Saturday, January 31, 2009

Strep Throat

No, I don't have it. But it's some sort of viral infection, according to the Patient First doctor today after her 60-second examination and a throat culture. Lots of coughing, it hurts to swallow, and I'm using it as an excuse to buy a milkshake a day lately.

I haven't been that good at fending off the kids' germs in the last month or so, I guess. This one's a doozy. Hopefully I kick it out of town by next week, which is a pretty big week.

Friday, January 30, 2009


We have a tryout on Monday and Tuesday. A big one. A group of educators from around the nation are coming into the building to authorize us for a program that we have been trying for the last two years. If something bad happens, it will be a lot of work down the drain. It's a high-pressure situation and we're doing our best to make sure we prepare.

I'm not about dog-and-pony shows, and this is not that. I really feel like we've been doing the things we need to be doing, especially for the undertaking that we have done. In the past, I have felt like classroom visits have had a sort of interior decorating feel - do you have your core learning goals up? Do you have your objectives up? Do you have student work posted? But this does not feel like that. It feels like a true examination as to whether we're doing the things we need to do.

That being said, things still need to look nice. We made a bulletin board today.

Otherwise, it's been a wasted week, instruction wise, though. Monday was a true day, but school was cancelled on both Tuesday and Wednesday, and we've had Professonal Development Thursday and Friday. With that in mind, I guess it was a good time to get sick; I think I've been hit by my second major winter cold. This one might be strep throat, but I'm not positive. Going to the doctor tomorrow.

In other news, I'm almost finished with Oscar Wao. What a novel...

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Winter Interruptions

January continues to be a weird month: one week of school, one week of exams, a 3-day week with the Inauguration and MLK Day, and now a 3-day week with two professional development days. It's a pretty terrible time to have professional development days, because the schedule has been so messed up this month anyway; it feels like the kids really haven't been in school for a month.

Adding to the disorder were problems in the building yesterday that prevented students from attending school. The weather was bad anyway, so attendance would have been spotty - then we were let out two hours early. It was all very strange. I awoke to find that most of the districts in the state were closed, except for Baltimore City. Being from Michigan, driving in the snow does not scare me. However, that is not the issue here in Baltimore; the issue is that the city has very little salting or plowing occurring. Yesterday morning was a pretty bad commute, until I got out on the main roads, and I live right in the city. Those who compare the wimpiness of drivers on the east coast versus drivers in the midwest and north are missing the point that, say, in Michigan, you hear snow plows and salt trucks nearly non-stop during the snowing seasons. That just doesn't happen here, so the driving can be dangerous. Then, there are those other drivers...

Anyhow, we were in the building all day, without students, and we had a very productive (if chilly) day. I got so much done. We were let out early, even though the roads were pretty much clear by the time we were let out; the decisions around this district can be pretty strange sometimes.

Today, I awoke at my usual 5:00 a.m. to see that many school districts around the state were cancelled. After hearing the freezing rain fall most of the night, and reading about the hazardous road conditions, I expected Baltimore City to also cancel. I kept re-loading the page, and eventually just showered and readied myself for the gym. Finally, at 5:45, they announced. Snow Day.

Back to bed for me, if I can.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Martin O'Malley, Dr. Alonso, and the Budget for City Schools

If you have been living under a rock and missed it, the state of Maryland will be contributing $69 million less to schools this upcoming school year than in 2008-2009. Because of a new system in calculating how different school systems are budgeted, the poorest school systems - Baltimore City and PG County - will be suffering the largest budget shortfalls; BCPSS is facing a $23 million dollar shortfall, while Baltimore County is "only" facing an $8 million dollar shortfall.

I haven't written about this yet, partly because I'm just dumbfounded and disheartened about it and wanted to think about other things during the week of the Obama Inauguration. I was mad, but was trying to gain some perspective. Well, it's the next week, and I'm even more fighting mad about this. I'd already fallen out of like with O'Malley, but this is the final blow; unless something changes, I'll actively campaign against him in the next election.

