Monday, March 30, 2009

The lake at second base

It's been good weather for ducks lately, but not baseball.

Thursday, it rained, so we had our practice in the weight room. None of the fields take rain well, so games on Friday were canceled. Then, it rained over the weekend, and the games were canceled for today. Even though the weather was fine on both Friday and Monday, we couldn't play. Bummer.

Friday's was more of a bummer, because we were set to dismiss at 2:15, and I didn't learn until about 1:45 that the game was canceled. The game was to be played across the city, on the west side, and Baltimore City had told their Athletic Director in the morning that it would bring some dirt to the field to fill in the puddles so we could play. They never did. No game. So, BCPSS paid for the bus fees (it was too late to cancel), officiating fees (ditto), but there was no game. [This penny-smart, dollar-dumb finances occurred earlier this season, when, at a visiting diamond, the city drew a chalk batting box, but no foul lines, because of budget constraints. The chalk for the foul lines is what put them over-budget, apparently - not sending out a whole crew to do the least important part of a major game preparation task.]

Today, the game was canceled first thing in the morning, as there is a lake at second base and there was no way it would dry by the afternoon. We still practiced, dodging puddles, and it was actually probably our best practice all year.

Baseball season is going well. It is more work than I remember, probably because I'm also buying a house this month (hopefully moving in within the week). But we haven't lost yet and the kids show flashes of really coming together. This losing out on a couple games is a real bummer, but today felt good.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Kids making me laugh

Today, after struggling to gain the attention of excitable juniors after they received their quiz scores, I had almost complete silence, and was ready to talk some Murakami. Then, I heard it, that noise that you hope is just someone moving a chair but you feel in your gut is more. Everyone heard it. Everyone thought the fart came from the goofy kid with the long unkempt hair. But no, it came from the fashionista girl sitting next to him. How did we know? She started laughing and excused herself. She didn't stop laughing. It became a belly laugh. At first, I tried to stay stern. But the laugh became contagious, and I soon caught it, and then the kids started pointing at me, and pointing out my laugh, and soon the entire class was laughing. At a fart. That sort of thing doesn't happen too often, especially with Juniors. I just couldn't help it. Those last 5 minutes of class? Not much learning going on then. Mostly laughing. I did manage to talk a little bit about the book. A little bit.


And it was a fun day. I had to cancel practice on the field because of rain, so the baseball team worked out in the weight room. I found out I can bench 225. But, even better, a group of my players decided to jump rope towards the end. Eventually, it became a game of double dutch. Seeing a bunch of baseball players trying and mostly failing to double dutch jump rope in the basement, over and over again, getting smacked in the head with the big plastic jump ropes, laughing and hooting and hollering, and sometimes getting it right... it was just a really fun time. And, I got home before dark for the first time since the season started.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Grant's wind-up bird mask

I hate it when I have a dumb entry that stays up there a few days. I'm not able to do much more than weekly updates lately, it seems. My days end late with dropping off young people around the city after practice, and I return home after 8pm and deal with the lesson for the next day. Sometimes, I surf over to CraigsList and look at couches for sale, but that's pretty much the extent of my recreation. In short, I'm really tired and looking forward to spring break.

However, things are good. The baseball team has begun 3-0 (2-0 regular, plus a scrimmage). Occasionally I have doubts about keeping a big team, but, on other days, it seems the right thing; today, for example, no outfielders showed up. One kid had to pick up his brother; a couple of kids had coach class and then didn't show up afterwards; another kid didn't give me an explanation; two are mending injuries. It was bizarre that all this only afflicted the outfielders, because the infield was two or three deep at every position.

With the 9th graders, we are at around Chapter 6 of A Lesson Before Dying, and the kids are loving it. It's really a great teach and a nearly perfect book for the 9th grade. Even To Kill a Mockingbird is a little tough for a few students (it's long, there are about 50 characters), but ALBD is accessible enough even for my 4th- and 5th-grade reading level students, but deep and resonating enough for my advanced students. It helps that I really, really love the book.

There's a moment in Chapter 6 when Grant has to decide "whether to act like the teacher that I was or like the n***** I was supposed to be" (Gaines 47). He is about to ask Sam Guidry, the sherriff, permission to visit with Jefferson, the death row inmate. Grant has already demeaned himself by entering the house through the back door, and is already humiliated by the white men making him wait for two-and-a-half hours. He can either act like the ignorant person they want him - as a black man - to be, and get what he wants, or act intelligent, and risk not getting what he wants. One method is an insult to him; one method is an insult to them. We read the passage together today, as Grant decides to use correct subject/verb agreement, as he decides to honestly answer how long he has been waiting, instead of smiling and saying "not long."

