Tuesday, December 7, 2010

how to have a wonderful weekend...

step one, go out for awesome pizza followed by a drum circle.

step two, don't even think about setting your alarm. wake up on saturday morning with just enough time to run an errand that you've really been wanting to take care of, before grabbing your bike and riding it to the gym for water aerobics. this works best if the weather is perfect and there are nice people to say hello to along the way to the gym.

step three, follow your glorious morning with a relaxing afternoon. i recommend going to see an artist that you enjoy, visiting a park and otherwise enjoying the weather. spontaneous running and tree climbing helps, too.

step four, take a friend out for dinner and introduce them to one of your favorite restaurants. bonus points if they like it as much as you do.

step five, break out the christmas music and hot cocoa. stay up way too late decorating the house for christmas. this may require a late night trip to wal-mart. that's ok. holiday decorating is better when you are armed with things sparkly and gaudy. if you're having trouble finding christmas music with just the right vibe, i recommend the judds' christmas album on repeat. but that's just me...

step six, actually sleep in a bit for once (you did stay up way too late with the judds) but wake up in time to go out for dim sum with some old friends. this works especially well if you used to live in china with said old friends. it lends a wonderful sense of nostalgia to the whole experience.

step seven, more hot cocoa, more judds, more decorating. don't forget to step back, take a moment and admire your work. it's perfectly ok to be very proud about how awesome you are at decorating on a budget. oh, and don't forget to add lights. they are a vital ingredient of christmas enchantment.

step eight, cook a good dinner (soup is always comforting), watch a good movie and have good talk with a good friend. that alone is a recipe for a pretty good day, even without all the christmas magic you have just sprinkled all over the house.

step nine, take a minute to reflect on this series of fortunate events. pause to relish the joy in your heart. appreciate your success.

"Pure and simple, any person who is enjoying life is a success." - William Feather

Saturday, December 4, 2010


i'm going to take a moment to brag about one of my students and his family. he came into school the day after hanukkah started, talking a mile a minute about lighting candles and bible stories. the conversation went something like this:

"ms. wood, hanukkah, hanukkah, hanukkah!"
"wait, are you jewish?"
"is your mom jewish?"
"but you're celebrating hanukkah?"
"yeah, we're learning about it. next year we're going to learn about...another one."
"that's awesome. i mean it. tell your mom i said so, because i think that is really awesome."

Thursday, October 28, 2010

conversations i never expected to have at school

conversations i never expected to have with 3rd graders: would you rather burn to death or jump out the window and fall to your death?

2 of my students were looking at a newspaper special edition insert from 9/11 and they read/saw that some people jumped out the windows of the trade center. i happened to walk by just as they were making this observation. the conversation went something like this:

"ms. wood, some people jumped out the window!" - d
"oh, really." -ms. wood
"they didn't want to burn." - m
"i would never jump out the window, i would burn." - d
"really?" - ms. wood
"yeah. i hate that feeling you get when you're falling." (holds onto his stomach) - d
"really? i kind of like that feeling. i think i might prefer to fall out the window." - ms. wood
"i'd call my friends to put a bunch of mattresses and then i'd jump out the window." - m
"now there's an idea." - ms. wood

and then i started to move away and they went back to looking at the newspaper, completely unphased and devoid of emotion about the whole thing.

it wasn't until 2 days later that i fully processed what we had just talked about. i have discussions like this with my friends but i never expected to have it with 8-year-olds.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

waiting for "superman"

i went to see waiting for "superman" last night. it was an interesting take on things. what i got out of it was that, basically, there is too much bureaucracy in the institution. all of the institutions that we have created are getting in the way of teachers (literally) filling students' brains with knowledge. teacher's unions are another main impediment to educational progress as they stand in the way of a lot of reform, namely firing teachers. the movie spent some time addressing tenure and its implications on the quality of teachers in our schools.