We've been talking about it at school, worried about furloughs, worried about getting laid off, worried about not getting any additional staff when our student loads are already huge. We have been hearing about a $50 million shortfall for next year all school year, but this adds another $25 million onto that already diminished budget. I'm not sure what is going to happen.

I'm still thinking about the best path for advocacy. Dr. Alonso is a great writer, and I recommend starting with his piece: A Letter from Dr. Alonso Regarding FY 2010 Budget.

A few more links:

Read A Letter from Surviving the System, a parent of a BCPSS student.

Read Two Voices Opposing the Budget Cuts on Inside Ed.

Read What's Behind the Schools' Budget Pain on Inside Ed.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sending good thoughts

My friend Kate, who I linked to a few weeks ago for her terrific blog post "My Agents," has been in the hospital much of the month so far dealing with her MS. She will be starting a new treatment, a type of chemotherapy, on Friday. Please send your thoughts and prayers her way.

She, of course, has not been back to school teaching since the holiday break. This is an instance when I'm really, really glad that our union has a Sick Bank for our sick days.

New grade rule

One week during the first quarter, we got a whole bunch of new students, all transfers from other schools. No one told us why or how, though we found out later it was the result of funding issues. Getting a whole bunch of new students on already high count of 153 was a challenge, but I did my best to make them feel welcome. The first couple of months is so important in the ninth grade, though, and these kids - who already mostly had poor skills - had missed that. Only one of them did the makeup work I gave them, and I wasn't really sure how to give them a grade for the first quarter. I followed the lead of a veteran teacher I respected, who gave them a 60 for the first quarter; I did this, even though they had not earned it.

Since that time, I've gotten to know these students a lot better. One girl has done great work, and earned an 88 for the 2nd quarter. The other ones have struggled to do much of anything. "Jerel" is one of these kids. His skills do not seem to be very strong, and he lacks confidence (doesn't like to read out loud), and hasn't done much work this year so far. He's polite, though, and his uncle tells me he loves baseball and will try out for the team this year, so I've been trying to keep an eye on him.

His dad, who was 53 years old, had a stroke a couple of weeks ago. It was in the midst of midterms and Inauguration and MLK Day, so we had several days off during that time. Last week, upon our return back to normal, I asked him how his father was.

"Dang, man, he passed away last Wednesday."

Oops, I sure felt stupid. He was already started on his quiz over chapters 19-23 of To Kill a Mockingbird, so I pulled him in the hallway to ask him how he was. He didn't make eye contact with me, but said he was really upset last week, but was starting to feel better. I asked him if he felt like he wanted to talk with someone, and he said he felt okay, and I told him not to take his quiz and instead to sit and read. Didn't know what else to do.

It was there, though, that I decided on a new rule for myself: if your father passes away during a quarter, I'm going to give you a passing grade for that quarter. This is two quarters in a row this young man is getting a bit of a gift grade from me, but I think it's called for. I also am hoping he is eligible, grades-wise, to try out for baseball next month. We'll see.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Teaching King Lear

The last week was exhausting - I've been sick, I went down to the Inauguration and stood up for hours on end, grades were due, and I started a new unit. Thankfully it's the weekend, and I've enjoyed a day of rest and exercise and The Sopranos, which I am blazing through via Netflix. It's funny that I get into the water cooler shows several years after they're on; I'm finding myself really longing to talk about them with someone, and keep wanting to start a "Can you believe what Ralphie did to his pregnant stripper girlfriend last night? OMG!"

Anyhow, I started King Lear with my Juniors yesterday, and boy was I ever excited. I wore my long-ago-purchased King Lear t-shirt for the occasion, and antipated the class' arrival in the hallway, which I don't do often enough. Turns out three kids walked in tardy, about eight forgot their book, and about five cut class, presumably because an essay was due. I think I got them, though, and that kids felt guilty; one girl looked at me and said, "Wow, you're really passionate about this, aren't you?" and she was right.

