Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Learning How to Manage

I realize that saying "I haven't been blogging lately" would be exceedingly obvious at this point. I also realize that promising regular updates in the future would be foolish, but I'll do my best anyway.

I've decided that a fantastic use of this blog would be as my personal venting place for my first year of teaching. The fact that most of my readership has practically abandoned me makes it all the better. If some stragglers make their way back, they can be treated to the burgeoning display of my psychoses, but if no one reads this, I'll just consider this writing to be wildly cathartic. It helps me to imagine an actual readership.

So the cause of my woe today is simple: classroom management.

I'm not sure how else to say this: I'm not an effective disciplinarian. I'm not consistent. I'm not subtle. I'm not confident in my abilities as a classroom manager. How much of this is a result of being new and how much of it is an innate failure as an authority figure remains to be seen. However, having spent two years as a college instructor and another year as a student teacher, one would imagine that managing a classroom would be second nature to me by now.

Now, that's not to say that my class is a complete zoo. In fact, two of my ninth grade classes and one of my eleventh grade classes listen to me quite well. We get along swimmingly, and the general tone is one of mutual respect and understanding. I suspect this is because the group dynamic in these classrooms is such that the positive elements are the most forceful.

I have a BIG problem with students talking during class. And I'm not talking about little whispering comments while stuff is going on - I mean full fledged conversations while I'm saying stuff at the front of the room. I've addressed it in many different ways:
Sarcasm: "Well, looks like there are some folks in here who think they're WAY too interesting."
Politeness: "Please save your conversation for later."
Asking: "Could you stop talking, please?"
Anger (not proud of this): "IT'S TOO LOUD IN HERE. BE QUIET... NOW!"
Bartering: "We're almost to the discussion part of class. Keep it down while I'm talking."

So right there... lack of consistency.

But the problem is that nothing seems to work for very long, and I just don't understand the mentality. I would venture to say that 85-90% of my students will do as I ask; however, there's maybe 10% of them who disregard my authority whenever possible. This also sets a bad example for the rest of the class. It makes me look like a pushover. This leads to more kids being a disruption. This particular pattern is especially noticeable in my fourth period class.

I was always such a spineless little pussy in high school. I did whatever my teachers said, even if it was a piss poor teacher. In fact, this trend carried through all the way through grad school. The idea that kids will just flagrantly disregard authority is something that I totally understand on an intellectual level, but on a purely emotional level, I can't understand why someone would act that way.

I don't beat myself up over a bad handout or a questionable lesson because I know I have a lot to learn. But when I can't manage a classroom because I can't understand how the kids are thinking, I question my ability to be a teacher at all. I've never been able to understand social interaction in everyday society very well let alone with developing adolescents. I sometimes wonder if I even have the emotional faculties to really deal with the kinds of behaviors that I'll be confronted with in high school.

"I've been here eating eggs and ketchup all day waiting for this."

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Serious Business

Where the hell have the updates been? Well, I'm busy, dammit!! I have lesson plans, discipline reports, seating charts, grading, quiz making, PowerPoint producing, porn watching, and reading to do. I can't be dropping everything to amuse a bunch of ingrates from around the interwebs.


I kid. I crave your love and attention!!! And look at the funny kitty in the poster. That's worth bundles of yuk-yuks!

"Don't discourage the boy! Weaseling out of things is important to learn. It's what separates us from the animals... except the weasel."

Friday, August 06, 2010

Exceptions Going Up in Smoke

In my continuing quest to post some stuff that I wrote at the Writing Project, I now provide you with a sample of an editorial that I wrote when the op-ed editor from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette came to visit our group. He raved about my piece when I shared it with the class, so I hope you all like it too.

I offer one caveat though. Writers often take liberties with the facts even when writing what most would consider "nonfiction." Stories have to be compressed, situations must be simplified, and specifics might be overlooked for the sake of a coherent and persuasive essay.

Second caveat for stupid people: Editorials, by their very nature, are try to convince readers of the author's point of view. If you think this is biased... well no shit. It's supposed to be.


Let the Exception Go Up in Smoke
An Op-Ed Article for a Pittsburgh Newspaper

Last Saturday, I journeyed back hometown, a little riverside town that’s neither a cultural center nor a social hub in the area. It certainly lacks the diverse options for entertainment that cities like Pittsburgh have. On that typical Saturday night, seeking to drown my sorrows in alcohol with a few friends, I traveled to the town’s primary watering hole, aptly named “The Saloon.” The air in the bar was thick with friendly banter, music, and of course, clouds of cigarette smoke. By the end of the night, even though I never touched a cigarette, I smelled like my grandma’s ashtray after a Matlock marathon. My eyes were watering, and my throat was dry and imbued with a rich smoky flavor.

