180 Days: Day 37–“Never Love A Wild Thing, Mr. Bell”

Holly Golightly gave this salient advise in Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s. And today, I played Holly Golightly for Halloween to a group of ghosts, ghouls, zombies, and steampunk red riding hoods who would rather have been anywhere else but English class. But in English class they sit reading and writing summaries about war. Today is a short class period because of our modified schedule for intervention period–mercifully. So while students write their summaries, I let them “trick or treat” my pumpkin full of smarties candies and tell me about their costumes. Many guess correctly that I’m “Audrey Hepburn” though I’m the character she famously portrayed in Blake Edwards’s 1961 classic. Their guesses allow me the “in” to tell them about Capote and that they should read the book.

Speaking of loving wild things, tonight the Dodgers play the Astros in Game 6 of the World Series too. The ‘Stros are up 3-2 in this wild World Series, so tonight’s win will mean “winner takes all” or “live to fight another day” depending on which team you are. I am glad that the Dodgers are in the finals because they are a home team. I don’t dislike the Dodgers. But I do have a hard time with some of their fans, who heckled my son mercilessly when he was a five year old attending his first major league game proudly wearing his T-Ball uniform, which happened to be not from a rival team, but THE rival team (SF Giants). And Dodger Stadium is a real pain to get in and out of being in the heart of downtown in a ravine with only one way in or out. So needless to say, I typically avoid Dodgers games. It also hurts their cause that they beat my team for the National League title to make it to the Series–I grew up watching the Chicago Cubs. So I have chosen to cheer for the Astros this year. First, because they are representing a city trying to recover from a massive trauma with a millennial flood. Second, because I’ve actually been to see the Astros before, way back in the Astrodome days to see Nolan Ryan pitch. And third, because this would be their franchise’s first World Series win.

So tonight I will hand out candy with my brother and sister-in-law while we intermittently watch the game and horror movies. We will see where the night takes us wild things. And if I have any students showing up tomorrow after their late night prowls tonight.

holly golightly

Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly in the 1961 film Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

“Moon River” by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer from Breakfast at Tiffany’s.



180 Days: Day 36–The Glory Days of Candy and Baseball

The only days more distracting than Halloween are the day before and the day after, but for different reasons. The day before is because students are distracted. The day of students are worse than distracted. The day after students are often absent–sugar overload or staying out too late on a school night are typical contributors. So getting through curriculum this week will take will power and a stern hand from me.

So today is the day before Halloween. And rather than pay attention to our day’s lesson, sophomores are more interested in: “What are you going to dress up as?” “What are you going to do tomorrow night?” “Is there a party?”

And to make matters even more distracting, our local Dodgers are playing in the World Series this week. So if the students aren’t talking Halloween, they are talking about watching the World Series, even if they’ve never watched a game of baseball in their lives. The excitement of having a local team in the finals outweighs not understanding the sport.

And then the two meld together to talk of dressing up as baseball players. And then there is too little focus on Louis Zamperini or his biography. But I trudge along anyway. I assign our weekly language. And we take a short quiz over the weekend reading. Most students do pretty well on the quiz thankfully. Then we read a few more chapters–sprinkled in with talk of baseball and Halloween.

Good thing for me that my seniors are fully engrossed in Hamlet right now. They still are coming in with plenty of questions and comments about Kenneth Branagh’s directorial choices in his definitive 1996 film adaptation of the play. So they give me hope that this week will run more smoothly than I expect.

“Glory Days” by Bruce Springsteen from 1984’s Born in the U.S.A.


30 Days of Thanksgiving: November 1st

A few years ago, I started participating in this Facebook 30 Days of Thanksgiving “challenge” to write something I’m thankful for each day of the month of November, the month of Thanksgiving. So this year, I chose to move my FB “challenge” to my blog page to accompany my 180 Days and Jules’s Jukebox posts.

I am thankful for…

…my son, Tristan. I’ve always called him “My Angel Boy” because I consider him my gift from above that has given my life purpose and direction. He has given me so much to be proud of –from his high school accomplishments to his current status as an honor student in college who works part-time on the weekends. We have shared so many defining experiences–from traveling abroad together and road trips across the US for our bonding time to successes and losses in our lives, like losing my mother at a too young age to his success in earning his Eagle Rank in Scouts and becoming the commanding officer of his high school JROTC battalion. I am grateful that we still talk to each other. It’s too easy for a 19-year-old to not talk to his parents at all, but we still sound ideas and thoughts off each other–albeit, most of the time it’s at weird early hours of the weekend mornings when we happen to be home at the same time. I am always thankful when he safely arrives at home or school after his weekly 100 mile each way trip to/from his university. I’m just happy and thankful that T is in my life.