One thing about the Folger TSI this year was that we learned a lot of great activities, but I still kind of struggle with putting it all together. What does an entire unit look like? We went into the Folger having read King Lear and the other three plays already, and then spent a month analyzing them. I briefly thought about assigning Lear as at-home reading, so that the students got the plot, and then spent four weeks analyzing the play with different activities. But I eventually thought my students couldn't really handle that, so we're starting off by reading it in class.

As I wrote the first two weeks of my unit this past week, I really struggled with pacing and deciding how much can be accomplished in one class period and in one night's reading. I'm used to giving this class weekly due dates on the reading, but I don't think I can do that with Shakespeare. For example, my goal for yesterday was to introduce the text (I found a bunch of images of Lear from throughout the ages and asked them to make some predictions), and get through line 120 of the first scene. This gets us through Lear's casting off of Cordelia, so the major conflict of the story has been set up.

On Monday, I'm going to play for them two different staged readings of those 120 lines, and have students analyze how the two different readings (one plays Lear as if he thinks Cordelia is joking, one plays Lear as angry right away) are choices and how these choices create meaning. Then, I want to shoulder on through the reading.

On Tuesday, however, we have to take a break; a representative from Everyman Theater is visiting my class to talk about the field trip my students are attending on Wednesday. Then, of course, on Wednesday, they are going on the aforementioned field trip.

Therefore, I have assigned 1.2 for at-home reading, and am assigning three reading questions about the scene. I've planned out my days for the first two acts. Looking it over, there is not much performance there, although there is two different activities that ask students to analyze choices in performance. Act III and IV have a lot of the action - I'm thinking Gloucester's big blinding scene - and think I will be getting the kids up and on their feet to complete performance activities with them. I have to look over my TSI notes and try to remember some of the things we did (I remember an activity where we used that blinding scene for performance, but don't remember exactly what we did). I'm also using the Center for Learning King Lear unit plan for some activities and resources.

Here is my unit plan so far. I'm going to see how it goes; at the very least, I'm very excited.

Friday, Jan. 23: Introduction to Text
Begin reading (at least through Line 120)
HW: 1-page reaction to following quotation in journal
“Literary character before Shakespeare is relatively unchanging; women and men represent aging and dying, but not as changing because their relationship to themselves, rather than to the gods or god, has changed. In Shakespeare, characters develop rather than unfold, and they develop because they reconceive themselves . . . The plays remain the outward limit of human achievement; aesthetically, cognitively, in certain ways morally, even spiritually. They abide beyond the end of the mind’s reach; we cannot catch up to them. Shakespeare will go on explaining us, in part because he invented us . . . he went beyond all precedents (even Chaucer) and invented the human as we continue to know it . . . He has become the first universal author, replacing the Bible in the secularized consciousness . . . Nietzsche, like Montaigne a psychologist almost of Shakespeare’s power, taught that pain is the authentic origin of human memory” (Bloom, Harold. Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human. Riverhead Books. 1998)

Monday, Jan. 26: Choices in Performance
Discussion reactions to quotation
Audio Analysis of Lines 52-120 in Journal
Complete 1.1
HW: Review/finish 1.1; Complete character chart handout in journal

Jan. 27-Feb. 2 Independent Reading
Read and mark 1.2-1.3 on your own.
Answer the following three questions in paragraph form in your journal:
1. A soliloquy is a long uninterrupted speech given by a character that no other character hears. It is especially important in drama, because it reveals the private thoughts of the character. What does the initial soliloquy at the beginning of the scene reveal about Edmund? What diction is repeated, with variations, at least half a dozen times and what does this tell us about his feelings? Lastly, what is the tone of the speech – sad, or angry? Support your response with evidence.
2. What do Gloucester’s and Edmund’s comments about the constellations of the stars reveal about their individual beliefs in the power of the stars or fate?
3. How has Goneril changed since the first scene? How much time do you think has passed, and why?