but, have no fear. there are charter schools. and some of them are making great gains. they have the model and practices that can save our broken system. unfortunately, very few people get to attend them. they also are not scalable within the system that we have.

which, i think, is a fair perspective. i agree that we have gone pretty far down the rabbit hole of hierarchy and institution and paperwork and it is getting in the way of teachers doing what they know needs to be done. i feel this all the time at school. i can't speak about tenure/unions as i know very little about them, so i won't. i would like to see their case presented.

as for charter schools, some of them are doing awesome things. i think it is definitely worth looking into what they are doing that is working and could be taken to scale.

overall, i think the movie was a bit one-sided and i would like to see a counter that shows the position of the unions and teachers. i also think that, while it is definitely worth analyzing charter schools, they are not necessarily the only solution. a range of things need to be considered. i do think the movie has the potential to be a sounding board for some good discussion. it by no means encompasses all of the discussion that needs to happen, but it gets some things out there.

for instance, the idea of looking to charter schools for inspiration is not without merit. the problem comes in trying to scale them. i don't know about all of the charter schools mentioned in the movie, but i do know a little about KIPP schools. they definitely have some great things going and i think the mentality in the schools would be a good thing to spread. they also have extended the school day by a couple hours and hold classes every other saturday. this means that they can include things that would normally be after-school enrichment activities as part of the school day, so that all kids are getting access to arts, music, and team sports, on top of the extra emphasis on academic performance. additionally, there is a lot of time and emphasis on the professional development of the teachers.

i think this is great, especially for students in low-economic areas. most of them are not getting the enrichment at home that wealthier kids are getting and the extra time at school could go a long way to shrinking that achievement gap. however, i also see that the extra work can be really hard on the teachers. from what i understand, the burnout rate is fairly high. KIPP demands a lot of its teachers, which translates into having great teachers in great schools. but i don't think it is sustainable.

i think that if we want to create a system like KIPP for public schools nationwide, we need to rethink how we hire, schedule and pay teachers. maybe there is a way to use block scheduling/hiring so that each teacher is hired and paid based on the hours/classes they teach. that way the school day for the students might be 10-11 hours long, but each teacher is only working 8 or so hours a day. that would also leave room for part-time teachers and for community members to come in and teach one class a day. the logistics of such a system would require a lot of thinking and planning. it may or may not work. but my point is that, if we want to make these changes, we are going to have to start thinking outside the existing structure that we have.

i think that this problem of scalability is a very big one. i have come across lots of models of schools that i like. there are several alternative/charter school ideas that i think are great. but every time i think about scaling one of these great ideas, it just seems like it would be a giant disaster. the trick, i think, is to create a system that is open enough to be really adaptable on a local scale, so that schools can meet the needs of the kids they serve, but that also has enough constraints/controls to make it hard to really screw up. i have no idea how to go about doing that.

in the end, i think that waiting for "superman" got some things kind of right and missed some other things. it is no way the end-all, be-all movie about education reform, though i do think it presents a valid perspective. the real question is what we do with that perspective. so long as we use it as a place to begin one piece of the discussion, great. we definitely still have a long way to go, though.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

favorite houston eateries

in no particular order:
  • bombay pizza (mitul's masala)
  • swirll (everything)
  • house of pie (bayou goo)
  • pie in the sky (mississippi mud)
  • andy's diner
  • cafe caspian (fesenjan and gheymeh)
  • anywhere asian near bellaire and beltway 8
  • tacos el rey (the cuban taco)
  • tacos a go-go
  • waldo's coffee shop (the atmosphere)
  • mission burrito
  • the teahouse on shepard and westheimer
  • brasil (good everything, awesome pizza)
  • our house (anything kersten cooks)
  • little sheep mongolian hot pot

things i will miss about houston...