Of course, in 2008, Pennsylvania passed a state-wide restriction on smoking in public places—including restaurants and bars. However, unlike many other states like New York or Maryland, our law came with a caveat: any bar, lounge, or restaurant that made more than 80% of its sales from alcohol would be exempt. This exception, of course, meant that most bars could still allow smoking. The underlying reason for this exception was that bars would suffer financially if smokers were denied their vice.

Pennsylvania’s exception to the smoking ban is patently absurd, and it should be eliminated. Proponents of the exception point to bars with thriving food sales whose sales of beer and liquor have plummeted since the ban, and they argue that the ban should be lifted entirely. In fact, I would argue that a universal ban could actually help the bottom line. I spent the better part of my college summers helping my father remodel a local restaurant chain. I lost count of how many repairs and replacements were related to smoking in some way. Ceiling tiles had faded. Wallpaper was stained yellow. Air filtration units had been overpowered and destroyed. One of the managers told us that the smoking ban actually improved profits overall and led to more positive customer feedback.

I understand the owners’ position. I wouldn’t want anyone telling me how to run my business either, but the environment in these establishments has become unbearable. When I’m in one of my crankier moods and complaining about the smoke in the bars, my friend will insist, “If you don’t like it here, you can always go somewhere else.” Well, yes I can, but the smoke-free bars are smoke-free for a reason… not enough people drink there! Is it so wrong to want to drink in a real bar without developing lung cancer?

Smokers may love cigarettes, but they’re not going to love smoking and drinking alone if the ban were made universal. Their black lungs may keep them away for a few days, but their black livers will bring them crawling back.

"Our numbers are down all across the board. Teen smoking, our bread and butter, is falling like a shit from heaven! We don't sell Tic Tacs for Christ's sake. We sell cigarettes. And they're cool and available and *addictive*. The job is almost done for us!"

Thursday, August 05, 2010

I Can Haz Job Now?

Well, it took 2 and a half years, 120 job applications, and one broken soul, but I finally did it. The goal has been achieved.

I, ladies and gentlemen, am employed!

And not as a porn fluffer or a gigolo. I've finangled my way into a legitimate teaching position. That's right, dear readers. This fine specimen of the human genome is going to be teaching your offspring and improving the minds of the next generation. You may lodge your complaints at the nearest school board meeting.

Actually, to allow my ego to fully inflate to its maximum size, I should point out that I actually got TWO jobs. Two weeks ago, I interviewed with the same high school where I did some day-to-day subbing last year. Although I had good answers to the interview questions, I didn't think I did the greatest job. Despite my grandiose sense of self-importance, I was really nervous. I stuttered a bit, and I don't think my posture was particularly confident. Nevertheless, they called me the next day to offer me the job.

I accepted their offer; however, a few days later I had an interview with ANOTHER school, actually the adjoining school district to be precise. So I go into that interview with a bit of machismo. After all, I already have a job in the bank, so the stakes aren't so high. Of course, I'm still kinda nervous because this school has quite a bit of money to offer me, but I channel that nervous energy into some really excellent interview responses and some witty jokes that (surprisingly) did not offend the people interviewing me. I can use my creativity for good instead of evil... sometimes.

So I come out of that interview feeling confident, but I know that it's a more competitive position. Both jobs are actually one-year long-term substitute positions, but one can't be picky in this economy. Besides, the positions still pay the same as a full-time teacher. These are, to put it mildly, desirable positions.

As I learned yesterday, the second school offered me the job too... and with significant cash incentives. I'd rather not discuss the particulars of the schools and the salaries on an open blog, but suffice it to say, this second job is the more desirable position overall. I intend to accept it; however, I certainly don't want to burn my bridges at the first school, so I'll be turning that one down in a classy fashion. This gentleman won't be leaving a baggie full of dog shit on the principal's doorstep, no siree.

Actually, I got interviewed at both of these schools because two experienced teachers from the Writing Project recommended me. They teach at the two schools. This is networking at its finest. Of course, when I was turned down for a full time position at my student teaching placement in favor of the assistant principal's cousin, I was grumbling, "Goddamn personal favors getting people jobs that they don't deserve!" Now that backdoor handshakes and knowing the right people is getting ME the good spots, my opinion of favoritism has improved considerably.

Funny how that works.

