Thursday, November 30, 2006

What You Know by Heart

I just finished reading an excellent teacher book, What You Know by Heart, by Katie Wood Ray.

I've been reading a lot lately about how a writing teacher needs to be a writer, and so far this year I've done two of the assignments with my kids and shared the results with them. I have found this effective as a teaching tool, and I'm also writing more than I have in years. I think it's hard on us literature types to write a lot - I end up disgusted with so many of the results, largely, I think, because my expectations are unrealistically high due to all the wonderful books I've read.

This book goes into what it means to read like a writing teacher and to come up with curriculum from your own writing, and from professional writers who become your "co-teachers." There are plenty of useful examples and ideas.

Great book.


I was reading a book with my seventh graders in which the word "hoeing" appeared. As in, the women were hoeing in the garden.

I noticed a lot of uncomfortable snickering, and it didn't take me too long to realize what they were reacting to. So I stopped the reading and wrote the word "hoe" on the board. I illustrated it. Then I wrote the word "ho," explained its etymology and why it was not a nice thing to call someone.

When I was done with this little talk, the kids were really concerned that I left the word "ho" up on the board. They urged me to erase it.

I had to post this after reading Ms. Cornelius' experience.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Uma Thurman Says...

I was reading an old Reader's Digest last night, and saw an interview with Uma Thurman. I've never seen any of her movies and hardly knew who she was, but I recently read a review of a book by her dad, Robert Thurman. It's part of a series on the Seven Deadly Sins; Thurman wrote the one on anger. (Here's part of the review online.)

So this caught my eye in the RD interview with her:

RD: Your mother was a model. Your father, a former Tibetan Buddhist monk, teaches at Columbia University.
Thurman: Because of him, I often get asked if I'm a Buddhist. I always say no, because I have such respect for the rigor of being a practicing religious person. I'm an actress and a mom, and I probably don't have enough of an active spiritual life. And I don't know why people run around calling themselves by the names of religions when they don't actually practice them.

Hmm, interesting.

First of all, I agree with her that people are quick to use the names of religions they don't practice. (I say that as a Christian, not as a Buddhist.) But I was more interested by her opinion that being a busy mom is somehow incompatible with having an "active spiritual life."

What do you think?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006


Recently a student loaned me two books by Stephenie Meyer, Twilight and New Moon. Yes, they are teenage vampire books, but I thoroughly enjoyed them. Not only are the stories wildly inventive and just about impossible to put down, but Meyer really knows what it feels like to be a teenager. I have several students who are loving her books. And now we have to wait until Fall 2007 for the next one!

Since I had started the whole vampire genre, I tried to read some Anne Rice, but YA vampires are more my speed, it turns out. I really didn't enjoy Interview with the Vampire at all - didn't even finish it, in fact. My main feeling about it was nausea.


Recently, and I can't remember where, I read about a teacher who had a rodent in her classroom but nothing could be done about it because it was against district policy to kill animals? Is this sounding familiar to anyone?

Anyway, we have no such policies at our school. (PETA doesn't have many chapters in the third world, you'll find.) And soon, I'm going to have to request a trap for the little guy who has invaded my classroom. When I'm here by myself on Saturdays and it's quiet, I see him come out and run back and forth. (I'm not sure why I'm calling him "he.")

The reaction of my big tough middle schoolers when he does show himself on a weekday is pretty funny. Some of them scream or climb on chairs. Yeah, it's partly for effect, but some of them seem genuinely scared.

Once, when I was teaching much younger children, a mouse ran by during class. We were reading Prince Caspian aloud at the time, and I promptly christened the mouse Reepicheep. Not the brightest move, as it turned out, because a few days later we found our little friend, dead, in the doorway. It's never nice to find dead things in your classroom, but dead things with names are more upsetting than anonymous dead things.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Switched to Beta

It was more traumatic than expected, of course. But I think I'm all switched over now.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Maybe It's the Third World

This morning on our way to church we picked up a lady we knew and gave her a ride. She said she had almost not gone to church this morning because it rained last night and the public transportation she takes drops her off a little distance from the church and she has to walk through the crowded market in the mud. Then she decided that Christ had sacrificed for her, and she could get her feet muddy if she had to. So she was standing out on the street waiting, but also praying that someone would give her a ride all the way to the church.

I tell this story not to praise ourselves (it's hardly a big deal to pick up someone you know and give her a ride up the street), but to say that there are lots of ladies standing out on the streets of third-world cities, wondering how they are going to manage. They are selling something or buying something or praying for a ride, and somehow they are making it. This lady isn't poor, and she's educated, and she's altogether a wonderful person. She just made me think of the millions waiting there on the street for the next thing, whatever it is.