  • dim sum
  • authentic chinese food
  • giant asian markets
  • persian food
  • the fine art museum
  • the trees by the menil
  • swirll
  • house of pie
  • being able to get any kind of ethnic food i could want
  • gymnastics
  • the sand dollar thrift store
  • living with kersten
this list is hard to make.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

overwhelming wednesdays.

i hate wednesdays. wednesdays are early dismissal days. that means the kids leave early and the teachers get to spend two and a half hours in meetings. last year, i found this time to be a bit of a mid-week relief. this year, i've come to dread it from the depth of my soul. every week i go in feeling fine and come out feeling terrible.

i went to school this morning feeling pretty good about things instructionally. by the time i left, i was overcome with the complete overwhelmingness that has become common place in my professional life. turns out i don't actually know how to teach third grade. it seems like a weird, in-between phase of still learning how to decode words, but transitioning into a bigger focus on comprehension and critical thinking. it's a vague and murky place and i don't really understand exactly where the balance falls in terms of what my kids need. which means that i constantly feel as though i'm not doing enough things or the right things for them.

every time i walk into another teacher's room, i find at least 3 things that i think, "oh man, they are doing a great job. i should be doing that." which is incredibly overwhelming because the thought that immediately follows is, "when will i do that? what time can i possibly squeeze from what we are already doing, to do that?" but it seems like an important thing that i should make time for. which is completely at odds with the constraints that i feel have been handed to me by the powers-that-be concerning how i should be using my time. it all feels like a giant juggling act where i've been trained to juggle 6 pins but every time i look up someone is trying to throw something else into my hands and i think it would really add to the show but i just don't know how to fit it in.

i know that i am not completely failing. i know that i am doing much better than last year. i know that on some things, i am doing a great job. the thing is, these small successes get completely obscured by what seem to be my much larger failures, which is a big problem emotionally because i care so much about what i do. it's frustrating and stressful to constantly feel like i'm not doing the best i can for people that i care about very deeply. i want my students to be the best that they can be and i feel like, no matter how hard i work, i'm just not tapping into all of that potential.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

what a friday!

today was a day of, if it can happen, it will:

tears and a tummy ache,
a cockroach in our classroom,
a bloody nose, lots of scratches and lots of tears at recess,
a cricket in our classroom,
2 very loose, very bloody teeth,
and, to top it all off, one of my favorite books wound up missing.

thank goodness it's a 3 day weekend. i need a break.

update: teeth successfully lost and book successfully returned. rough recess games outlawed. all is well with the world in room 25.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

i have got to start looking older...

conversation with current student this week:

"ms. wood, you're like a teenager!"
"um, ok. you know i went to college, right?"
"yeah, but you're like a teenager."
"ok, good?"
"yeah, you get us! you have the heart like a teenager!"
"ah. well, isn't it awesome!?"

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

it fits

it feels good to be back at school. it feels right. i still feel incredibly incompetent at quite a lot of aspects of my job but overall, being in education just fits. this is what i am. it's what i have always been.

this in no way negates my rant about public education. the system is a mess. but as far as educating people goes, i'm totally on it.

what to do with public education?

i'm kind of over the public education system. from what i can tell, its current state is a bit of a disaster. more specifically, it just feels like the system is incredibly broken and every time someone tries to fix it, it just gets more convoluted. i feel like everyone keeps adding more instead of maybe reexamining what we have or trying to think about things in new ways.

i know that my principal is with me on the fact that my kids, especially the kids i work with, need to learn social skills in order to be successful at school (and life). so is my partner (i team teach). but i also know that everyone, including my principal is watching our test scores very closely. and good test scores come from teaching testing strategies, not life skills. i think that standardized tests, as they stand right now, are a waste of everyone's time and, more importantly, their mental capacities. (i'm not discounting the possibility that good ones do or could exist.)

today i am particularly frustrated with the minutia and the paperwork. every single thing has to have a mandate. has to be micromanaged. we were trying to figure out the specific amount of minutes that are to be taught in english and spanish in each subject area and it was so ridiculous. we're getting down to 5 min here and 10 min there. on a practical level, that's silly. but, whether we follow it or not, we have to have it written down.

