Wednesday, October 31, 2007


It keeps raining and raining and raining. Everything feels damp and clammy. The clothes are molding on the line.

I think a lesson on the pathetic fallacy might be in order. It really does seem as if nature is grieving along with us. On Monday the kids were saying that God was crying.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


We ended up not having school today, due to a huge storm that has devastated the country. The government called a day off school - but not until 7:15 this morning, at which point many teachers and students had already arrived. In some ways it's a blessing, since this gives some space to take care of details. We'll get together again tomorrow to mourn our friend.

Monday, October 29, 2007


Today was a horrible day, but I guess the only way through grief is to go through it. That's how I've been talking all day, sounding kind of like Yoda. Or at least, like someone who's been through this grief thing before. I've said "I don't know" lots of times too, though. As in, "I don't know why she died when she was so young and doing so much good work." And, "I don't know why things like this happen." Lots of the time I didn't know what to say, but we all cried together and it seemed to work out somehow.

We started the day with an assembly, telling the kids exactly what had happened and sharing some scripture with them. Some of the kids said they didn't really believe it was true until they saw the Director crying during his talk. Honestly, I don't know how one would deal with a situation like this in a school without some kind of spiritual beliefs, because what is there to say in the face of death? What comfort can you give or receive without God's help?

We went to class, and we spent some time talking about our loss, remembering this person we all loved so much. There were many tears. Later we went out to the display that had been set up with photos and memorabilia from her office. There was paper for the kids to write things they remembered and appreciated about her. All of these writings will be put in a book for her family.

While I was in front of the display, kids were coming back and forth from my classroom. After a while I went back to check on the ones who were inside and there was a smell of burning. I had lit a votive candle which a staff member had given me this morning, and I had also stupidly left the matches on my desk and then left the room. What was I thinking? It turns out that some of my boys had been setting fire to pieces of toilet paper (we had a roll in the front of the room for nose-blowing purposes) and someone had even dropped one of the burning squares of paper into the recycled paper box. Thankfully we didn't have a burned down school to add to our list of crises, but it was a reminder that seventh graders can careen quickly from heartfelt grief to acts of arson. And that they shouldn't ever be left alone with matches.

When my eighth graders came, they were pretty much wrung out from a morning talking and grieving together. We talked for a few minutes and then we played a rousing game of Taboo. I felt a bit uncomfortable, as though we weren't being respectful, but then I remembered that K. knew these kids - she had taught them! - and that she would understand what I needed to do to get through my day with them. They were genuinely devastated by the loss but there's only so much crying you can do at one time. We all need breaks from the high emotion.

Tomorrow I'm going back to normal teaching. I'll be sensitive to students who need to talk, but none of us can handle the free-form grieving any more. On Wednesday morning we will have a memorial service and then we are off the rest of the week (national holidays).

I always read a poem with my students each day, and tomorrow I am planning to use Death, be not proud. And yes, it's a bit much for seventh and eighth graders, so here's the paraphrase I wrote. I'm planning to read my version first, and then Donne's. (I know his is way better, by the way. But if you have suggestions for how I could improve on mine, please feel free to comment.)

Death, don't think you're all that, even though some have said you're mighty and dreadful - you aren't. You think you're defeating those who die, but that's not the way it is, and you can't kill me, either. We get pleasure from rest and sleep, which are just imitations of you - won't we get even more pleasure when we die? As soon as good people die, they get rest for their bodies and freedom for their souls. You, Death, are a slave to many things - fate, chance, rulers, criminals. You hang out with poison, war, and sickness. If we want to sleep, we can always take Tylenol PM and get a better rest than you can give us, so what do you have to be proud about? After a short sleep, we'll wake to eternal life, and you, Death, won't even exist any more. Death: you're going to die!

If I didn't believe that, I wouldn't be getting through these days. Because I do believe it, I can, somehow.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

A Death in the Family

We have lost a colleague this weekend, a young, beautiful, and healthy woman. To my readers who know me personally and know where I'm writing from, email me for more details.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Middle School Drama

Mrs. Bluebird says: "I quit watching soap operas when I began to teach middle school because I have all the drama I can stand in my life."

Boy, is she right!

You can read the rest of the post here.

Saturday Review of Books

Here's today's edition.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Poetry Friday

Today's Poetry Friday roundup is at Literary Safari. One of these days I'm going to get organized enough to participate, too.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Reading Update

I haven't posted a reading update since August, and the reason, plain and simple, is that I haven't been reading much. Which makes me feel like a slug. I have so much grading every night and often fall asleep just a few pages into whatever I'm reading after I finally clear away all the student writing. I love Writer's Workshop, but someone rescue me from the huge stack to read every single evening.

Anyway, here goes...

Book #59 was a teacher book, The Nine Rights of Every Writer: A Guide for Teachers, by Vicki Spandel. It's mostly of the inspiration variety rather than the "here's what you can do in class" variety. Some very practical tips, though. Recommended.

Book #60: My Sister's Keeper. This was my first Jodi Picoult book and I liked it enough that I tried another one, Second Glance, but that one didn't grab me and I didn't finish it. My Sister's Keeper has a few too many neat coincidences, but overall I was fascinated by the premise and it kept me turning pages.

Book #61 was All American Girl, by Meg Cabot. This one was from my classroom library. It's a fun, quick read and quite popular with my seventh and eighth grade girls.