Monday, Feb. 2 Review 1.2-1.3: Listen to two variations on Edmund’s soliloquy.
In class: Reading first half of 1.4, through entrance of Goneril.
Homework: Mark all of Act I for motif of sight/insight and its variations, including Kent’s disguise in this scene. Now, imagine you were writing an essay, with the topic sentence, “Shakespeare uses the motif of sight and insight to reveal King Lear’s metaphoric blindness.” Write, in your journal, a paragraph with two XYZ constructions using the evidence you marked for throughout Act I.

Tuesday, Feb. 3 Finish 1.4 – 1.5
In pairs: “Riddle Me This” Handout, in pairs, completed in journal
Homework: “I have writ my sister,” Goneril says. Write the letter that you think Goneril might have sent to Regan. Include a Statement of Intent with this creative piece to explain the techniques you are using to capture Goneril’s voice and the play’s themes and motifs. You may be creative and make it a parody. This is due on Thursday, Feb. 5.

Wednesday, Feb. 4 Read 2.1-2.2 in class. Listen to two interpretations of 2.1 and discuss the differences between the choices in the two scenes.
HW: Finish reading and marking anything not completed in class.

Thursday, Feb. 5 Share Goneril letters
Read 2.3-2.4
HW: Review Act II for all important motifs (sight, animal imagery, storms/weather, violence in nature). Have them clearly marked and a key in the front of the text.

Friday, Feb. 6 Quiz, Acts I-II.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Inauguration instead of grading midterms

I'm grading so much right now, which is frustrating because I'm so excited about getting into my next units, which I haven't had the time to write.

Part of the issue, is, of course, going to the Inauguration yesterday. I've posted photos all over Facebook of my adventures, which were exhausting and inspiring at the same time. I hope President Obama has some great things in mind for the future of education.

So, not much blogging or journaling lately, either, but this might be a good time to say "I called it." And I did, four and a half years ago. That was back when I liked O'Malley and thought he had Presidential aspiration, and I didn't think it would happen until 2016, but I thought Obama would be President someday:

Blog Entry from 7/28/04

Blog Engry from 7/29/04

Monday, January 19, 2009

My Martin Luther King Day

I'm going to the Presidential Inauguration on Tuesday, so I need to finish the multitude of teacher-related tasks tomorrow. I feel like I've worked quite a bit already this weekend on stuff, but I still seem to get a bunch more done before Wednesday. I'm not really doing a great job of compartmentalizing my job lately, and I'm doing a lot of work at home, but I'm also trying to do a lot, so that's sort of to be expected. For example, I've decided to do Take One of National Boards, and I really should have that done before baseball season starts in March, so I really have to complete it in the next few weeks - and it involves videotaping and lots of writing, so it's a work-extensive process that could necessitate do-overs.

Here are my priorities and necessities this weekend:

1. Finish revising NCTE conference proposal (90% complete already).

2. Finish grading Junior midterms (25% complete, about 20 more to do).

3. Finish 9th grade lesson plan for Thursday, a midterm review/reflection. (50% complete).

4. Finish grading Junior The Unbearable Lightness of Being essays (80% complete, about 5 more to do, and they've been on my nightstand for about 2 weeks now, untouched.)

5. Finish grading Freshmen midterms (60% complete, about 50 more to do).

6. Sketch out King Lear unit (0% complete).

7. Begin writing National Board lesson plan for Small Group activity, in preparation for taping in next week. (0% complete).

