Monthly Archives: June 2006

What I’m Reading

Since I don’t have anything job or education-related to tell you, I thought I’d write a post about what I’m reading.

I finished Heart of Darkness about three weeks ago – I’m still waiting to hear from people who want to talk about it; I’ve got some leading questions that I can ask to get a conversation started, if that’s what’s needed. Let me know.

While I was on vacation in Florida (a much needed respite from deadlines, due dates, and appointments, thank you very much!), I read The Dante Club, which was fantastic. As an English teacher-type, I get a kick out of fiction that utilizes literary figures as it main characters – in this work, Holmes, Longfellow, Fields and others pieced together a murder mystery in 1860s Boston. As someone familiar with the city and its history, I also got a charge out of the familiar setting.

I am now working on Outlander, a book recommended to me by a very dear friend of mine. She enjoyed the novel very much and insisted that I read it as soon as possible. I’m very glad I am – it’s a well constructed story with complex characters and an intricate story line. I also really like that the story takes place in the Highlands of Scotland, which is where the bulk of my ancestors come from, so I’m feeling an affinity for this book because of its sense of place. I’m less than halfway through the story, but I can already recommend it.

What are you reading during YOUR summer vacation?

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What’d I Tell Ya?

I got this in my inbox this morning. There’s that frickin’ deep pool again, dammit!

Mrs. Chili:

After discussing our vacant position with three of the four interview
committee members, we have recommended a candidate to fill the one year
leave of absence. As I shared with you earlier this year, the talent in
this pool of candidates is extraordinary, making the process extremely
competitive and difficult.

Thank you for your interest in Local High School.

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If I Don’t Get a Teaching Job…

…Maybe I can be a photographer.

These are some of the pictures I took of plants in Florida. Stuff like this only grows as houseplants in New England and I was absolutely fascinated by it.

No news on the job front. I’m almost certain that the AP at CT’s school will do everything he can to NOT consider me for the opening, and I’m really okay with that. I’ve handed the whole thing over to the Universe and, really, am at peace with whatever comes back.

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I Can Hope, Can’t I?

My cell phone rang while I was on vacation. It was CT, telling me that her office mate, who left in May to have her baby, just announced that she’s taking a leave of absence this coming school year. I guess caring for the baby and a toddler is a lot more than she’d thought it’d be, and she wants to take the time to be with her girls. I don’t blame her in the least.

Anyway, CT wanted me to get my name in the consideration for the job. When I got off the phone with her, I called the principal – the big guy, the one who came to – and stayed for – my dissertation presentation – and asked him about the position. He was a little hedgy about it (like that? I just made that word up!) but said that he’d talk to the assistant principal about it the next day.

I was hoping to come home to a message or an email or something, but no. I sent the AP an email this morning, and cc’d to CT and the big guy.

I’m pretty sure that there’s a snowball’s chance I’ll get the job and the AP’s whole speech about how sorry he was that he wasn’t able to offer me a job the first time was just so much political horse shit.

The Calvin below is what I think of the shot I have. Still, stranger things have happened.

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Who’s Reading?

Who of you is reading Heart of Darkness? I know for sure that Kizz is – and that she’s ready to start talking about the first 40 or so pages – but I don’t know who else is participating in this little discussion group. If you’re “in,” ‘fess up and let me know how far you’ve read…

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Well….CRAP!


I finally got in touch with the principal of LHS this morning. I decided to try the seven-a.m., call-before-the-day-gets-started tactic and, lo and behold, he actually answered his phone!

He didn’t have good news for me, though; they decided to go with the other candidate. He was very kind about it in what I felt was a genuine way – I didn’t get the whole “it was a very deep pool” bullshit that I got from the principal of my internship school – LHS’s principal explained that they were genuinely torn by their decision and that he would keep all of my contact information in case something unexpected opens up.

I’m disappointed, but less so because I more than half expected this to happen. CT assures me that something will come – “good teachers get jobs,” she says. I’m not so sure – our market for English teachers is pretty saturated at the moment – but I’m going to keep letting the Universe know that I’m still here and still want to work.

Thank you all so much for waiting this out with me! It was easier knowing I have you all behind me!

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Playing Cat and Mouse

So, there was some action on the job front today, but it never amounted to anything…

I came home from assisting in a sign language class this morning to find my answering machine blinking. One of the messages was from (gasp!) the principal of LHS!! I immediately called him back and got his secretary, who put me through to….

…HIS VOICE MAIL!!! (grrrr!)

I left a peppy message: “HI! It’s Mrs. Chili returning your call – TAG! You’re IT!! I’ll be in and out all day, so you can either try me at home or on my cell…” and left both numbers.

When I came back this afternoon, there were no new messages from Mr. Principal. I called again, just because, well, I can’t stand it anymore, and got the secretary again. She told me to wait a second and put me on hold. Then she came back, asked my name again, and put me on hold. When she came back this time, she told me that he was with a parent and could he call me back.

I was with WeedWoman at the time and, while all this was happening, she was standing there, waving her arms in front of her and whispering “If it’s Mrs. Chili, tell her I’m NOT HERE!!!” I’m not sure she was too far off.

So, that’s all the news that’s fit to print. When we finally DO talk in person, you’ll be the next to know.

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My Thoughts, Exactly


Seems to be a good day for Calvin here at Chez Chili, huh?

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Should I, or Shouldn’t I?


I STILL haven’t heard anything from LHS.

Here’s my question – should I call them to find out what’s going on, or should I just continue to wait quietly? I’ve gotten two varying opinions on this – CT says “CALL THEM” and Bowyer says “just wait it out.” Honestly, I could go either way.

What do YOU think I should do?

