Thursday, March 29, 2007


Two seventh-grade boys talking to one another.

"What's that on your face? A pimple?"


"It's big."

Oh, I'm so glad I'm not thirteen any more.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


I found out from Lois Lowry's blog that there's a bit of a controversy going on regarding the Holocaust and shoelaces.

Here Lois posted about a teacher who is having students collect shoelaces - six million centimeters of them - to help them understand the magnitude of six million as a number and as a death toll of the Holocaust. The teacher was inspired by the documentary Paper Clips, which I saw last summer and thought was wonderful.

A couple of days later, Lois posted this, and included the address of Roger Sutton's blog, where many commenters have said what they think about this shoelace project, for and against. (I just checked out this link, and it takes you to the Horn Book home page. Roger Sutton is the editor of the Horn Book. If you click on "Blog" and then go to the post from Sunday, March 25th, called "Six Million What?", you'll see what I'm talking about.)

While I do think the giant pair of shoes is a bit much, if this project has a fraction of the impact of the Paper Clips project, it will have achieved something amazing. Go and read the comments, though, on Roger Sutton's blog. I guarantee that you'll find them thought-provoking.

Another Carnival!

Where did that week go? It's already time for the Carnival again!

Here it is, hosted again this week by The Education Wonks.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Saturday Again

My grades are due on Tuesday, so why am I fooling around on the computer?

I don't have time to post, so read the Saturday Review of Books instead.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Carnival - Better Late than Never

I missed the Education Carnival again this week, but here it is, hosted by The Education Wonks again.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Fun Day

I took a personal day today (we get two per year) and went out in the country with a friend to visit another friend, one I hadn't actually met before today but just knew through her blog. There was also a woman who is here adopting, whom I hadn't met before either. We had a nice day, eating brunch and just talking. It was so relaxing for me to do something different other than go to work, come home, go to work, come home. It was also nice to be in a place that is quiet and peaceful, away from the racket of the city.

I left my own students with a highly competent sub, so no worries about whether they would run wild. And sure enough, everything went well, and I came back to a stack of work to grade.

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Mission Song

I have enjoyed some of the books I've read by John le Carré, but not all of them. I tried a couple of his earlier books and found them impossible to follow; all those men in grey suits blurred together. I liked The Little Drummer Girl and The Constant Gardener (the African setting of the latter helped), but I didn't like The Tailor of Panama - again, I found it difficult to follow. (All of these books are violent and full of profanity, just so you know.)

This latest novel, The Mission Song, is one that I liked. I enjoyed the perspective of Bruno Salvador, the top interpreter, though I could hardly believe someone with his experiences would really be so naive. People are out for their own interests instead of truth and justice? I'm shocked, shocked! Come on, Bruno.

My favorite passages all had to do with languages. Bruno grew up in Eastern Congo, the son of an Irish priest and the daughter of a village headman. He tells us that as a child he spent much of his time with the mission servants. "It was there...that my ever-growing love of the Eastern Congo's many languages and dialects took root. Hoarding them as my dear late father's precious legacy, I covertly polished and refined them, storing them in my head as protection from I knew not what perils, pestering native and missionary alike for a nugget of vernacular or turn of phrase. In the privacy of my tiny cell I composed my own childish dictionaries by candlelight. Soon, these magic puzzle-pieces became my identity and refuge, the private sphere that nobody could take away from me and only the few enter." And later: "every language was precious to me, not only the heavyweights but the little ones that were condemned to die for want of written form;...the missionary's son needed to run after these erring sheep and lead them back to the fold;...I heard legend, history, fable and poetry in them and the voice of my imagined mother regaling me with spirit-tales." There's lots more wonderful writing like this.

Ultimately, Bruno becomes another le Carré hero who tries to do the right thing and ends up in a mess because of it. But nevertheless I found his story well worth reading. I hope le Carré keeps writing about Africa.

Sunday, March 18, 2007


On Thursday, the phone company called and said that if we didn't pay our bill immediately, they would cut us off on Saturday. When I got home, I received this message. How much, I asked. Nobody knew.

Really, the fact that we have a working landline is so unusual that it seems foolish to complain. But I will, nonetheless.

