Thursday, March 26, 2015

Conversations with middle schoolers #47: Just talkin bout Shaft

"What do you think Ms. Richert thinks about this class?" Nate muses as I talk over increasingly loud 8th grade voices. Ms. Richert's classroom is right next door; we share a wall with our smart boards and white boards.

At this point I'm actually sitting on the ground in front of the white board, because I've written to the bottom to solve a rational equation.

"Probably doesn't like it much," I admit. We're loud. Even with doors closed, it's not possible to block out noise all the way.

"Ooh, has she said something?" one of the kids asks. They always are hungry for gossip.

"No, nothing like that. We're fine. I eat lunch with her every day, we talk, it's FINE. I think..." I try. "I just think I'm probably a bad neighbor."

"WAIT!"  Hannah calls out. "You LIVE near her, too?"

I just lie down on the floor and laugh.

More randomness ensues. "Jimmy Johns doesn't deliver to where I live," Nate says out of the blue. Other people mention where they live, in unincorporated county or in Sunset Hills or whatever.

"No she doesn't live by Ms. Richert," one of the boys finally explains. They try; I don't know if Hannah got that point. And then Dmitri, as I sit up, says, "What are we talking about?"

"Just talkin' bout Shaft," I say.

None of them understands. Of course they don't. The movie came out 30 years before they were born.

So I then have to show them the opening credits to the movie and explain it and come to the phrase I've quoted. Then I show them other instances in popular culture (Futurama) that quotes it.

We finish with some rational equation practice and the BeeGees. For good measure, I suppose. Jive talkin.

[Thing is? I look at my pre-algebra 7th graders and I cannot imagine them being this quick and fun next year. Maybe they will be. Thing is, these guys? They were last year too. Next year could be a tad dry...all I can imagine is opening the youtube video of Shaft and seeing hands raise: "will this be on the test?" "How are you going to grade us on that?" Ugh.]

Friday, March 20, 2015

Spring Break by the numbers

2.5: hours spent in my classroom sorting through files and my closet. So many things don't get done during a school day. Everything gets filed in the bottom drawer or in the file marked "job". Now everything is neat and tidy.

8: trips to get coffee, to and from here and there. I made coffee at home, too. It was a coffee week. As they all are.

37: minutes after 5 in the morning when my alarm went off each day even though it was break. Because it wasn't break for everyone else.

6: ads sold at the last moment for Sophia's play/8th grade fund.

2: meetings I attended and yep, volunteered at both of them for jobs that will keep me busy through mid-May.

3: naps. Two of them in the morning, which is always lovely. All of them with cats. Which is...warm.

18: episodes of Star Trek Voyage I've consumed while knitting, folding laundry, and so forth.

9: drawers cleaned out.

1: pair of shoes purchased.

It's been a lovely, lovely week. The next time someone says teachers don't need spring break, I'm going to stab him with a fork. I am ready for next week.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Ten on Tuesday: 10 Irish Ancestors

1. James Donnelly and his four sisters: Mary, Bridget, Honora, and Margaret. Born 1825 in County Tyrone, married Sarah Cody in 1850 in Rome, New York. Bridget, his sister, married a Blake. Just to keep us all on our toes--this is on the other side of my family.

2. Edward D. Blake, not to be confused with his father Edward Blake or his son Edward R. Blake or his grandson Edward J. Blake. Edward, known as Ned when he was a child, was born in Kansas City. Raised there at first by his parents (Edward and Bridget) and then by his Aunt Ellen and Uncle Pat, along with his brother Richard. After his father dies, he moves to St. Louis--perhaps to be closer to his mother? I wish I knew. There he starts working as a bricklayer, and gets in good with the union leaders, especially Charles and Henry Daniel Dawes. He meets their sister, Jennie, who is a widow, and the two of them run off to Chicago to get married. Then they settle down into Kerry Patch in north St. Louis, have a baby (Edward R) and then our Edward D. is dead in 4 years of emphysema. Aged 37. His mother outlived him. Who knows--brick dust and smoke and underlying TB? All I know is there's a series of men in my family with weak lungs. So I don't smoke.