I'm all excited about the full time position, and for the first time ever, I can actually contemplate buying some things. Even though I'm still earning a teacher's salary, it's still way more money than I've ever had. Compared to what I made as a grad student (the highest yearly income I ever had), I feel like Scrooge McDuck swimming in his money bin.

So put on your finery, ma! We're celebratin' at the Sizzler tonight!

"A teacher is one who makes himself progressively unnecessary." -- Whoever said this never needed an annual salary.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

I Have No Use for a Protocol Droid

A byproduct (and quite a delightful one) of getting a job is the substantially increased disposable income. Over the years, I've been using the same phone and the same iPod. I've gone without a fun little GPS for my tiny little car. I've had a bulky low-res camera. I never had a video camera of any kind. However, with money in hand, I've moved into the modern age with one fell swoop. Ladies and gentlemen, I purchased the new Droid X. (The "X" makes it sound sexy)

As an avid Star Trek fan, I've longed to have my own tricorder. For the uninitiated, the tricorder is the little handheld device that the characters could use to scan for lifeforms, spaceships, and plot devices masquerading as energy clouds. It also had access to limitless information. On one occasion, Mr. Spock found newspaper articles about one woman in the 1930s... while he was trapped in the 1930s thanks to a friendly sentient time portal. The thing was a miracle device... or so I thought.

Then I got to see the Droid in action. The damn thing puts the tricorder to shame. Kirk could have bested the Gorn in two minutes if he'd had a Droid in his pocket. I haven't yet figured out how to use my Droid to scan for lifeforms, but I'm betting there's an app for that. I already found an app that identifies the constellations in the sky based on how I hold my Droid. For instance, if I point my phone at the ground, the Droid will show me what's in the sky on the other side of the Earth straight at that point. Another app will actually allow me to speak in English and have the phone repeat what I just said in another language. That's right, bitches. It's a universal translator. Eat my shit, Spock! It may not translate Klingon, but it's damn close.

The Droid comes with a flashlight, a GPS, 16GB of storage, an HD camcorder with an HDMI adapter, a camera, Pandora radio, and automatic connections to my GMail and Facebook accounts. There might even be a blowjob app in there somewhere if I poke around a bit.

Lest you think I'm starting to sound like one giant advertisement for the Droid X (though I would be willing to accept a handsome fee from Verizon if they'd like me to do so), there is a problem with my Droid.... I can't see a damn thing on it!!

After the first few hours of orgasmic use, I noticed that my Droid started to flicker on the bottom third of the screen. These fuzzy black bars/lines would distort most of the visible field. It looked exactly like this:
Yeah, not easy to use that way. Now I bet you're wondering, "How did you find a picture of your exact malfunction?" Well, it turns out that I'm not alone. This week, Verizon released the following memo:
"Verizon Wireless and Motorola are aware of a very small number of DROID X units that have experienced a flickering or banding display. Motorola has resolved the issue and is continuing to ship the phones. Any consumer who experiences a flickering or banding display should contact a Motorola customer support center or Verizon Wireless."

Verizon estimates that no more than 1/10 of 1% of the Droid Xs were released with this malfunction. Apparently I just lucked into getting the seizure inducing version of the Droid. Why can't I beat the odds on the lottery?

I took my defective Droid back to the Verizon store, and they were only too happy to replace my flickering Droid with a pristine fully-functional one... except that they were out of stock. So in two days I will have my pristine fully-functional Droid shipped to me. In the meantime, if you try to call me, I may not push the right button to answer because I can't see the right fucking button. I'm glad I have an epic boner for technological gadgets because otherwise this would really sour me on the inevitable development of Skynet.

"You, I suppose you’re programmed for etiquette and protocol."
"Protocol? Why, it’s my primary function, sir. I am well-versed in all the customs–"
"I have no need for a protocol droid."
"Of course you haven’t, sir. Not in an environment such as this. That is why I have been programmed in–"
"What I really need is a droid who understands the binary language of moisture vaporators."
"Vaporators? Sir, my first job was programing binary load lifters very similar to your vaporators in most respects.”

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Wet Blanket

As I indicated in my last post, I've been working with the Western Pennsylvania Writing Project to create some original writing. I come up with some brilliance, and then the group workshops the piece, offering suggestions to make it better. One of the activities we do for inspiration is called a "Writing Marathon," wherein we travel around the city experiencing things that will inspire us. On one such excursion, we stopped to watch some children play in the dancing fountain outside the PPG Building downtown. This following poem is inspired by that incident, and it's an uncharacteristically serious piece of writing from me. I don't really fancy myself much of a poet, but I do fancy myself a self-indulgent egotist. That's why I'm posting this anyway, no matter how little it connects to the overall tone of this blog.