I read an article in the New Yorker recently about a third world city: Lagos, Nigeria; thankfully I don't live in that particular city, though all too many details sounded horribly familiar. I really do believe there's no such thing as a God-forsaken town, but if there were one, I think it would be Lagos. (I feel a little better after reading this article about how Nigerians face life with humor, but not much.) I don't even want to know about the kind of lives millions upon millions of people live, but I read it and I think you should too. Unfortunately it doesn't seem to be online yet, but here's somebody's blog post about it and here's somebody else's. I'll keep looking for it, and I'll post it when it's available at the the New Yorker's site.

Life's not easy anywhere; I know that. But especially, life's not easy for people who live in third-world cities.


Dr. Bacchus has some fascinating words about Scrooge.

Saturday, November 25, 2006


I'm sitting in my classroom. It's Saturday morning and ALL my grading is done! ALL my lesson planning is done for the week to come! My children are enjoyably occupied with their friends. I'm listening to music. The generator will be on for ten more minutes.

Life is good!

Just one weird thing - the security guard was sitting outside my classroom looking in my window and playing with his gun. But that's not as sinister as it sounds. I think he's basically harmless, just bored.

I love the feeling of being completely caught up on grading. It doesn't happen often, and it won't last long. But it's nice.

I hope all my readers are having as good a weekend as I am!

Friday, November 24, 2006


Anybody who's been living as an expat for a while has plenty of foreign language mishap stories. Lots of them are related to interpreting (oral rendering of one language into another) rather than translation (doing the same in writing).

Here's an interesting article about being careful to choose a good translator.

It begins:


When Alain Thienot, a professor of business administration at a French engineering school, decided to translate a classic French finance text into English for his international students, he bought a top-rated computer translation program to do the job, rather than hire a translator.

Among hundreds of errors, the program produced a document that translated the French word "entreprise" as "undertaking," rather than company, and "frais" as "fresh air" instead of fees or expenses. A frustrated Thienot had to labor five hours a day during his summer vacation to correct "so many stupidities," he said.


I had a similar thing happen to me once; someone hired me to "fix" a document which he had created using one of those computer translators. (Translating from English to French. I was supposed to tweak the French a bit.) The resulting mess was so dreadful that I just had to start from scratch.


Again, courtesy of Blogs of Note at, I found a whole new world. I almost didn't click on it because Antarctica was spelled wrong, but turns out that's Blogger's mistake, not repeated on the blog itself, Antarctica.

Beautiful to look at, but I'm sure glad he's there and I'm not.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving

I had to work today (half day), and we're going to have our turkey dinner tomorrow. Nevertheless, I thought today about thankfulness.

Of course there are many things I'm thankful for - our generator is fixed, everyone in my little family is healthy, we have somewhere to live and plenty to eat. But really, what I'm most thankful for is the opportunities I've had, purely because of the family I was born into and the country on my passport. Opportunities that I've done nothing to deserve.

When I was born, my feet were bent upwards so that my toes touched my shins. Because I was in a place with good medical care, my parents were instructed in how to exercise my feet until they reached the correct position. I've seen beggars on the street in several countries whose feet could probably have been fixed with similar exercises.

Since I was nine years old, I've worn glasses. If I didn't have them, I'd live in a very blurry world, since I'm extremely myopic. Yet I was able to get the eye care I needed.

We never had lots of money in my family, but we always had plenty of books. I was blessed to be able to go to excellent schools and get a great education. Though I borrowed big-time for college, and only finished paying it back recently, I was able to study what interested me. Most people around the world don't have that opportunity.

Life is sure unfair. I wonder why I got all the breaks, and so many people around the world got none. I don't know why, but I'm very thankful.

Sunday, November 12, 2006


On an email list I get for missionary kids (MKs), someone posted the trailer for a new movie entitled "BRATS: Our Journey Home." It's billed as "the first documentary on growing up military."

I am not a military brat (what a horrible name!), but I did grow up as the child of missionaries, and as I watched the trailer, I could certainly see all kinds of parallels between the two. Both grow up in a country different from their passports (at least, MKs almost always do, and brats often do as well), both are the children of people dedicated to a higher cause.

As the person who posted the link asked, when is someone going to make a documentary about MKs?

At this site you can watch the trailer.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

MySpace articles

For Some, Online Persona Undermines a Resume.

MySpace is Public Space When it Comes to Job Search.

What You Say Online Could Haunt You. This one has some middle school examples - some of the things about college and jobs may be a little too far in the future to be very convincing to kids that age.

Why Parents Must Mind MySpace.

MySpace Dangers. This site is trying to sell you software to spy on your kid, but it is an interesting summary of some of the dangers of this whole social networking phenomenon.