180 Days: Day 35–TGIF!!! And We Finally Made It Out of Hell

While yesterday was cooler than most of the week, today’s weather provided much needed relief for my heat exhausted students.  For the first time this week, my classroom did not feel like the inside of an oven. So I ditched the Mrs. Lovett act and we made some headway with our reading.  My seniors finished the first act of Hamlet and are working on a passage explication of Hamlet’s famous “frailty, thy name is woman” soliloquy. And my sophomores were assigned to read and analyze a chunk a Unbroken using a historical critical lens. And yes, my students are struggling mightily with the concept of explications and critical lenses this year.

So an explication is defined as: “Similar to an analysis essay, an explication essay examines sentences, verses or passages pulled from longer literary works, to interpret and explain on a detailed level. These mini-essays, typically a single page or less, require a close reading of the text to perform a proper interpretation of the quotation.”

So I essentially asked my seniors to use the below lines of from Act One of Shakespeare’s Hamlet to write a short analysis explaining the passage. My students looked like deer in the headlights when I pulled the big word “explication” on them. Once they saw the definition, I heard a sigh of relief in the room. But I remain, to this day, puzzled that year after year, my students wonder what an explication is, but can’t be bothered to look up the definition themselves. They freak out. They don’t do it. They come to class on the day it’s due and claim they didn’t understand. So I beat them to the punchline. This is what it is, this is what it looks like, this is how you do it. Now go forth and prosper. And bring me back your short essay.

Hamlet, I.ii.129-159

HAMLET: Oh, that this too, too sullied flesh would melt,
Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew,
Or that the Everlasting had not fixed
His canon ‘gainst self-slaughter! O God, God!
How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable
Seem to me all the uses of this world!
Fie on ’t, ah fie! ‘Tis an unweeded garden
That grows to seed. Things rank and gross in nature
Possess it merely. That it should come to this.
But two months dead—nay, not so much, not two.
So excellent a king, that was to this
Hyperion to a satyr. So loving to my mother
That he might not beteem the winds of heaven
Visit her face too roughly.—Heaven and earth,
Must I remember? Why, she would hang on him
As if increase of appetite had grown
By what it fed on, and yet, within a month—
Let me not think on ’t. Frailty, thy name is woman!—
A little month, or ere those shoes were old
With which she followed my poor father’s body,
Like Niobe, all tears. Why she, even she—
O God, a beast that wants discourse of reason
Would have mourned longer!—married with my uncle,
My father’s brother, but no more like my father
Than I to Hercules. Within a month,
Ere yet the salt of most unrighteous tears
Had left the flushing in her gallèd eyes,
She married. O most wicked speed, to post
With such dexterity to incestuous sheets!
It is not nor it cannot come to good,
But break, my heart, for I must hold my tongue.
Now my sophomores are in a totally different world. I’ve given them a couple of different handouts explaining the most common critical lenses:  lenses
through which we can see and analyze texts, that we can bring a new level of understanding the text. This is the first time most of these students have been introduced to literary theory of any type. So I get it. So I’ve opted to learn by doing. I’ve given them a set of guiding questions for 8 common lenses, and we are practicing with them. We are jumping right in. My fear is that they will just answer the questions and feel they have analyzed the passage, which is not how it’s done, but I’ll see where they take this first stab at using a lens.
And TGIF! I’m sleeping in this weekend. It’s been a long, hot week. So I will sleep, go to the beach, and cool off in any way possible. Whew!
“The King Must Die” by Elton John


180 Days: Day 34–Hell, pt. 3

The weather broke today. Yes, it was still hot outside, but not as hot. I could handle 85 degrees better than 95 degrees with no AC in an upstairs cinder block room filled with teenage bodies. So as the weather starts to play a little nicer, we are starting to make some headway into our two stories–sophomores with Unbroken and seniors with Hamlet.

But today entered the realms of hell in another way. After school, I headed to the union office to count contract ratification ballots. Our negotiations team, of which I am a member, recently reached a tentative agreement with our district after a year of fractious negotiations. While admittedly the TA (tentative agreement) was a lot less than what we had hoped for (and I mean A LOT), the team still put forward a TA that provided at least a little something for everyone in the local, so the team felt comfortable (but not confident) in moving forward with a ratification vote. Make no mistake, ratifying didn’t make us winners; it merely meant that we’d live to fight another day–fight for respect, fight for language that protects teacher time and resources with kids in our classrooms, fight for competitive pay…all the fights worth having, especially in a district that has grown its administrative core and support program personnel dramatically in the past three years while class sizes and the teacher core pay and benefits have not kept up with the rates of inflation, increased payments to our pensions, or increased workload within our work day.