On Friday, we sent someone down to the phone company with a wad of cash, hoping to hit the right amount (not as easy as it sounds, since we get a bill about once every six months and we just paid a random amount last month, too).

Today, we found our phone bill stuck in our gate.

Reading Update

Books #24, 25 and 26 for 2007 are The Boleyn Inheritance, Devices and Desires, and The Mission Song.

Teaching Middle School

Great article on teaching middle school from yesterday's New York Times.

Thanks to Se Hace Camino Al Andar.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

A Saturday Tradition

Saturday Review of Books and working in my classroom.

Journal Entry

I was journaling with my students this week in response to the prompt: "What do you like and not like about where you live?"

I love the good weather, flowers, friendly neighbors, the way we can eat outside all year round. I love the lizards, the fresh fruit, the palm trees.

I don't like the electricity problems or the smells of burning rubber and plastic and charcoal. I don't like the gunshots I hear sometimes at night. I hate the bugs and the rats. I don't like the dust, covering everything a few minutes after the room has been cleaned.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Three Little...Puppies?

Political correctness rises to new heights.

Highlight of the Week

One of my eighth grade students came into class one day this week brandishing a poem he had written. He told everyone how much his family had liked it. He described the process of writing it, the way he sat down with kind of an ordinary idea, and then thought of something else, and soon was in full creative mode. He explained every image to us and where it had come from, and about the last lines he said that they were so good that he could hardly believe he had written them himself - he thought maybe they had come from a poem I'd read to them, and actually checked that poem to make sure he hadn't taken any words from it!

The other kids read his work and several said they thought he must have found it on the internet. He insisted that he hadn't - I could look on every site and I would never find it, he said, because he had written it!

It was wonderful to see him get so excited about something he wrote, and about the process of it, and the reaction of others to it.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Something to Be Thankful For

We don't have an intercom at our school.

Another Wednesday, Another Carnival

Life is just one big celebration, isn't it? Every week there's a brand new Carnival of Education! Take a look the 110th Carnival at The Education Wonks.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Book Meme

I got this one from A Shrewdness of Apes.

*Look at the list of books below.
*Bold the ones you’ve read.
*Italicize the ones you want to read.
*Leave blank the ones that you aren’t interested in.

1. The Da Vinci Code (Dan Brown)
2. Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)
3. To Kill A Mockingbird (Harper Lee)
4. Gone With The Wind (Margaret Mitchell)
5. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (Tolkien)
6. The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (Tolkien)
7. The Lord of the Rings: Two Towers (Tolkien)
8. Anne of Green Gables (L.M. Montgomery)
9. Outlander (Diana Gabaldon)
10. A Fine Balance (Rohinton Mistry)

11. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Rowling)
12. Angels and Demons (Dan Brown)
13. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Rowling)
14. A Prayer for Owen Meany (John Irving)
15. Memoirs of a Geisha (Arthur Golden)
16. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Rowling)
17. Fall on Your Knees(Ann-Marie MacDonald)
18. The Stand (Stephen King)
19. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Rowling)
20. Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte)
21. The Hobbit (Tolkien)
22. The Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger) Tried it, didn't like it.
23. Little Women (Louisa May Alcott)
24. The Lovely Bones (Alice Sebold)
25. Life of Pi (Yann Martel)
26. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams)
27. Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte)
28. The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (C. S. Lewis)
29. East of Eden (John Steinbeck)
30. Tuesdays with Morrie (Mitch Albom)
31. Dune (Frank Herbert)
32. The Notebook (Nicholas Sparks)
33. Atlas Shrugged (Ayn Rand)
34. 1984 (Orwell)
35. The Mists of Avalon (Marion Zimmer Bradley)