Website's Power to Overexpose Teens Stirs a Warning.

About MySpace And Your Kids.

Voices of Youth site where kids discuss the problems they see with MySpace.

I Hate Teaching

Even as I type those words, "I hate teaching," I know they aren't true. I really don't hate it, not every day anyway. But this has been a rough week.

I know most of the things I deal with are common to all middle school teachers. This week we got into a discussion about MySpace in eighth grade; the kids were incensed that teachers might look at their MySpace accounts. I pointed out that anybody in the planet can; they aren't private. (I know you can make your profile private, but even those who do often comment on others' sites that are public.) My favorite quote: "If I want to endanger my safety, that's my own business." By the end of the conversation, the students were furious.

So many of my students don't turn in their assignments. We just got through report cards and parent/teacher conferences, with all the associated weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth, and we're three weeks into a new quarter. Parents made threats, removed privileges, and punished their children in ways I'd be mandated to report if I lived in the United States. Yet when I entered grades today in my classroom, I was horrified by how low some of them are already. (It's just amazing watching the effect of a zero on a grade.) How quickly they forget.

And as long as I'm whining, I get so tired of the complaining from my eighth graders. A friend who is an experienced parent tells me that that's just the way kids that age are. I know it's nothing personal, but it's hard not to take it personally sometimes, especially when they are complaining about what we're doing in class. I work six days a week to do a good job in my teaching. Sometimes it feels as though I don't have time for anything else.

So yes, dealing with middle schoolers is just par for the course. But this week I've also had to deal with a generator that's not working properly. We hardly ever have city power during the day here, and we run our generator at school from 7:20 AM to 4 PM every day. When the generator goes out, my classroom is quickly dark and roasting. It's 90 degrees outside, and I have two air conditioners in my classroom. Only one works, and not that well, but still, it helps keep the room pleasant. It's not completely dark, because I have two big windows, but it's dark enough that I hear whining about it. When I have a room full of sweaty seventh graders trying to do silent reading in the dark, well, it's just not fun. (And silent? Ha!) But the worst part is that I have to open my windows and door, and as a result we hear every sound from outside - the honking of passing cars, the street merchants yelling and screaming, the high schoolers on break. People walk past in the hallway and distract my kids. Finally on Thursday I had had enough, and I said to one young man (an eighth grader) who was lolling about in my doorway, "Just go away!" He got deeply offended that I would speak to him like that.

On Friday, the generator mostly worked, but there were frequent brownouts, and both of my classroom computers would go down. This led to much ranting and raving from my students. I told them to write on paper with pens, but apparently that is no longer something some of them are capable of doing. (Oh, and incidentally, my students have access to four computers in the library, which they share with the rest of the middle and high school, and two in my classroom. I have to admit I am really jealous when I read teacher blogs that refer to a laptop for everyone in the class.)

I feel as though nobody learned one thing this week. I found myself going off into elaborate daydreams about a desk job, where I could just do my work and then go home, leaving it all behind. I wouldn't have to deal with kids and, in this idyllic office, there would be reliable electricity all the time. So I guess it wouldn't be in this country.

Most days, I love teaching, and on my best days I think I do it really well. But this week, I hated it.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Language Masala

This is a fun article about languages getting all mixed up. My favorite quote: "...the young are linguistic magpies, borrowing from any language, accent or dialect that seems fashionable." I enjoy watching the "magpies" I teach mix and match their languages. Lots of great comments on this one, too.

Monday, November 06, 2006

How Corrupt is Your Country?

Transparency International releases an annual report on the levels of corruption in the countries of the world. This year's report just came out. Here are the best and worst and here's the complete list.

For comparison purposes, here's last year's list.

This list is always big news here in Tecwil, because, while we may not rank near the top in too many things, we're always really near the top (or the bottom, depending on your point of view) in the corruption scale. Yes, this country is very corrupt. Don't even try to compete.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Back to School

Tomorrow, after quite a long break for the 1st and 2nd of November (big holidays here in Tecwil and in many other countries too), it's back to school. I wish I could muster a little more enthusiasm about it. I'm ready, with some lessons that I'm looking forward to, but I would like a few more days off instead.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Short Story

My eighth graders are doing a short story genre study right now, and as well as reading a bunch of them, we're all writing one. Yes, we. I'm writing one too.

Whew, it isn't easy.

Right now I'm at the slogging my way through getting it down first draft stage. Of course, lots of student writing never really gets past that stage. I'm hoping mine will.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Theme Day at the DP Blogs

On the first of every month, lots of the DP blogs participate in a theme day. Today's topic is "something that will disappear soon." You can see a list of all the participants, with links to look at their photos, here, along with a photo of something that's going to disappear soon in France. I didn't know about it and I am very surprised!