Kids got it, and today we're reading the Dunbar poem "We Wear the Mask" and will compare it to that passage, and discuss just how much of a mask Grant is willing to wear.

As for the IB Juniors, we are reading The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. I'm loving it and I saw two Facebook updates from kids in the class saying how much they're liking it, too. They'd better. It's a 600-page beast (the longest novel, by 200 pages, that I've ever taught) and they'll be miserable otherwise for a long time.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Spitting in a trash can

One of the things that I've tried to deal with in my years teaching in Baltimore is the Baltimorean trait of spitting in trash cans. Honestly, I don't know if it's Baltimorean or not. I'd never noticed a single soul doing it in all my years, though, until I became a teacher in Baltimore. It could be a Black thing, I suppose. It could be an urban thing, I suppose. I could be an economic thing. I don't know. All I know is that often, I have a student walk across my classroom, and spit into a trashcan. It really grosses me out. It even grosses me out when the student just excuses herself and goes into the hallway to do it. In all my years of life, I have never felt the need to spit in that way. Apparently, it's phlegm or something that they're spitting, and they swear they won't get any better unless they spit out anything that comes up. Still, I can't even connect with this.

I got into a little discussion with a student the other day about it. "When you are a business executive in a middle of a meeting, will you walk to the other side of the room and spit into a trashcan?," I asked her.

She swore that this would be okay, as long as she wasn't obvious about it. Because people, she says, know that you can't get healthy if you're sick if you don't spit out your phlegm constantly.

I told her it was a Baltimorean thing. I told her in all my 31 years of life, I'd never felt the need to spit in that fashion. I told her that it's undignified and unladylike and that she should hear it now before she goes off into the world. I have a very pleasant relationship with this student, and she smiled and told me I was wrong, that it was very normal and accepted. I told her she would be better off taking a tissue and blowing her nose and coughing into it, if she couldn't fully excuse herself. She again said I was crazy.

Is it a race thing? My African-American colleague swears that it is not. She is horrified by this behavior, and equates it with behavior off the street, the kind of behavior that keeps African-Americans down. I do not know. I just know it really grosses me out. Ewww!

Monday, March 16, 2009

This was a day when I wish my bed was already made

1. For all my faults as a coach, and I'm sure I have several, no one can say I don't care a great deal about these players. My email is full from teachers about them all (I've sifted through 50 emails in the last day, about so-and-so with electronics and so-and-so with a 59%). My phone is full of text-messages to and from players, reminding them about doing homework and about where we're meeting. My Facebook is filled with former and current players, writing about schedules and practices. It's consuming to me. I still struggle with the best ways to create a baseball practice that utilizes able assistant coaches and keeps all players engaged at all times, and the last week or so, the practice plans have been sparse as my exhaustion from home buying and teaching and coaching combined has reached a tipping point. But these kids still grab a hold of me and they consume me during the spring. I really do love it.

2. I was asked to attend a field trip today, and we went out to a Great Kids Farm at Bragg Nature Center, a sustainable project for food growing. We planted a bunch of seeds and created a garden. Really cool stuff, just two teachers and 16 kids. They're going to be planting some sustainable gardens on our campus, and this was an introduction. Seems really, really cool, and it got me excited. Best comment of the day was from a kid who was surprised that onions grew in the ground, and not on a tree like apples. When other kids snickered, he said, "Well, geez, I never said I was a scientist or nothin'!". It was also really fun to see these kids feed the goats.

3. Schedule all screwed up and I didn't sleep last night but an hour or so. Going to bed now.

Thursday, March 12, 2009


1. One of the small joys of coaching is the nicknames the kids give each other. I had a kid a few years back who was memorably clever in his nickname-giving. Everyone had one - Mumbles, Darkness, Mufasa, etc. This year, there's one I'm not really sure what to do with. Kid's name is Booby. Some on the team don't even know his real name. Everyone calls him Booby. It obviously pre-survives baseball. I am not going to be using it.

2. There is no budging from the mother about letting her son play baseball for his last season in high school. I am not sure what to do. Tears today. I'm going to try to write her a letter. I just don't understand how someone could be that mean.

3. It was very, very cold today, and it's going to be colder tomorrow. Not good baseball weather.

4. Today my planning period involved running up to Bradford Bank and signing my mortgage papers. I left at 10:05 (the end of 2nd period) and didn't get back until 11:40 (the beginning of 6th period). I was five minutes late coming back, and had to call in for an emergency 5-minute sub for the latter.

5. I'll be honest: I'm kind of bored to tears by my poetry unit right now with my 9th graders. Thankfully it's only 5 poems and 5 days long. We're moving onto A Lesson Before Dying next week. Woo-hoo! One of my favorite novels and one of my favorite books to teach.