36. The Pillars of the Earth (Ken Follett)
37. The Power of One (Bryce Courtenay)
38. I Know This Much is True (Wally Lamb)
39. The Red Tent (Anita Diamant)
40. The Alchemist (Paulo Coelho)
41. The Clan of the Cave Bear (Jean M. Auel)
42. The Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini)
43. Confessions of a Shopaholic (Sophie Kinsella)
44. The Five People You Meet In Heaven (Mitch Albom)
45. Bible
46. Anna Karenina (Tolstoy)
47. The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas)
48. Angela’s Ashes (Frank McCourt)
49. The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck)
50. She’s Come Undone (Wally Lamb)
51. The Poisonwood Bible (Barbara Kingsolver)
52. A Tale of Two Cities (Dickens)
53. Ender’s Game (Orson Scott Card)
54. Great Expectations (Dickens)
55. The Great Gatsby (Fitzgerald)
56. The Stone Angel (Margaret Laurence)
57. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Rowling)
58. The Thorn Birds (Colleen McCullough)
59. The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood)
60. The Time Traveller’s Wife (Audrey Niffenegger)
61. Crime and Punishment (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)
62. The Fountainhead (Ayn Rand)
63. War and Peace (Tolstoy)
64. Interview With The Vampire (Anne Rice) Tried it. Didn't like it.
65. Fifth Business (Robertson Davis)
66. One Hundred Years Of Solitude (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)
67. The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants (Ann Brashares)
68. Catch-22 (Joseph Heller)
69. Les Miserables. (Hugo) I've tried it a couple of times. I need to try it again.
70. The Little Prince (Antoine de Saint-Exupery)
71. Bridget Jones’ Diary (Fielding)
72. Love in the Time of Cholera (Marquez)
73. Shogun (James Clavell)
74. The English Patient (Michael Ondaatje)
75. The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett)
76. The Summer Tree (Guy Gavriel Kay)
77. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Betty Smith)
78. The World According To Garp (John Irving)
79. The Diviners (Margaret Laurence)
80. Charlotte’s Web (E.B. White)
81. Not Wanted On The Voyage (Timothy Findley)
82. Of Mice And Men (Steinbeck)
83. Rebecca (Daphne DuMaurier)
84. Wizard’s First Rule (Terry Goodkind)
85. Emma (Jane Austen)
86. Watership Down(Richard Adams)
87. Brave New World (Aldous Huxley)
88. The Stone Diaries (Carol Shields)
89. Blindness (Jose Saramago)
90. Kane and Abel (Jeffrey Archer)
91. In The Skin Of A Lion (Ondaatje)
92. Lord of the Flies (Golding)
93. The Good Earth (Pearl S. Buck)
94. The Secret Life of Bees (Sue Monk Kidd)
95. The Bourne Identity (Robert Ludlum)
96. The Outsiders (S.E. Hinton)
97. White Oleander (Janet Fitch)
98. A Woman of Substance (Barbara Taylor Bradford)
99. The Celestine Prophecy (James Redfield)
100. Ulysses (James Joyce)
101. Jurassic Park
102. Learn Me Good

She Said It, I Didn't

Here's what Mrs. Bluebird has to say about seventh graders.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Why Teenagers Have Mood Swings

While at first you might say "duh" to the headline - "Biological Basis for Teenage Mood Swings Found" - this is a very interesting article. I was a little horrified by this phrase, though - "the study opens a door to drug development to help counteract the more severe mood swings." Though the article goes on to say that the main focus is helping adults understand why this typical adolescent behavior occurs, it scares me to think that we may take a normal human process and treat it with drugs. Any kind of discomfort or negative emotion will soon be able to be dealt with medicinally. Does this worry anybody else? While it may start with the "more severe" cases, these things seem to trickle down quickly to the point where anybody feeling a little grumpy gets a prescription.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Not Quite a Meme

Sometimes we who live here in Tecwil indulge in a kind of gallows humor. When things are unacceptably difficult, one way to deal with them is to laugh. In fact, it's one of the only ways I've found that works. A year or so ago, at a time when the kidnappings in the country were becoming more and more common, I was visiting the subscription library to which I belong. It's open one evening a week for everyone to come change their books and enjoy some social time too. For a few weeks, all the conversation had been about kidnappings we knew about and people we knew who had had this happen to them. Some of the stories were tragic. All were upsetting. That day, one of the members, an expat who's been here for many years, commented that he thought it would be a good idea if all of us checked out a few extra books, just in case we were kidnapped. He said he'd taken to carrying reading material in his car.