So we counted ballots. And the vote failed. And it failed bigly. It failed by a super majority. For the first time in at least 40 years (and possibly in the district’s history), the contract was rejected by the teachers who vehemently  illustrated their frustration with their employer and said employer’s priorities. Handwritten comments on the ballots like, “I do not feel valued” and “One percent is insulting with the additional workload they have given us,” piled up emphasizing the heightened level of dissatisfaction toward the district.

So now the negotiations team has to go back to the drawing board to figure out how to get blood from a turnip–as our district has blocked even the simplest of language pieces, much less any expenditure pieces. The team has to build a plan to organize around the teachers’ demands to be valued rather than taken advantage of by their employer. I may be feeling the heat in this situation, but I realize that sometimes we may have to shed a little sweat with the blood, tears, and toil. So the heat goes on.

“The Winner Takes It All” by ABBA

“Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)” by Talking Heads


180 Days: Day 33–Hell, pt. 2

I’m really hoping that tomorrow is not Hell, pt. 3. I really hope that the heat will break as it has been forecast to do. The second straight day of 90+ temperatures in my classroom has been miserable.

But my kids were troopers. They stayed focused for the most part–though I did have to keep nudging them to keep their heads up off the tables (yes, I have tables instead of desks in my classroom) in a heat-induced lackadaisical stupor. Part of why my sophomores could stay interested is because we were reading Laura Hillenbrand’s account of the Japanese attack on the US Navy at Pearl Habor and US Military fuel depot and airstrip on the Wake Atoll in chapter 6 of Unbroken.  We looked up maps and pictures of the atoll (as well as the definition of atoll). We discussed why Wake Atoll was in a key location (thank you Google Maps). We talked about Hillenbrand’s interesting word choice: “In one day of breathtaking violence, a new Japanese onslaught had begun.” We discussed why the author might choose the word “violence” instead of “power.” We discussed the positive versus the negative connotations of the words and how they might be foreshadowing what we will see later in the book. We discussed how the perspective of this text is very American in that the Japanese are portrayed with words of negative connotation–even if they are accurate words denotatively–and is it okay to portray one side in a positive light and the other in a negative light or should a book showing history be more neutral. Some of the arguments defending Hillenbrand’s choice is that she is not writing a history book, she is writing a biography of a man who was brutalized by the Japanese. Overall, it was a productive day.

My seniors didn’t get very far into Hamlet Act I, scene 2 today. But they did start to make sense of some of scene 1’s passages. We analyzed two passages that featured allusion and symbolism particularly. Then we divine right of kings, primogeniture, and marrying for treaties as opposed to love. My goal was to set the class up to be able to explore the motivations of the characters in the play as it proceeds. I’m okay with moving slowly to start, so long as we can speed up as we move forward.The kids don’t know it yet, but they will have assigned reading tomorrow night so that they can watch and match the text with the adaptation more quickly.  I really want to start highlighting Branaugh’s choices/interpretations as the director as we are still in the early acts of the play.

Yes, we moaned and groaned in the heat, but we still got a lot done today considering.

“In the Heat of the Moment” by Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds


180 Days: Day 32–Hell, Pt. 1

Yesterday was a long, overly warm day. Today was a rat-race run in extreme heat. Yes, it is autumn, but the weather didn’t get the memo. It was a hundred degrees today. And it wouldn’t be so bad except neither my school nor my home has air conditioning. You see, one of the perks of living near the beach in Southern California is temperate weather–typically low to mid-60s in the winter and low to mid-80s in the summer. But we’ve had multiple stretches of 90-100 degree heat this summer, and now this fall. And according to the forecast, my students and I are in for at least another day of this crushing heat outside and oppressive 90-degree heat inside. Yes, it was 90 degrees in my classroom–with windows and doors open and my two fans blowing. One of my fans is a student donated fan and makes a horrible noise. The other fan is a loud box fan that I bought on sale a few summers ago for my house, but it’s now used with regularity in my classroom. Lord forbid that my school district or our community would invest money into making students’ learning environment comfortable. I have yet to work in a school district (three districts in two states) in 27 years that adequately air-conditioned or heated their classrooms. My current classroom has only had a working heater for three years, so I am at least thankful that my students won’t have to wear their coats in the cooler months.

But as it stands, we are reading Unbroken and analyzing the opening chapters in record late-October heat. And my seniors are examining Hamlet scene by scene, passage by passage. And we only made it one scene deep today. That’s okay. Tomorrow they’ll get another chance to tackle allusion, symbolism, and irony. And we will all get another chance to taste the heat hanging over us.

“The Heat of the Moment” by Asia


180 Days: Day 31–Monday, Monday…Long Day, Empowering Day

I had a hard time getting up this morning. Not just because it’s Monday, but because I spent the weekend in meetings at a conference in windowless rooms. I’m tired before the week even begins. And I know that today is a long, long day–a full day of teaching (we scored essays and discussed writing and then started discussions on Unbroken and Hamlet), an evening full of union and school board meetings.