3. Edward Blake. He is born in Galway in 1828. Escapes Ireland and marries Bridget Kidney in 1856, one of the first couples married by the itinerant priest who started the diocese in Kansas City. They have three children. They move to East St. Louis in 1865 and are listed with 4 children. I think the 4th is a niece, Mollie (below). Things seem solid in East St. Louis, a railroad and industry town, and Edward runs a saloon. Then in 1886, he gets into an argument with William Vanderough, a patron in the bar, a man who works for the railroad, and he shoots him. Vanderough dies at the scene. After the murder, the case starts to look as though maybe Edward wasn't shooting in self defense. So, while he is under investigation, he and a friend meet at the bar. He pours the friend a drink, and himself. Then he adds Rough On Rats, a popular rat poison, to his own. A slow death, he dies in a St. Louis hospital with time to confess his sins to a priest, thereby allowing a burial in a Catholic cemetery.

4. Mollie Toohey, child of Mathew Toohey and some woman who died in a cholera epidemic with him. The Tooheys, from Galway like the Blakes (which makes me scratch my head about the whole mess), may or may not be related to Bridget Kidney--she claims Mathew's mother as her mother, but she also claims Mary Dwyne as her mother. Mollie, either way, escaped cholera and came to live with her aunt and uncle, Bridget and Edward. I can only hope it was ok for her as time went on. She married a non-Catholic and lived in Granite City after marriage. Had a son. Her aunt/mother/whoever, Bridget (below) lived with her until she died. Mollie was first generation American. All that death right behind her.

5. Bridget Kidney the Liar. Born in County Cork, fled Ireland and settled in Kansas City with her two sisters, Catherine and Ellen. Possibly the daughter of Mary Dwyne, below. Or...not? Dwyne and Kidney are bastardizations of each other. Mother of three children: Mary, Richard, Edward. The Catholic diocese has records of Mary's birth but not her death; Richard and Edward live with Ellen and her husband Pat Cronin until adulthood while Bridget leaves for East St. Louis with her husband, Edward Blake (above). Later claims to be the daughter of Eleanora Houlihan Toohey. Takes in her niece Mollie Toohey and later changes her name to Blake and poses as her mother in church records.  All I can assume is that life was hard. Brutal and hard. And you grabbed on to anyone you could and held on tight.

6. John Aiken, born 1808 in Balleymena, County Antrim. Emigrated to Pennsylvania, married an American named Sarah Gibson. Had a mess o' kids. Moved in with his son John in St. Louis before he died, but they buried him in Pennsylvania. His ancestors are buried in a cemetery from which you can nearly see Scotland, it's so far north.

7. Sarah Cody, born 1835, most likely in County Kilkenny. She married James, above, when she was just about 15 years old. Keep in mind, though, that all my Irish are liars. She and James had a bunch of little Donnellys, one of whom, William, moved to DeSoto, Missouri. He would have been there during the big railroad strike that brought Fr. O'Leary to the forefront of the Catholic labor movement. I need to learn more.

8. Richard Blake. The other son of Bridget and Edward. Older than Ned, his brother who goes on to marry Jennie Dawes and become a bricklayer in St. Louis, he's listed as a teamster living in that settlement of houses with his aunts and uncles in Kansas City. And then...he disappears. No death record. No further mention after that. Still searching. My aunt mentioned something about our Kansas City relatives, how one of them was a horse thief. I said, still searching.

9. Mary Dwyne. Or Mary Dwyer. Or Mary Duane. Or Mary O'Dwyre. Who knows. She lives with the Cronins on Pacific and Troost, in Kansas City, this enclave of Cronins and Blakes and all of them, I can only imagine, exhausted and poor. In 1860 she's with Bridget and Edward, listed as "living with her daughter" but then later she's living with Ellen and Pat Cronin, along with their kids and Bridget and Edward's two sons. I wonder if she was a good grandmother. Somehow I doubt it. And no one could read.

10."Mrs. Blake's Mother". The anonymous woman who dies of cholera in East St. Louis in 1873. The only record I have of her death is that quote. It's a church record, written by the priest who records it all, day after day during that epidemic. At the top of the page is the word "cholera" and then a line drawn down a column. She doesn't get a first name. Or a last name, which would have been useful. Just Mrs. Blake's Mother. How exhausted he must have been. Done.