6. I'm also pretty excited about teaching The Wind Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami for the first time. We're also beginning that next week.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Box Set Activity

One of my favorite activities I completed during the Teaching Shakespeare Institute was Michael Tolaydo's "Box Set" activity. During this activity, students create a stage set - in a box - of a scene from a Shakespearean play. Students are encouraged to play around with setting and context; I remember our group did the wedding scene in The Taming of the Shrew in a 1950s prim and proper American town. There has to be a reason for the setting (I honestly don't remember ours from the summer).

Then, each group member has a task. One person is on movements, and will document five movements during the scene (blocking) and discuss how the movements convey meaning. Ditto with person two, who must discuss the staging. Person three does costumes. Person four does lighting and music. And person five does props.

Students got Monday to work on it, then an unexpected extra day yesterday when I called in sick. They had a lot of freedom. Now, this can be great, full of epiphanies and creativity, but it can also bring with it some groan-worthy moments. I had some of both today during the presentations. I'm pretty sure that the group who set 1.1 with dinosaurs and 2.2 in a Fetish Club (ugh) both understood their scene pretty well, even with the groans.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Coaching drama

Baseball coaching continues to be a focal point of my existence right now. I say it never takes a backseat to providing quality instruction, but today it was kind of hard to argue that it didn't; I took my first sick day of the year, yet still went in to at least supervise baseball practice. I felt pretty sick, but the food poisoning I seem to have come down with overnight was gone. I was up nearly the whole night with major G.I. trouble, and it had passed out of my system by morning. Still, without any sleep. I could barely function to call in sick because of it. I felt much better, just a little icky, by the afternoon, so decided to keep practice on. We only have a week to get ready for the season at this point; first game is the 26th.

Coaching dominates my thoughts and a lot of my energy during this time of year. One player cursed out a coach, pretty severely, on Friday. I didn't realize how bad it was until the coach told me. After a lot of reflecting about it, as well as talking to the other coach, I decided to suspend the player for a month. I wrote the letter to him and talked with him briefly. I met with the father briefly. Tomorrow, the mother has requested a meeting. I wish nothing but the best for this kid, and hope I made the right decision.

The latest drama involves a kid who is a senior and one of my team captains. His mom does not want him to play, a fact that I learned tonight. She called me, saying that she doesn't even want to go to his graduation, that he's very disrespectful and this is the last thing she can do to him before she puts him out of the house. She seems determined, and it seems the only reason she wants to do it is because it's the last thing she can do to him. Of course, I'm only hearing the kid's perspective, but his version of the fight sounds pretty bad. She tells him she'll be glad when he's out on the street with the other losers, and he tells her that it's baseball season and hopefully he'll get recruited, and she grabs his phone, gets my number, and says, "Not if I have anything to say about it, you'll be going nowhere."

He'll be 18 in a month. He really has a pretty good shot at playing college football or baseball. He's also a hard worker and a leader on the team. His last text message was, "I really need help coach." I really have no idea what options I have or how I'm going to go about helping this situation. First step is talking with my Athletic Director tomorrow.

I'm considering writing a letter to the mom (she was obviously very angry when she called, not a good time to negotiate), stating how proud I am of the young man, and how I think letting him play baseball for the rest of the year will be a good thing for all involved. He was my student as a 9th grader, and a total goofball. As a sophomore, I could tell there was a great leader there, about the emerge if all the goofiness would melt away. Then, sadly, as a Junior, he was ineligible because of grades. Since then, he has pulled 70s and 80s and 90s, and has received several college acceptances. You should see the letter of recommendation I wrote for him the other day; he really is a success story, at least on the school and athletics side of things.

Wish me luck. Or, more importantly, him.

Sunday, March 8, 2009


I love mnemonic devices in teaching. I think it's cool that I still remember Kingdom-Phylum-Class-Order-Family-Genus-Species because of Ms. Leavitt's "Kings Play Chess on Funny Glass Stairs" acronym in the 9th grade. Ditto "Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally" and others. Creating my own mnemonic devices was a major way I was a successful student, not only in high school, but also in my pre-Medicine years as a Chemistry major, with lots of memorization.

Being an English teacher, I still incorporate lots of mnemonic devices. We remember the five methods of Indirect Characterization with the acronym, "P.A.A.S.O" (Private Thoughts, Appearance, Action, Speech, Other Characters' thoughts), as in "Que Paaso?," which I gleefully shout out early in the year when we come across some distinctive characterization. We remember types of imagery with V.G.O.A.T (Visual-Gustatory-Olfactory-Auditory-Tactile), and, when students are writing a personal essay short on details that appeal to the senses, I'll ask them where their V-Goat is.