He was kidding (though perhaps not completely), and we all laughed. But I've thought of his remark several times since then. And I've wondered what would be good books to have with you if you were kidnapped.

Understand, I'm not expecting to be kidnapped. But it has happened to people I know.

I realize this doesn't have the right kind of universal application to make a good meme, but if you, too, are prone to reflect on this kind of thing, please post what you would like to have for reading material if you were kidnapped. Think of it as Desert Island Discs, with a twist. In that BBC radio show, the premise is that you're a castaway on a desert island and you have to say what eight pieces of music and one book - excluding the Bible and the complete works of Shakespeare, which of course any self-respecting desert island has already - you would like to have with you. You are also allowed one luxury item with no survival value. In the kidnapping scenario, there's an added feature - you're scared, and the outcome of this is out of your hands completely. On the desert island, I assume you'd be scared too, but you could keep busy doing things like finding water, building shelter, talking to a volleyball - you know, stuff like that. But as a kidnap victim, you'd need to keep yourself as calm as possible and there would be very little for you to do, beyond praying that the people negotiating your release would have success. So you'd want things to read that would keep you calm, absorb your attention, and occupy your time. You can pick as many books as you want, but remember that the combined weight of the books should make it realistic that you'd have them in your schoolbag or briefcase or whatever you normally carry around.

So what books would I like to have in case of kidnapping? Well, I'd really like to have my Bible with me and my beloved Book of Common Prayer. Both of those are actually possible because I own pocket versions and often one or the other is in my bag anyway. I think I'd be likely to want something to read that was familiar. In times of crisis I always find myself rereading books by C.S. Lewis, so perhaps a couple of the Chronicles of Narnia or The Screwtape Letters. I think it would be good, too, to have something that I hadn't read before, or had just started, and that had lots of characters and took place in a totally different time and place. Something that would be long enough to keep me absorbed for many hours. What else? War and Peace would be the perfect choice.

And you? Or am I the only person insane enough to think this way? (Please understand, I do understand the seriousness of this crime, and I hope my flippancy doesn't offend anybody.)

I wrote about kidnapping before here.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

School Visit

On Wednesday I went out in the country with a team from our school. Half of us went to one school and half to another. We were working with some professors from a university in the United States who have been coming here to do professional development for the teachers at these two rural schools. Since the professors can only be here three times a year, they wanted to have some of us who live here do some visits in between. Most of the staff at these schools have had very little educational opportunity and they don't have access to things like conferences or professional books.

The school I visited had 260 students. The sixth grade meets in the afternoon, so I didn't see them, but the students I saw were crammed into eight classrooms, sitting four to a small, rather uncomfortable bench with attached desk. They were in uniforms, though here and there you'd see a student in other clothes. The director said that many of them have just one uniform, and by Wednesday it's dirty.

The teachers were (mostly) enthusiastic and doing the very best they could with what they had. The educational system here involves mostly rote memory, and the students recite what they have memorized in unison. The classrooms did not have full walls, just a piece of particleboard that stopped about two feet from the floor and perhaps six feet from the rafters. This meant that in one classroom, you could hear recitations going on all around. The teachers were forced to yell to be heard, and the noise was terrific. Many of the noises I have in my classroom (generator, air conditioner, fans) were not present, because there is no electricity at all in the village. The director told me that he has a tiny generator at his house that runs a small TV and a radio, but there's no national power and no other generators. The classrooms each had a particleboard chalkboard, and most of the kids seemed to have copies of the textbooks, which are more like booklets than real books.

In the morning we observed some lessons taught by one of the visiting professors and then walked around watching what was going on the classrooms. We had lunch together, and in the afternoon we attended a professional development session. The focus was on reflecting after a lesson about what went well and what could go better. Several of the teachers shared about lessons they had taught. Then some shared stories they had written. There is not much children's literature available in the local language, so the professors had suggested that they try writing some stories of their own. These were enjoyable to listen to, as they told them with a great deal of drama.