The proposal is due tomorrow, and I have to teach lessons based on the things in #2 and #3 on Wednesday, so those are the priorities. My mentor for #7, however, thinks that that should have been my priority for the weekend. The things I'm most excited about doing are #1 and #6. The things that are the bane of my existence lately are in #4. Grades are due on Thursday so #2-4 are a necessity by, well, Thursday. I'll try to get as much done tomorrow as possible, I guess.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Weird January

January is a very strange month. Upon returning from the holidays, we had one week before midterms, which take a week. Now, we're done with midterms (tomorrow is makeup day), and heading into a 4-day weekend (MLK Day + Inauguration Day). Students are only at school until 12:45 on Midterm days, so, really, it's a relaxing time, full of lots of grading with my radio cranked up in my classroom.

The students will return for a 3-day week next week (Wed-Thurs-Fri), and then the next week is also a 3-day week, as Thursday and Friday (Jan. 29 and 30) are Professional Development days. That amounts to just 11 days of instruction for the month of January.

So, if you're wondering why the blog is a bit light right now, that's why. I'm also still getting rid of this cold, and getting back into the gym. The gym is where I do my best thinking, which leads to the blogging.

Current issues:

1) I was part of perhaps the best prank of the year so far in the English department today. It involved an e-mail account left open on accident, and a faked Japanese Teacher Exchange application letter sent to a colleague for proofreading. I laughed harder than I have in a long, long time.

2) Today, I finished 95% of my 2nd quarter grading and am about to jump into the midterms, which I should be able to finish, or nearly finish, tomorrow. I want a clear grading slate for the weekend, because I really want to sit down and write a King Lear unit. I want to write it up like the Shakespeare Set Free guides, and really try to create something really useful. We'll see... my post-holiday money funk is preventing me from my initial plans of doing something cool (and out of town) for my 4-day weekend, so hopefully I'll be able to sit down and craft something I can just sort of go with starting on Wednesday (or Monday... I'm not really sure when I'm starting this unit).

3) I'm about 100 pages into The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. One of my New Years Resolutions is to read more, for myself. I'm doing it so far.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


I'm feeling a bit better, and didn't rush off home to bed after my last exam today. Instead, I enjoyed a nice long grading/lunch with colleagues, where we talked about some perks we wish our job had. Now, in general, I think I get to teach in a pretty great place. The kids are great, and I have a lot of flexibility and can be creative with my curriculum and lesson plans. Plus, I work in a collegial and collaborative department that challenges and invigorates me.

However, all of us in our department are burdened with a very heavy student load; most of us are in the area of 160 students, spread across five classes. It makes feedback and grading very difficult to conduct in an efficient manner. We also have a dearth of resources and technology.

I haven't taught in enough places to know if this is the norm. When I do get together with other teachers, such as this December's IB Training, they hear my student load and are amazed; however, I know some teachers teach that many students.

So, on Friday, our principal will be meeting with us about concerns. He does it a few times a year, and one of my colleagues is preparing some data about class sizes and class loads. It's the same sort of stuff he's heard before, and I'm sure he doesn't have that much control over it. But, I was trying to think today, how could our situation be better? One obvious way is to hire 1-2 more teachers for our department. Just cutting everyone's student load down to around 130-140 would be pretty darn helpful.

But, then, I'm also wondering about electives, as we have hardly any electives in the English Department. Our department offers Creative Writing, Journalism, and Speech. That's it. One guy teaches all of the sections of the former two, and one guy teaches the latter - every year. Now, I have no interest in teaching any of these courses, but the thought of being able to teach a course with a lighter paper load - and maybe a course I'm really, really intrigued by - is something that I'd love the opportunity to do. I would be happy to teach three preps in order for it to happen. If I got to, say, teach 3 classes of 9th grade, 1 class of 11th grade, and 1 elective, that would be ideal. That way, on the day my 9th graders have an essay due, it's only 90 at once, and I get a class whose paper load is a lot less than a core class.

What would my elective be? I've heard of some schools who let teachers develop electives to teach. Shakespeare? I would love it. The Short Story? How cool. Film Appreciation? I could put my Specialization in Film Study to use. Modern Literature? That would be awesome.