then we were trying to work out the details of this intervention period the district has mandated and the way our administrator was interpreting it didn't make any practical sense at all. he finally told us he would have to look into it and get back to it because we were all getting so confused in the details.

i understand the need for framework and i really appreciate having it. after having almost complete freedom in china, i appreciate having some structure. and i understand that, especially in a district as big as HISD, we want to control as many variables as possible in order to keep from having teachers that suck. my colleague also mentioned that we have a really high mobility rate among students, so the district wants things as standard as possible so that those kids don't miss a beat when they get to a new school. which i get. i don't know how that works on a practical level, but i get that. still, i think there needs to be some balance between framework and freedom.

there needs to be room for good teachers to be good teachers. the best teachers aren't the ones who are robots. the robots get the test scores and get rewarded. the good teachers sometimes do and sometimes don't, depending on the kids they work with. i feel like my kids are missing out on things they need to be successful in life because everyone is so worried about test scores and district mandates. and that just hurts my heart.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

i'm so emo!

in case i haven't seen you in awhile, i cut my hair this summer. it went from really long and straight to a short bob with lots of long bangs. i promise this is relevant.

i walked by a group of my former students today at lunch and one of the boys goes, "ms. wood, ms. wood! you cut your hair, are you emo now?" i heard him, but i couldn't pay much attention to him because i was getting my kids to lunch and it was kind of crazy so i kind of waved and kept going.

a little bit later i walked by their table again and the same kid goes, "ms. wood, you're emo now!"

so i stop and i go, "edward, i am not emo, i just cut my hair!"
"yes you are. you're emo. you have the haircut with the bangs all gelled in your eyes."
"honey, there's no gel in my hair, my hair just does this. this is just how it goes. i'm not trying to be emo." and then i keep walking because i have to get back to my class.

an hour or so later, we happened to be at recess at the same time and this same student comes up to me and goes, "you're the kind of emo where you just get the haircut and you don't use any gel."

and then he jogs away.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

fake it 'til you make it

today this guy was talking about how you don't necessarily have to feel an emotion before you do the behavior associated with it. sometimes if you just do the behavior, you'll start to feel the emotion. for example, people generally think they need a reason to laugh. they think they need to something to make them feel joyful first. but if you just start laughing for no reason, at first it is forced but very quickly it devolves into real laughter and when you are all done you feel a bit joyful. i find it works with smiling, too. (and probably some negative emotions as well.)

anyway, the point of this is that my first thought about this phenomenon was that it is an interesting glitch in our psychology that it can work essentially backwards. i'm not saying we shouldn't exploit it for all it's worth, it has some great applications. but i think it's an interesting way for things to be set up and i wonder whether it is something that was selected for or if it just happens to be an interesting side effect of how our emotions and behaviors are connected.


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

teacher prep days

so not ready for school to start. i'm loving being in my classroom and finally being able to get that set up. i'm excited for my room - it's coming together fairly well. i still have some problems to solve which are keeping my mind plenty busy, but the major things are essentially taken care of.

the only problem is that taking care of my room is doing an excellent job of distracting me from the much more important questions about how i want things to run once the children are in it. i'm doing an excellent job of not thinking about the rules and procedures and behavior management plans that i need to be putting into place. i'm not thinking about what we are going to do the first week to ensure that we have a successful year full of learning. which seems to me to be kind of bad in that these things seem a bit more important in the grand scheme of things than the classroom. in all fairness, though, all i have done thus far is unpack and organize, which does seem inherently important in having a classroom that runs smoothly.

we'll have to see how the week plays out. i'm not sure if having such a short period of time to get ready will help the procrastinator in me kick it into high gear or if it will mean being less ready than i should be. sadly, given past experience, it probably means some mix of the two with at least a bit of the latter. but i can dream, can't i?

