loud. With my degree and credentials, you'd think I was sitting here everyday reading Tolstoy or Joyce. No way. I've tried that before, thinking that I should be reading something "better." I have started and stopped reading Moby Dick no less than ten times. I would rather pick up something else, like that new R.A. Salvatore fantasy novel that Amy bought for me. I know it will be fun and I'll love it.

No wonder the kids hate reading class most times. They are forced to read something they despise.

The less I know

My capstone class for my master's degree thesis started last night. It is damn daunting, I tell you. They say the papers average a good 45 pages and is supposed to take two months. It actually says to take some paper already written for the master's and expound upon it. Quite frankly, I don't think anything I have written is worthy of expansion.

I thought about trying that topic that Mrs. Lehman gave me way back in high school but never had the time or situation to really do it on my own. Trace the stages of the acceptance of death based on the research of Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross' book On Death and Dying through the series of Tennyson poems labeled In Memoriam. That would work here. However, the instructor said I have to do some quick research to make sure it hasn't been done already. Ugh, if that one doesn't work, I don't know what else to write on...Everything possible has been done already on Shakespeare. Maybe something with Salinger? I wish they had a bloody list of topics and topic starters. They don't.

At least it should all be over by June.

Monday, April 03, 2006

The more I learn...

My story for Midnight Studio Comics' Death Lurker Sagas got accepted. They are going to find an artist for it. More details to come.

I also got invited to write a column about comics at the Paperback Reader. I am going to start by examining Crisis on Infinite Earths and how it affects the current DC Universe.

My thesis class for my master's degree in English starts tomorrow and lasts for two months. I have to write a paper that is said to average about 45 pages. I think I will investigate one of the things that I have always wanted to: how Tennyson's In Memoriam series of poems went through the stages of the acceptance of death as written about by Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross about 100 years later.

Lots to do!

Saturday, April 01, 2006 is a find. It allows you to create your own comic strips in a very easy interface. Only problem is saving them. But it is fun. Then you can email the link to your friends.