Books #62 and #63 were murder mysteries by Elizabeth George, In the Presence of the Enemy and For the Sake of Elena. I've commented before how amazing it is that Elizabeth George is American, because her British diction is just about perfect, at least to me it is, and remember that I haven't been in England in - ahem - well, just about twenty years now, but at one point I lived there for four years.

It truly is pitiful to me that I've only read that much since August, but right now I'm reading a couple of good books that perhaps I'll have something to say about: Kids Are Worth It (a reread - this is one of my favorite parenting books) and The Writing Workshop: Working Through the Hard Parts (And They're All Hard Parts) (which I'm loving). I haven't started a new novel yet but I have a big stack of them waiting for me.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

This Week's Carnival

My grades are due today, but I will spare a moment to link you to this week's Carnival of Education.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

So That's It

"The more you bang away, the more it becomes a classic, dunnit?" - Mick Jagger, interviewed on NPR this morning

Monday, October 22, 2007

Books Middle School Boys Will Fight Over

I know, I know, we're not looking for ways to get them to fight, but I have to admit I was secretly happy when my boys almost came to blows over a book. The series many of them are enjoying right now - and fighting over - is the Spy High series. I also have lots who are reading the Artemis Fowl books. I see from the site I just linked that there's a graphic novel coming out. I don't have that in my classroom - just the old-fashioned ones with words in them. The kids love them.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

More Links to Other People

Ursula K. Le Guin has some interesting things to say about writing. Thanks to Semicolon for getting me browsing on this site.

I found this next one on Blogger and it's priceless: The "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks. And a link from that site to one mocking my own pet peeve - Apostrophe Abuse.

And here's The YA YA YAs, a blog about YA literature. And Poetry for Children, a blog about - well, you figure it out. Thanks, Chicken Spaghetti.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Wednesday Off

We had the day off today - a national holiday. It's wonderful to have a Wednesday off and know you're going back to two days, and then another whole weekend! Of course, I worked a lot today, but this evening I have absolutely no grading to do. I also entered lots of grades on the computer. Friday is the last day of the first quarter and report cards are looming.

Here's this week's Carnival.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

So Now it's the Water

Remember I said that city water was our only utility that was working?


Earlier this week there was roadwork on our street - big trucks smoothing things out and spreading mud about. We don't know if that's the extent of the work or if there are plans to pave it. But in any case, this afternoon we noticed water spurting out of the pipe across the street, rather than into our cistern. Passers by were collecting it. I even saw someone having a drink. (Hint: just because it has potable in the name of the company doesn't mean that the water is potable. I'd boil it first, lady.) Yes, the lovely big trucks broke the water line.

It's raining a lot now - too much, in fact, and there are reports of flooding around the country - but we hope we can get this little problem fixed before the dry season starts.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Troy Revisited

Turns out the crying over the mention of his father wasn't added by Brad Pitt. Achilles does it in the Homeric story, too. My apologies.

Thursday, October 04, 2007


In view of the rat craze reportedly sweeping France, I guess we can expect to have lots of tourists coming to see our enormous, abundant rats. Surely you're kidding about the rat craze, BBC. Tell me it's a joke.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007


I'm reading a kids' retelling of the Iliad with my eighth graders right now. Last year I read Black Ships Before Troy and this year I'm using The Trojan War. So far I like this year's version better; it seems easier for the kids to follow and understand. Less emphasis on the funeral pyres, which got to be almost a joke last year when I was reading Rosemary Sutcliff's retelling.

I just watched the movie Troy. While I feel sure my kids would enjoy it, obviously I can't show it to them, since it's rated R, and deservedly so.

I enjoyed seeing the places where the filmmakers changed and adapted the story. The most important difference is that the Hollywood version completely eliminates the supernatural element of the story. They do show the desecration of the temple of Apollo, and some characters are alarmed by this; Briseis is shown to be some kind of a believer in the gods; several characters, including Priam, refer to the gods as forces in human life. However, both Hector and Achilles appear to mock the idea that the gods have anything to do with people, and certainly there is none of the interplay between what's going on with the immortals and what's happening on earth that is constant in Homer.

Beyond that, there are many places where the movie takes liberties with the story. Several characters die who aren't supposed to until much later. Some survive who are supposed to die. Achilles seems more of a tortured hero in the movie than he is in the book; Homer makes him seem a bit of a spoiled brat and a mama's boy, but the Brad Pitt Achilles cries over Hector's body, which he just got done desecrating. There are also some misty eyes over the mention of Achilles' father. (Edit: turns out the conversation between Priam and Achilles over Hector's body - including the references to Achilles' dear old dad - is pretty much as Homer wrote it.)

I don't know what soldiers of this time period looked like but I have a hard time imagining that they wore the combination medieval knight/Roman soldier garb shown here. But hey, all the guys look really good, so I guess that's what counts. I did like the way you could see the Trojans watching from the top of the wall. I talked to my students about that, and how the whole concept of warfare was completely different from today.

In all, I found this movie entertaining, but the violence is grotesque and there are several scantily-clad ladies on view. Not for eighth-graders.

Take a Look at This Week's Carnival of Education!

Here it is.

Monday, October 01, 2007


Yesterday morning when I was waiting for the electrician, I saw THREE mice in my living room. Of course my daughter immediately said they must have been blind, but if they were, they were certainly dealing with it well. I've never seen anything like the way these mice were carrying on. They were dancing around - frolicking is only word for it. I know this makes me sound like Beatrix Potter, but it is the truth. Later I saw one in the kitchen that seemed a bit more business-like and serious about life.

Here's another mouse post from last year.