Happy St. Patrick's Day. Let's all wear green, have a parade, and drink cheap beer. Because look where we've come from and how far we've gone!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Conversations with Middle Schoolers #46: Flotsam and Jetsom

From the last few days:

"Can we have more pie?" asks one of the 8th grade boys. It's Pi Eve (tomorrow is Pi Day) and we have pie to celebrate. Another boy turns to him and says, "It's 8:30 in the morning!" I guess he thought it wasn't the best way to start out the day.

"Can we have seconds on pie?" asks one of the sixth grade girls. My sixth graders outdid themselves on the whole bring-in-a-pie suggestion. We have plenty. The boys are downstairs listening to a vocations talk. I debate it for just a second.

"You couldn't tell the boys, not a word, we can't have them thinking you got something extra."

They make solemn promises to not tell. I cut more pie. They have seconds, and are finishing these when the boys come back and see that pie is ready for them. The girls don't say a word. Don't taunt, don't make fake statements about wishing they had more, nothing. They might be my favorites. Next year. It's hard to beat 8th grade boys right now.

Not a single one of my homeroom kids signed up for my elective next quarter. This has been true EVERY QUARTER, except for a few boys 3rd quarter who signed up for Coding. I guess 6th graders don't want to write flash fiction...

"Vi Hart seems really ADHD," Ted points out. We watched her videos while we ate pie.

"Yeah, I find that most mathy people, who really geek out about math, have those tendencies," I agree.

"Do you have those tendencies?" asks Patrick.

"Oh heck yes. Like yesterday, when you got into costume for that skit in Mrs. Schroeder's room? You pointed out that your pants were really soft. And I reached out to touch your pants, and then realized at the last moment, wait, I can't do that. Poor impulse control right there."

"Wait, Shawshank Redemption is your favorite movie?" I stare at Pete's 8th grade memory page form. Then I give him a look I hope comes across as puzzled.

"Yes," he answers, like he's offended that I doubted it.

"It's one of mine, too," I explain. Just puzzled that it would make it to the top of an 8th grader's list.

"Do you have a copy? If you do, can we borrow it? We lost ours."

"What are they working on?" is the question as the Algebra kids walk in after 8 Math ends.

Tony shows the worksheet with the trinomials they're learning to factor.

"Heh," says Patrick.

"Oh, that was the hardest thing we ever did," Bronwyn says, a pained look on her face.

"It was?" Tony asks.

"It took them a long time."

"But this isn't so bad," Catherine says.

"That's because she hasn't shown you the whole thing yet."

I have to nod in agreement. It might be The Worst.

"Ok, I'll create another, you guys do it at your desk," I say to my algebra students as I punch numbers into the calculator to make a new square root problem.

"Make it a cube root!" Esme demands.

"No, a 4th root," says Patrick.

"How about I use the same numbers--radicand--and you pick the index."

Like you do. In super nerdy math class.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

A little spiral story

So everyone is crabby. It was the end of the day. I had a REALLY GOOD teaching day. One of the best Algebra classes I've taught. One of the best 8 Math classes I've taught. Hard stuff for both of them. They stayed with me and wanted more. I like them.

I tutored and then walked one of my students out to the car. He's a fascinating kid. Completely verbal, no concrete thinking at all--which means he misses out on the first step of real math understanding. He can't just skip that understanding and be on par with everyone else. I made a breakthrough with him--we're in the middle of a geometry unit and it's hard to learn that stuff without concrete examples and so forth. So I talked to his mom as he got in the car.

"I just want you to know," she started, "how glad I am that you are here. We really appreciate you. I know you are overworked and underpaid and just so you know, if there's anything you need that I can help with, I don't know what that would be, but really, I owe you so much."

I thought about this a moment. I know a lot about owing people something and not knowing how to make things even. From both sides of that. I told her I'd remember that, and I sent them on their way.

I went inside and got an email from a difficult parent. She hasn't been hard on me since the beginning of last year--and in fact she was a catalyst in some of the changes I made to how I teach, in a positive way. But she's a tough cookie with some of the other teachers.

And she sent me a lovely note. Thanking me for all I do and whatnot.

I got my things packed up and then looked at my phone before I headed out. Text from Zelda, remember Zelda? Like my bestest friend who moved away this past summer and sent my life into a tailspin? Well, she and her family are moving back this summer. They can't live two doors down from me, since the house was sold to other nice people who maybe will want to play mah jongg someday, but I'm confident that this is something that will work out the way it needs to. So I'm going to watch it unfold on its own and do my thing.