So that's my idea. It's not any more practical than just hiring new teachers (those same number of core classes would still have to be taught), but it would sure make me happy.

By the way, I had a lesson plan published on the Folger Website today. I'm not going to say which one is mine, but it wouldn't take a detective to figure it out. That's pretty cool.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Midterm Sick

It's midterm week, which is actually a pretty great week. I think I've written a couple of very good midterms, midterms that really assess whether my students have learned the necessary content and skills from my courses. Now, I can kind of sit back, and see for sure. There's also lots of grading, and figuring out the Scantron machine, but otherwise it's not a bad week at all; heck, the kids leave at 12:45 every day after their two midterms, which makes it all the much easier.

That being said, I'm sicker than a dog. Yesterday, I would have taken a sick day if it weren't such an important day for me to be there, and, frankly, I would have today as well. I loaded up on Ny-Quil last night and slept about eleven hours trying to kick it, but I woke up today feeling just as poorly.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Point your clicker over to this wonderful writer (and person)

Sorry no update in a couple of days. Since I'm not providing content, I want to point you over to another education-in-Baltimore blog, Health, Interrupted. Kate's a teacher here in Baltimore City, a former colleague, and a good friend of mine. She doesn't write very often, but when she does, it really packs a whallop:

Read"My Agents" @ Health, Interrupted.


Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Midterm Preparation

Midterms are next week, and I'm pretty worried about my 9th graders. This is their first time going through a major testing piece, and they don't really know how to study. I've been trying to break it apart for them, and every night have been assigning a separate task to study, and exactly how I want them to study. Today, I decided to give a "practice midterm quiz" of ten possible sample questions from the midterm.

A lot of the kids did well, but enough did horribly to make me send out emails to about 60 students and parents this afternoon. I created a form email where I plugged in relevant information, and just sent it out; it ended up taking only about fifteen minutes.

One of the greatest uses of my time at the beginning of the school year is plugging in all of my parents' emails (or, at least, all of them who have email) into my gmail account. It's so quick and easy to use, and I try to send out weekly updates about what the students are doing in the classes. I also try to spit out quick emails to struggling students' parents. I think it helps create a cachet of good will from parents, and it's something that I remind myself of when I hear colleagues having lots and lots of parent conflicts. I've had a few (one parent this year called me a "snake in the grass", I kid you not, but it was to another teacher and I am not currently teaching the student), but I try not to take it personally when it does happen, as rare as it is. I genuinely like to talk to parents and want to use them to my advantage as a teacher, with things like the email blast I sent out today. I bet these kids start to study.

Tomorrow, I'm having my baseball pre-season informational meeting. Very excited.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


One of my New Year's Resolutions should have been more sleep, because these 5:30am gym trips are making me totally lose it by the time 5pm comes around.

Yesterday, I wanted to get some quality work done in the afternoon, so I went out in the afternoon during my planning period to get some coffee. We didn't end up going to 7-11, but instead to Eddy's, and, well, their coffee is just too hot to drink. So I ended up getting a sugar-free energy drink featuring a skull with wings on the front. I'm sure that was healthy.

I returned to school, had a bit of an energy buzz and did some grading and entering, but the wings didn't last. I still went home by 6pm.

Tonight, I returned home at 6:20, after an exhausted and unproductive afternoon. I promptly had a bowl of cereal and fell asleep. I can usually take a quick hour nap and wake up, but ended up going until 9pm. Now I can't sleep, of course. I'm about to try again. I'm sure the typing isn't helping in the sleep efforts, but I had to get a lesson plan going for tomorrow.

Anyhow, ya think we're having a delay tomorrow? Seems like a mess out there.

Monday, January 5, 2009


I've been thinking a lot about resolutions lately, for obvious reasons. I'm a big resolutions person, and actually have had a few success stories (vegetarianism was a New Years resolution, so was fitness back when I weighed over 300 lbs and got under 200).