Friday, August 13, 2010

letters to intangibles

dear English,
please be more confusing and arbitrary. that would make my job much easier. thank you.


dear houston,
please help me make some friends. i don't mind getting lost if i end up where the cool people are. thanks.

p.s. i have cookies.

dear public education,
food for thought: more does not necessarily equal better. discuss.


dear computer,
please stop sucking. i'm tired of fixing you. and i don't want to call india anymore.


dear TED,
thank you for taking a vacation from posting talks. i appreciate being able to catch up.


dear kersten,
we need to find an outlet for our baking habit that is not my stomach. pretty pretty please? i'll put a cherry on top.


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

stolen lyric poetry

i sometimes collect song lyrics that i enjoy. bits of text and phrases that resonate with me for whatever reason. for some it's the meaning, for others i just like the way they sound. i've taken some of these lyrics and turned them into poems. i think the first one came out alright. the second one requires a little more mining for the meaning.

Let It Out
If you've got an impulse let it out
(With a smile)

Hear the bells are
Ringing joyful and triumphant

Be good to yourself today
Have no fear
Gamble everything

Go make out
Up in the balcony

The band's leaving
Old age is just around the bend

The Sound of Settling
Distance lends enchantment to the future;
but my bed's too big for just me.
So I hold you closer,
fumbling to make contact.
But when I'm leanin',
you just turn your head away.

We'd learn how our bodies worked;
think without boundaries;
be good to ourselves today.
But I always have to steal my kisses from you.

Can you tell I'm losing sleep?
Yeah, you make me merry,
but you just turn your head away.

So I learnt from you.

Goddamn the black night,
with all it's foul temptations.
When you turn your eyes,
I promise I won't care,
but my bed's too big for just me.

special thanks to the following artists for the use of their words:
Ra Ra Riot
random Indian man
Dove Chocolate wrapper
Ben Harper
Death Cab for Cutie
Kate Nash
Bright Eyes
Mike Doughty
Ben Lee

Saturday, July 31, 2010

adventures in moving

i got to be a grown-up today. kersten and i are moving and this time we decided to do it with a truck. you know, one of those u-hauls. we settled on one that was 10 feet long. in classic kim style, i thought very little of our decision. we'll figure it out, right?
and then my mom looked at me and asked, "it's an automatic, right?"
"of course, i'm sure, it has to be," i replied and tried not to give it much thought.

then today we were sitting at lunch and kersten goes, "what are we going to do if it's a manual?" and again, in my classic i-can-do-anything,-no-problem sort of way i answered, "we'll take it and hope ben peetz really did teach me something on the farm this summer. it'll be fine, we'll figure it out." kersten did not looked convinced.

a little while later, as i was sitting at barnes & noble waiting for kersten to finish stealing the internet, i gave this last exchange some thought. neither one of us really knows how to drive a stick. sure, we know how, but we don't really know how. nor has either one of us ever driven a giant truck before. and it's houston. there's traffic. i started imagining kersten and i in this truck and i laughed so hard i cried. right there in the barnes. we'd be going approximately 10 miles an hour and trying to avoid every major street we can, probably killing the engine at every other corner while screaming and flailing at each other in the cab. then i imagined the truck full and realized that there is no way to get from our old house to our new house without taking some major streets. i have no idea what gear i need to go 40 miles an hour! i think i'm going to start cracking up again, sitting here by myself...

at any rate, the truck did indeed turn out to be an automatic which i thought took some of the adventure out of things but was probably safer. little did i know what adventure would be in store for us...we had to wait a bit for our truck to come and they offered us the 17 foot truck that had already come back. we said we would wait. then, as we were filling out the paperwork to take it, kersten asked if it had a ramp, thinking that of course it would. of course it didn't. realizing that there was no way the 2 of us could get a washing machine into a truck without a ramp, we said, "what were you saying about that 17 foot truck? it has a ramp, right?" of course it does. and thus, kersten got to drive down the streets of houston in a 17 food u-haul truck. adventure was restored.