And one of the things that is "my thing" is math and art and symbols and language.

So before I headed out to the car I printed out a Fibonacci spiral. Hurricanes and nautilus shells, pinecones and roses and artichokes and sunflowers.

I drove over to see Andy. Thinking I'd make an appointment. But it was 4:30 in the afternoon and what's he got going on? I handed him the artwork and he raised an eyebrow. "More math? Such straight lines. I'll have to ask Joe for a second opinion."

And a third and a fourth but he got it marked up and ready and there I stood in the empty place, heavy metal music in the background drowning out the buzzing noise and actually? I think helping with the focus, with the pain.

A half hour later I walked out with this.
I am inordinately pleased.

That'll do for now.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Conversations with Middle Schoolers #45

I'm crabby. I have the rest of this week to finish out. Grades were due today. I try to write decent comments. I had a 6 inch thick stack of papers to grade this weekend. It was cold....and then suddenly it's warm. I have sick people at my house. Daisy stayed home Monday and today.  It's not the greatest week. Coworkers are crabby, students are crabby, it's all just hard. Thank goodness I teach at a school with spring break, I gotta say.

And I pretty much threw this week away--I had to take a sick day Monday with Daisy, and then Tuesday and Wednesday had folks out at an academic challenge meet. So we spun our wheels in Algebra and 8 Math, caught up a bit in the other math classes.

I'm also watching my underlying ADHD tendencies show through; staff relationships are sometimes confusing but all of this is amplified when I'm not sure where I stand. I need to tame it down and get back to the basics of teaching. Whenever Benedict and Jason and Ted and Jorge and Patrick and those 7th graders and whatnot get back on schedule.

I don't like change.

So it's always kind of nice, in a weird way, to walk into my room after patrol on an afternoon and find 8th graders there. It's like, something that doesn't change. I like that I've become the sort of teacher that has 8th graders come hang for a few minutes after school until their ride gets there or their ride's son or daughter gets done with patrol so they all can carpool home. It reminds me of why I became a teacher.

Believe it or don't, it wasn't to punish students with polynomial tests. It wasn't to make 1st graders cry or 6th graders feel bad about themselves. It wasn't to grade a whole bunch of multiple choice tests and it certainly wasn't to be a big old insincere spider.

It was kind of to have Benedict, Patrick, Jorge, and Ted come to my room after Nerd Camp, as the academic challenge team refers to itself, give a rundown of their day, talk to me like maybe I'm an adult that's ok.

Or to have Pete in my room every afternoon asking me questions about my favorite movie or having me try a really quite terrible cookie he made in cooking class.

Or to have Cari stop giving me that wary look, like she isn't quite sure if she's safe here yet.

Or to have 8 Math students actually get up out of their desks and go to the board to practice those polynomial problems--and ask for more practice.

Or to have students stand around my desk on Test Friday to see who ruined the curve. Or telling stories about my life, getting brave with 14 year old listeners. Having a 9th grader come back and tell me how over-prepared she was for math class in high school. Having other ninth graders come back and be just the same, only bigger than before.

Going to Rachel's wedding. Becoming facebook friends with Bao. Seeing Huy at church on Sundays.

Being surprised by a snappy comeback in 7 Math. Reading essays written TO ME by 8th graders who have actually really thought about these things, these important things at such a young age, but oh not so young, being overwhelmed by their honesty and clarity and candid voices.

It's enough to make me get some sleep and try not to be crabby. It's enough to make me step back in with my best knowingly-knowing teacher act on and get everything in order before we head out for a week. 

It's enough to make me want to go back tomorrow.

Monday, March 09, 2015

Conversations with Middle Schoolers #44: 8 Math Speaks

I had my 8 green class do something that had been suggested at our inservice at the beginning of the year with Dave Burgess (Teach like a pirate): Write down the 5 words that describe your time in my class thus far this year. I had them do it at the end of a somewhat difficult quiz on polynomials. I took the quizzes home and entered their responses into Wordle--every time they said the word "weird" I wrote it down, etc. The larger the word, the more often it was listed. I like that the word "learningful" showed up more than once. More than twice.

I'm going to repeat it with my other classes. If I get really brave, I'll have them do it anonymously. We'll see.