As they reflected on their lessons, I reflected on mine, too. I wonder how I would be able to teach without any way to make handouts, without a classroom library, without any kind of soundproofing, without windows (the dust billowed in through the half-walls, so that I had to wipe it off my notebook every few minutes), without an overhead or a decent white board, without my library of teacher books, without the internet, without - and this is the biggest one of all - my expensive education. In many ways, our school is basic compared with what is available in the United States, but compared with the school we visited, ours is palatial and ultramodern.

The families who send their kids to this school do not pay any tuition, because an American Christian organization is providing sponsorships. The organization also dug the well in the school's courtyard, helped build the school, and helps pay the teachers' salaries. The parents are asked only for a small contribution to pay for chalk and the lady who sweeps the classrooms. I wish I had asked how much this was, but I didn't. The director told me that even this small amount is well out of reach for many of the families in the community.

When we go back to visit, one of the things we've been asked to do is to help the teachers learn how to use the supplies that have been donated for them. Things like construction paper, crayons, small white boards similar to slates, and math manipulatives. They have also been given some books in the local language, including some big books. They were taught a lesson on how to read aloud to a class, as many of them have never done this (not having any books to read aloud).

I hope that we will be able to provide some useful help and not be seen just as people coming from outside to tell them what to do. Their situation is very different from ours and we have as much to learn from them as they do from us.

Book Reviews

Here's the Saturday Review of Books for this week.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

New Carnival

Yesterday while I was out visiting the rural school (more about that later), I missed a new Education Carnival that was posted at What It's Like on the Inside.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Telling Teachers How to Do their Jobs

I've been reading this post and these comments over at From The Trenches of Public Ed. - fascinating stuff. I agree with the original post in many ways; teaching is a job that everyone thinks is easy. You get those long summers! You only work until three o'clock every day! Those who can't do, teach! I've seen quite a few friends change their tune a little bit about teaching when they got into the classroom and saw it's not quite as easy as it looks.

The comments were interesting, too, and I found myself agreeing with some of what was said on both "sides" of the argument. I think it's much too simplistic to say, as one commenter does, that "It wasn't the poverty or lack of utilities that caused the under-achievement, it was the under-achievement of all the educators who under-taught and under-served those students before they entered Jane's classroom." (Someone identifying himself as TMAO is responding to Jane, who commented on the difficult home situations her students have. She said that some of them don't have electricity at home, hence the reference to utilities.)

I've been reflecting a lot on the relationship between the home backgrounds kids have and their ability to succeed in school. I know my situation is quite different from that of most of the teachers commenting, because not only do I not teach in a public school, but I don't even teach in the United States. However, tomorrow I'm going to be visiting a local "Tecwilian" school. The students there won't come from homes with electricity, or homes that own books, or even, in some cases, homes with literate parents. The teachers are expected to have completed the grade above the one they are teaching. And there aren't political bodies overseeing what's being done in this school - in some schools in this country, there aren't even enough pencils to go around.

Of course kids' background matters. Of course their home life matters. Of course it's not all the fault of the teacher they had last year if a child can't learn easily. And I don't believe there is a one-size-fits-all solution to any of these problems, either in the United States or in this country.

Maybe I'll have some reflections to post after tomorrow's visit.

Friday, March 02, 2007

War and Peace Arrives!

Back in January, I was whining about not being able to find a copy of War and Peace. Matsu very generously offered to send me a copy. It arrived today! It spent a little time in Customs - perhaps being read by the officials - who knows?

My reading has slowed down lately due to all the grading I've had, and also, I confess, our newfound addiction to 24 (we've been watching the DVDs of the first and then second seasons). There's nothing like a good dose of improbability at the end of the day. Right now I am in the middle of The Boleyn Inheritance. But as soon as I finish it, probably this weekend, I am planning to embark on War and Peace. Hooray!

Probably there aren't too many blog posts out there which mention both 24 and War and Peace.

Thanks, Matsu!

Thursday, March 01, 2007

DP Theme Day: Men at Work

Go here to see the Sharon, CT entry for this month's theme, "Men at work." You'll also find links to the other DP blogs that are participating.

108th Carnival of Education

Check out this week's Carnival, hosted by Dr. Homeslice.