(author’s note: I did. I ended up getting dumped to voice mail where I left a little message. Here’s hoping someone calls me tomorrow…)

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It’s ALL About PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY

Oh, for CRYING OUT LOUD!

Bowyer teaches biology in high school, and has for the past eleven or so years. He’s a great teacher – I’ve seen him in action and it’s obvious that he loves what he does. Lately, though, things haven’t been so great for him, and that’s what I’m ranting about.

Over the past several years, teachers I know have been complaining about the increasing lack of student involvement. Kids are getting harder and harder to engage, they say, and they’re taking less and less personal responsibility for their own selves. Work – both quantity and quality – has been on a steady decline for the last five or six years – maybe longer, I’m told, and the administrations that my teacher friends work under have been less inclined to support teacher efforts to try to reverse this trend. Parents are more likely to blame the teachers for student failure than they are the students themselves. No Child Left Behind is just an abomination – the standards for achievement and improvement are not only unreasonable, but often patently irrational and everyone has been scrambling to “meet the standards” so that the money, such as it is, keeps coming.

Where does this leave the people actually DOING the work, the teachers and students? The learning – and working – environment has been consistently eroded in the name of “measurable progress.”

Such has been the case for Bowyer. His curriculum is RIGHT in line with the state standards. He challenges his students; he varies the work he expects kids to do (papers, labs, projects, etc.), he regularly assesses their knowledge and skills. He’s doing everything he’s supposed to be doing, according to the rules set down by the school board and the Department of Education. Let me say this again – he’s doing EVERYTHING HE’S SUPPOSED TO BE DOING. So what’s the problem?

His kids are failing. Not all of them, mind you, and not as many as were failing this time last year, but far more are failing than his administration would like to see (though how many failures are “acceptable” no one has quite articulated). As a result, he’s been “written up,” which, if I’m understanding this correctly, means that the process of official sanction has begun. Bowyer will get a mentor who will come into his classroom on regular observation visits; he’ll have to submit more documentation about exactly what he’s covering in his classes, what he expects the students to do and how he assesses that work; he’ll have to attend meetings where he talks about such things. He will be closely monitored and “guided” in the hopes that his failure rate will drop. This makes everyone but Bowyer feel better: the administration looks good because they’re taking action with what they see as an ineffective teacher, the students and the parents are happy because they have someone else to blame for the students’ lack of progress, and the school looks good because it’s being proactive in the face of NCLB – they’ll have documentation!!

Here’s the thing, though; no one in authority – and I mean NO ONE – has mentioned a damned word about the STUDENTS’ responsibility in Bowyer’s failure rate. Several of his students are failing not because they can’t understand the material or for some lack of teaching skill on Bowyer’s part, but because they don’t bother showing up for class. Or school, for that matter. Some kids are failing because they don’t do the work – they show up and participate in class discussions and they may even pass the tests, but they don’t do the homework or hand in completed labs – they’re just not doing a significant amount of the work – work that constitutes a large portion of their final grades.

Neither of these factors is Bowyer’s responsibility and there’s really very little that he can – or should – do to affect any change about them. We’re not talking about fourth-graders, here; we’re talking about high school-aged kids – fourteen to eighteen year olds who, by this point, should at least have an inkling about the concepts of personal responsibility and consequences. Bowyer is more than willing to work with the kids who are struggling but he’s not willing (and nor should he be, in my opinion) to chase down or hassle the kids who’ve decided they’re not going to participate in their own education. He shouldn’t have to deal with parents who come to him angry that “he’s failing my kid” (which I love, in a bitter and ironic sort of way. Teachers don’t GIVE grades, kids EARN them. Teachers don’t fail kids; kids fail themselves – but that’s another post). My point is that, in high school, we should be spending a significant amount of our time and effort preparing kids to make their way in the world. Bowyer’s trying to do that and teach biology at the same time and now he’s getting crap for that. I’ve gotta tell ya, this ain’t how to do it.

Look. It’s all very simple. Here is the work we’re doing in this class. You find out, in the first week of school, what this is going to be about. I give you a basic idea of what I’m going to expect – what we’re going to read, how often we’re going to write or test, how much this or that will be weighted in your final grade. You find out what you can expect from me and what I will and won’t do to see that you succeed. From there on out, it’s in your hands. It’s YOUR job to do the work – I’m not going to chase you down or remind you about due dates. You can do the work or not – that’s your decision – but understand that a failure to even attempt to do the work will result in your failing the course, and you forfeit your right to complain about that TWO WEEKS BEFORE SCHOOL ENDS. If you’re struggling, you need to come to me and tell me so and I will do everything – and I mean everything – in my power to get you upright again. If you can’t finish a paper by the due date, you need to come to me (and NOT the day before the thing is due, by the way) to let me know what the problem is and I assure you that, 99% of the time, we’ll adjust the date so you can do the work sufficiently. Get the big picture here? Whose responsibility is it? MY job is to present this material to you in a logical, ordered, varied and intersting way. MY job is to help you understand this material and teach you how to take it out into the world with you and make good use of it. YOUR job is to TAKE SOME RESPONSIBILITY for yourself and your learning. Show up to class. BRING A PENCIL, for crying out loud! Listen to me and to others and to yourself. Talk, think, take chances. DO THE WORK. And, perhaps most importantly, don’t blame me or anyone else when you choose not to talk or think or take chances or do the work. You have a responsibility to yourself, and it’s not my job, or your parents’ job, or the administration’s job to see to it that you carry that responsibility out.

I’m angered that Bowyer’s been put in this situation. It’s political and stupid and an utter waste of time and energy on everyone’s part. It makes me frightened to accept a job in education (and no, I haven’t heard anything back from LHS yet – I’ll tell you as soon as I do). I have no patience for this crap.

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