luckily, no accidents occurred, but it was fun watching her drive it. such good expressions...

it was also kind of fun loading it. i've never gotten to get in the truck before. i felt very grown up.

that said, growing up is kind of annoying. moving sucks. especially moving into a second floor apartment. and we don't really even have any furniture yet. good thing we like the place lots.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

the spirit of the sea

i am a teacher. and as you can probably imagine, friday afternoons are the worst part of any week. worse than mondays. no one wants to be working anymore, myself included. especially right after recess. especially 3 weeks before the end of the year. unfortunately, nobody asks us about these things and thus we are forced to continue on, slugging our way to the end of the week, attempting to learn...something.

the kids' response to such moments is to play. in all the ways they aren't supposed to. as the teacher, my response is to devise new and interesting punishments that will not only reinforce good behavior, but also keep them busy for as long as possible. this past friday, my brilliant solution was Definitions. and not from the watered-down textbook glossary. no, no. from the intimidatingly large and decrepit dictionaries that have dutifully sat in the classroom library all year long.

oh yes, it's pretty much as wonderful as it sounds. the students are given an organizer usually used for learning new vocabulary and are required to copy words, definitions and pictures from the aforementioned dictionaries. silently. those of us who don't understand silence get extra practice in the form of extra organizers. those of us who do essentially get "time off for good behavior" in the form of reward tickets. justice is served, definitions are (hopefully) learned and silence reigns in the classroom. everyone wins. almost.

the downfall of this punishment is that it creates extra work for me to grade. at least, i thought that would be the downfall. turns out i seriously underestimated the joy that could be gleaned from the 9-year-old mind (relatively) freely splattered on a page.

seriously, these kids come up with some amazing things. the kick i got out of some of the pictures alone was worth the time spent grading the extra work. equally wonderful were some of the words that the kids chose. most were pretty run of the mill - strawberry, flower, fruit. some wanted to be rebels - missile, rifle, pistol. and some made mildly interesting choices - become, broil, wednesday. but you have to wonder about the kid who goes home saying, "mom, today ms. wood made us do definitions and guess what i learned about!" but you can't guess. because you didn't even know it was in the dictionary.

davy jones' locker. defined, illustrated and exemplified correctly. followed by davy jones. also defined, illustrated and exemplified correctly. did i mention that i derive great amusement from piratey things? this may be the best assignment i have received all year.

so i thank you, darling, for bringing me this joy. because i should have seen it coming when you raised your hand in class and asked, "ms. wood, how am i supposed to draw the spirit of the sea?" and yet, i didn't. somehow, i just didn't.

sadly, your classmates may have different words for you. for you have sealed the fate of this particular punishment. it is here to stay, my friends. so get your pencils ready. especially on friday afternoons.

update: we, sadly, were forced to repeat this punishment the next week. this time the same student chose ginger beer and gin as two of her words. i'm beginning to have some real concerns about sending her home with this knowledge...

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Unexpected ABC's

The things we didn't see coming on our trip to Frankfurt and Italy.

A. alligator crossing sign in Frankfurt
B. brie at McDonald's in Germany
C. cacti in Italy
D. demonstrations on animal rights
E. eighties rock playing everywhere
F. fifteen euro gelatto
G. ginormous scooter windshields
H. hiking
I. Indian popsicles
J. jovial Italians
K. kiwi on a stick at McDonald's in Italy
L. lighting candles in a church
M. McItaly Burger at McDonald's
N. Native American postcards for sale in Frankfurt
O. open-air train stations
P. plates from the states in Rome (license plates)
Q. queue at the Vatican Museum
R. roller blading priest
S. saffron pasta
T. telephones ringing in the Vatican Museum
U. unusually thick hot chocolate
V. vaporetta ride with an opera singer
W. with-child tourists in record numbers
X. xtra long Frankfurters
Y. young Seminarian of the Year calendars
Z. zebra painting at the Vatican Museum