Good things coming out of this long day are that I witnessed kids taking responsibility for their learning–being very interested in reading each other’s stories and providing feedback, and I observed teachers feeling validated in bringing their concerns forward–regardless of whether these concerns will be satisfactorily resolved, these teachers felt empowered to stand up for themselves and support each other (over 20 teachers crowded the Board of Education meeting when typically its only four or five of us–the Board is starting to see new faces and hear new voices, and it’s getting their attention).

Since it was a long day after a long weekend, my brain is tired. So I don’t have too much to say tonight other than I found something to smile about both in the classroom and out.

“Respect” by Aretha Franklin


180 Days: Day 30–Homecoming Half Day

Homecoming–the most exciting day of the school year so far. My students are dressed in their class and school colors. One of my seniors is dressed in her homecoming candidate gear. I’m wearing the jersey of one of my sophomore football players (thanks A.G. for asking me to wear your jersey! It’s an honor!). My students have painted faces, colored tutus, and the excited chatter that goes with a day full of assemblies and homecoming fun.

But I still held class–for the half day I was at school (I took a half day personal leave). And I left work for the remaining two classes of the day after I left. Today we started reading Hillenbrand’s Unbroken in my sophomore classes. They were assigned to read the preface and chapters 1 and 2, then answer some questions about chapter 1. We looked up images of Graf Zeppelin. Most students said “Led” when I asked what a zeppelin was, but a few offered “blimp,” so I showed them the difference between blimps and dirigibles and we looked at the image of the Graf Zeppelin in Los Angeles–an image from the very day that Louis would have seen the airship in chapter 1.


I’m working to add as much context as possible for these students who carry the world at their fingertips every day with their digital devices, but rarely work to make sense of the information available to them.

My seniors worked on reading student samples of the essays they wrote on Wednesday. They also discovered that maybe, just maybe, they didn’t answer the prompt like they thought they did. So we dissected the prompt at length, and I gave them some tips for answering the prompts.

Then I went home, and they went to the homecoming assembly/pep rally. I’m eager to hear all about it on Monday: the game (which we won 62-0, and my student won Homecoming Queen!), the dance, and all the festivities. That’ll be a rare Monday when I really am excited to get back to school.

“Kashmir” by Led Zeppelin


180 Days: Day 29–Four Corners of War

As a way to gauge the attitudes of my sophomores with regards to war, killing, violence, etc., I conducted a “four corners” exercise. Students love doing this because they get to stand, move around the room, share their beliefs, and “debate” (their word, not mine–lol). So the basic set up is that the four corners of the room represent: Strongly Agree, Strongly Disagree, Somewhat Agree, and Somewhat Disagree. I dubbed the center of the room Switzerland–neutral. Before we started the exercise, students had to write for a few minutes about how they would complete the following sentence stem:

“We should invest our blood and treasure when…”

They asked what the word invest meant. They wanted to what we were investing in. They had lots of questions. But I explained that they would be the ones to determine the answers–what would they bleed and pay for, what would they be willing to die and lose everything for? This short writing served as an initial exploration of the concepts we will be reading about in the next few weeks–and for the day’s exercise.

During the “four corners” exercise, I read a series of statements. When I read a statement, students move to the corner of the room that best represents their level of agreement or disagreement with the statement. I purposely ask provocative questions and I do not provide any answers–only more questions that ask them to think about their answers.

For example, the first statement in each class was, “Killing another human is sometimes a justifiable act.” In only one class did I have any that strongly disagreed with that statement–self-proclaimed pacifists (they didn’t know the word at the beginning of class, but did by the end of class). Most students cited soldiers in war and self-defense as justifiable situations in which one could kill another human being. What eventually became evident was that none of my students wanted to fight in a war or serve in the military. They all admired those that do fight and serve but are unwilling to spill their own blood and treasure in a U.S. led war effort.

At the end of the exercise, we reviewed some key vocabulary terms–like conscription, deferment, draft, pacifism, etc.

Then I introduced them to my grandfather and my son’s grandfather (his dad’s dad)–both were WW2 veterans. I shared a few of their pictures and diary entries and discussed how men in this era spent a lot of time recording their histories because they wanted to leave something of themselves behind in the event of the worst outcome. Both men survived the war. But my grandfather died at a young age–40. My son’s grandfather died earlier this year at age 97, the same age as Louis Zamperini when he died in 2014. I wanted to drive home that the story we would start reading tomorrow would be a real story from a real man who lived his life here in our town.


My grandfather, WF Autrey, with his B-25 Mitchell in Sicily, 1944.

“The White Cliffs of Dover” by Vera Lynn

“War (What’s It Good For)” by Edwin Starr