For Poetry Analysis, I've never really found an aconym I like. Pre-AP and AP showcase this one called DIDLS, which is mostly an acronym to find tone (Diction-Imagery-Details-Language-Structure/Style). I don't like it because the important part of just understanding the poem on a literal level is lost. I've used TPCASTT before, too, but it's a bit simplistic to me. The "C" just doesn't cover enough. For several years in a row, I've tried to create an acronym that sort of combines these two acronyms into one.

It is ridiculous and unwieldly, but I like it. PIDDSAT. (Paraphrase-Imagery-Diction-Devices-Sounds-Attitude-Theme). The students suggested I call it "SIP DDAT," which I might do someday, but it puts it out of the order I like. I've only used it for about four days, but it's working well. Still unwieldly, but it's just the jumping off point. We'll see how it goes. If it doesn't work, it's just back to the drawing board again.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

First week of the season

"Can I take about 20 minutes of your time today during your 11th period?"

I had to say no. I just don't have it right now.

I remember how providing quality lessons and coaching is. I have no free time. This is okay. I expect it and I thrive. But, this year, I'm also buying a house. And doing National Board Certification. It's a lot on my plate.

I'm always amazed every year at colleagues who scoff when I say that I have to write my plan for practice. After all, I don't write out lesson plans very meticulously. They're 48 minutes, and I know what I'm going to do. I write my objectives on the board and jot down what I'm doing in my lesson plan book. That's it. But, for practice, I've got these 6 kids doing this at this time, and these other 6 kids doing this other thing at that time, and I know exactly who is going to be everywhere at every time. In fact, this year, so far, I haven't planned as meticulously, at least during tryouts, because our fields have been so poor (full of snow and mud), and the results have shown. I've seen some of my least favorite things I ever can see during baseball practice: standing around. Luckily it doesn't happen until after 5, usually, but I'd like to get better at that. I will, once I get to know this team better.

It's only four days into the season, though, and I think I might have the deepest team I've ever had. I posted that as my Facebook update tonight, then thought better of it; it's too early to feel that cocky. One former player was offended, reminding me about 2007, but it was something different there - that team had a bunch of superstars (four went on to play college baseball), which this team doesn't, I don't think. But this team has so much depth, so many solid players all around.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Full schedule

I wake up at 5 a.m. Sometimes I hit snooze. I get to the gym between 5:50 a.m. and 6:10 a.m. I exercise - half weights, half cardio - until 7:30 a.m. I shower, change, and am in to the school by around 7:55 a.m. I rush to my classroom, and print out the handouts and lesson plans that I wrote the previous night. I print them out, and copy them off, and hopefully I'm ready to go in my classroom by the time the 8:10 a.m. warning bell rings. I teach for two periods. During the next period, my planning period, I'm usually trying to do something about this house buying process I'm in. Today, I had to run to Bel-Air/Edison Neighborhood Association and sign some papers about my mortgage. Tomorrow, I'll be printing out an appendum to my contract, signing it, and then scanning the contract and creating a .jpg of it, then sending it to my real estate agent. Then, I try to create my lesson plan for my Juniors. I try to grade papers. I try to eat lunch. Then I teach three periods in a row. My second planning period is next, and I use that to scope out the areas around the school and figure out what we're doing for practice. I write out a meticulous plan for practice. Or, sometimes I'm pulled out for a meeting and have to write "TBA" for the 4:15-5:45 chunk of practice. And we finish practice at around 6 p.m. Changing takes a half hour. I drive four kids home every night. I get home at around 8 p.m. Then I plan my lessons for the next day and fall asleep by 10 p.m.

Okay, so the above schedule has only happened two days so far. It just feels like it's been weeks.

Seriously, though, thank god for baseball practice. Getting out there yelling in the sunshine is the best thing in the world.

Bedtime. It's 9:07.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

March is coming in like a lion...

Tomorrow is the 2nd day of baseball season, something I look forward to throughout the winter. This winter was very mild, but, unfortunately, it's looking like we'll be getting our first real snow storm tonight. I'm expecting a snow day. Since I haven't written a lesson plan yet, I'm apparently even counting on it. (I will get the stuff ready for tomorrow, though, just in case...)

Since practice tomorrow will be pretty rough if we have school (there's no room inside the building, so we're either on the tennis courts, on sidewalks, or in the weight room, and there's not a whole lot I can do for tryouts in that situation), I'm rooting for a snow day, despite the fact that the season is starting and I want to get back out there with them. If we do get one, I'm still going to go into the school, and grade like crazy. I'm really behind, and progress reports are due this week sometime. I'm hoping at least someone is in the building.