So, here are mine, at least those that revolve around my teaching:

1. Focus more and more on backwards planning. I think I do a pretty good job on this, but every now and then, I feel myself unfocused. Using the MYP Unit Planner has helped a lot on this last unit, and I expect it to continue to do so in future units.

2. Have more of a balance in my life. Never sacrifice my health for the job. No skipping morning gym trips, especially once baseball season hits.

3. Step back as much as possible and reflect about my practice. Use this blog more and more as a tool of reflection as well as collaboration.

4. Use Jim Burke's English Companion Ning he set up. I've already been involved a little bit, in a couple of discussions and in one escapade of blogging, and I like it.

5. Integrate more and more technology into the classroom. I really want to do this blogging thing, but things keep getting in the way.

6. In terms of coaching, actually do the runs and stretches with the kids. Practice what I preach, in other words.

I think that covers it, for the most part.

Today was the first day back after break. It was a long day, and I was exhausted by the time 5pm hit and I went home, but otherwise I found myself really enjoying myself. I really missed the kids, as I realized in my first period class. I even, rather strangely, got some hugs today. I knocked the good spirits down quickly with the quiz over the reading they were supposed to complete, but it was an open-book quiz so that cheered them up a bit.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Happy 90th Birthday, JD

The list of books that have changed my life is a long one indeed. When I read The Color Purple for the first time, I was wowed by its style and by how it made me, a late-20th century white guy living in the midwest, feel like I was the kindred spirit of Celie, a black lesbian living in the deep south in the early 20th century. It made me realize that literature bridges gaps like this. Hearing Alice Walker speak cemented the feeling; she made me feel empowered in ways that I can't quite explain even now, 12 years later.

With To Kill a Mockingbird, I can track my maturity as a teacher with how well I can teach this book. I have learned this book by teaching it, by noticing new things every time. I'm known as the mockingbird expert at school, and have obsessed over it at great lengths. And I love teaching it, and the kids really end up liking it.

Both Life of Pi and Bee Season were from the same era, about five years ago. Both made me question my existence and my beliefs, and both still resound today.

Other books I associate with places: I cried at A Lesson Before Dying as I was moving to Baltimore, its tapes playing in my parents' van. A Farewell to Arms packed a whallop when I was in Italy. I remember the ending being spoiled for me but not minding because it was that good. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is one of the longest, funniest, and oddest books I've ever read, and I associate it with South Carolina, and a tumultuous week on the beach.

Song of Solomon, The Elephant Vanishes, and Fun Home are books that I associate with turning 30. There was a time in my life when I felt exactly like Milkman Dead. I still do, in fact. When will my journey to find my(gold/self) happen? When will I leap?

But it's J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye that probably most made me realize the ever-changing quality of literature. I first read it in the 12th grade, and didn't like it - Holden was whiny, the book didn't go anywhere. I read it a second time six years later, while student teaching in Lansing. This time, I realized Holden's cynicism was as mask, and that the book was actually hopeful, and very, very sad. I was amazed that the meaning of literature could change for me so much just by what point in my life I was at. For a couple of years after that, I read it every year, charting my own maturity and progress through this life by how I reacted. I found new wrinkles in it - what's up with that teacher? what exactly happens at the end? I named my dog Holden.

J.D. Salinger turned 90 yesterday. Happy Birthday, JD. Here's hoping that when you go, you'll be leaving boxes and boxes of unpublished books for us all.

Reflection: 2008

2008 was a good year for me as a teacher. The following are things I can look back at and be proud of:

1. Getting a Masters Degree from Towson University. The program was not a perfect program, but it did allow me a lot of autonomy of what I wanted my projects and my readings to be, and, thus, I learned a lot. I really enjoyed completing my final project, which was a re-writing of the 9th grade English curriculum at my school. I've used it a lot. I've also established at least one relationship with a professor who I think I will stay in touch with for as long as I'm in the area. The Masters has given me a nice little raise, a raise of nearly $600/month that goes a long way in explaining why I've spent a lot of the last seven years broke when my friends (who all have Masters degrees) seem fine. A house seems in the realm of possibility now when it never really did before.