Wet Blanket

What do we tell the children
When water shoots from the ground
As they’re dancing atop the fountain?

Do we explain
That these jets are pressurized
Through invisible pipes and tubes
Like sinewy branches
Beneath the concrete?

Do we explain
That these cascading, crisp droplets
Have been carefully chlorinated
And cleansed
And chemically treated
For their health and safety?

Do we explain
That high above them,
In the glass metropolis surrounding this aquatic square
The spires of industry reflect in the noonday sun.
That the employees within
Toil in bourgeois drudgery
To finance homes in fine white middle-class neighborhoods
That their dark eyes will never see.

Or do we experience
Allow laughter and delight
To seize our imagination
And wash away our rational explanations
Our burden of awareness

Innocence we can never have.
Magic we can never believe.

"You can't write poetry on the computer." -- Quentin Tarantino

* JP's NOTE: I can say with certainty that more posts are forthcoming because I already wrote them and published them. They're scheduled to be released by Blogger tomorrow and the next day. You're welcome. Sing my praises with some vigor.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Writer, Heal Thyself

Oh, well look who decided to show up! So you think you can just waltz back in here and pretend that you didn't abandon me for two months?

Look, I was really busy. I tried to make time for you.

Oh, so I'm not a priority for you? I'm there for you every day. I listen to your problems, and I care about your day.

I appreciate that. I really do, but I just had some things I had to take care of.

Why should I trust you again? How do I know you won't just leave? My heart's been broken too many times.

Alas, dear readers, I don't know why you should trust that I'll be timely in this blog. The damn blog is like the monster under my bed that just demands to be fed constantly, which is a reasonable accommodation given the things that the monster must have witnessed from under there. Whenever interesting things are happening in my life, I'm too busy to post. Whenever I have free time, nothing cool is happening. I could always post things like "Hey friends! I took an epic dump today and then played spider solitaire for the rest of the night while eating saltines," but that shit is better suited to Facebook.

Well, I'll try taming this beast again (go ahead and look back over the posts for the least six months. I've made this claim at least 6 times so far). I've made some insignificant cosmetic changes already. Thank you, Blogger for updating your templates. The most insignificant of things can inspire me, so maybe this ridiculously inane change will do the trick.

So for the last two weeks, I've been taking part in the Summer Institute for Teachers, which is a six credit class that will result in me becoming a fellow for the National Writing Project. The program gives me connections out the wazoo (already scored a job interview through someone there), and it can lead to paying opportunities later on. But for the moment, this summer program has actually been providing me with a great atmosphere for invigorating my own writing, an opportunity that I'm relishing immensely.

I've been writing some poems, short stories, and especially creative nonfiction. For the last week or so, I've contemplated posting some of these stories to this blog for your enjoyment; however, several factors give me pause.

1. Some of my stories are about real people... real people who read this blog. One of the important components of writing truthfully and effectively is not censoring yourself because you're afraid of offending people. There are events and secrets from my life that have made their way into my writing, and some of you may find that offensive.

2. Related to the first point, sometimes I've taken liberties with the truth for the purpose of a story. For instance, a moment in my past may not have happened exactly as I wrote it, because I had to compress dialogue, combine characters, or alter events so that the narrative would make sense in five pages. Sometimes I exaggerate character traits because it makes for a better story. This is why the genre is called "CREATIVE" nonfiction.

3. Most importantly, throughout many (if not all) of my work, there's always some element of self-reflection that takes place. I noticed this yesterday (and wrote a piece on the theme with the same title as this post), but it's generally true with all of my writing. My personal flaws tend to become a satirical focus of the stories/poems that I write. Other writer folk might appreciate what I'm trying to do in those poems, but some of you assholes would probably just say, "HA HA!! JP'S A LOSER!" This is true, but I don't necessarily want that thrown in my face.

There are a few stories that I've written that are reasonably detached from reality. I may give those a try first. Yesterday we had a writing workshop with one of the associate editors of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, and I wrote a sample editorial that received high praise from him. That seems like something that's not entirely mock-worthy.

In reality, I'm probably worrying about nothing. There's probably not anyone out there who still comes this blog. I've created abandonment issues in my readership.

Maybe I'll write a story about that.

"Hmmm... I don't recall ever fighting Godzilla, but that is so what I would have done."