2. Completing the NEA/Folger Teaching Shakespeare Institute over the summer: This year, I finally found something useful to do with my summers. Summers have always been an annoyance to me, a 2-month time with no paycheck (no, there's no option in BCPSS to have your pay spread across 12 months, so you have to set up a separate account at the bank, and, well, I still think that kind of sucks) where I didn't have much to do except wait tables and wait around for school to start. This year, I applied for a NEA grant to attend a Teaching Shakespeare Institute at the Folger Library. It was four weeks of intense Shakespeare study with 24 educators from around the country. The four weeks was envigorating and eye-opening, and I am using a lot of the ideas I learned in my classroom all the time.

3. Continuing to work on teaching freshmen and juniors: When the school year started, I found myself teaching 9th and 11th graders again. It's the schedule I requested, and the second year in a row teaching the same schedule. I would prefer less than four of any one class (130 essays all at once is a burden), but the schedule couldn't be better otherwise - I love the bright eyes of the 9th graders and the rigor of the 11th grade class.

4. Renewing certification: In the fall, I also completed a couple of terrible certification courses, a complete nadir in my pursuits of higher education. Coppin State University should be embarrassed to be associated with these classes. However, I'm glad I took the classes, as now, I believe, I am set and certified for at least the next six years or so.

5. Starting National Board Certification: I also decided to take on the challenge of National Board Certification. Only two teachers in Baltimore City attained the certification this year, including one of my good friends. In my department, there are three total National Board certificate holders; in the past, two mentors I have taught with also held the certificate and pushed me to do the same. Currently, three of us are pursuing it in our department. Perhaps, two years from now, you will see my name on that list. It's a pretty intense and rigorous process (taping, writing, testing) and haven't dove in with as much as I've wanted to so far, but I will soon.

6. Leading baseball team to third round of playoffs: I work very hard on my coaching - the planning, the preparation, the management. I really love it. This year was our most successful year in my five years as coach at least in terms of winning, as we actually beat a county team, a team with a great baseball facility and some real solid talent. We still have lots of hurdles to get over, but it was a good year.

7. Starting up the BMoreTeach Blog: I go through a lot of stages with blogging, and a lot of questioning about why I do it. I do know that I love writing and using writing as a tool to figure things out, and that, hopefully, will never change. I've been at it since April 2000, when I was in college. This year, I finally discovered that a lot of my students are probably reading, and I finally decided to separate my professional and my personal blogs partially for that reason. I know the administration at my school knows about BMoreTeach, and I've often wondered what they think about it - but I've never used it as a tool to grouse about the management at my school, nor about anything else I think is unprofessional. I'm not sure what my goals are for it, but, ideally, I'd like to create something along the lines of what Dana Huff has - a tool for my own teaching reflection, plus a resource for other teachers. I also want to add the element of allowing people, even non-educators, to get a window into the world of teaching in a city. Hopefully I've started that this year with this blog.

8. Integrating Technology into my Classroom: TSI was a lot about technology, and I finally buckled down and bought myself both a laptop and an LCD Projector for my classroom this year. I've loved using them, and am trying to do other things, especially student blogging. It's hard in a school without much resources in terms of technology, but I'm doing my best.

9. Continuing to attend conferences: If memory serves, I attended three professional conferences this year. Two were for coaching - the Cherry Hill Baseball Coaching Conference in Philadelphia and the Mid-Atlantic Baseball Coaching Conference in Bethesda. I also attended IB MYP Training this year in Baltimore. I couldn't afford NCTE this year, but am definitely going to be there next year.

10. Quitting my 2nd job: It's definitely made my professional career a stronger priority, given me more time to do the things I want to do with my teaching - returning papers quicker, planning more cohesively, and reflecting more.