180 Days: Day 139–Educate. Agitate. Escalate. Not the Other Way Around.

One of the first things I learned in the basics of organizing, was that I needed to not react rashly to every outrage. That is sometimes hard to people who are highly agitated to accept. I have served in leadership positions for a long time now. I’m not the charismatic type. I’m the hardworking, willing to stick my neck out first type. As the person who is often putting my neck out there for others’ issues, I have learned over the years to pick my battles. I have learned that some battles are worth having even if I know I will lose. I have learned when to go it alone, and when to never even tip my toe on to the battlefield without an army at my back. And I have learned that I often will suffer from friendly fire far more often than fire from the opposition. All too often, those I lead are willing to let me fall on the sword for them while they sit comfortably at home continuing to grumble that I’m not working hard enough for them. I am not alone. Frankly, that is the price of leadership. That’s the cost of putting myself out there.

So when I actually have people who are agitated and willing to act with me, I’m excited. Very excited. But I’m also leery. As I know they often mean well but are reactionary with no plan, no idea of what they want (other than to burn everything down), and no strategies to get what they want once they know what it is. This is the current situation of my union board of directors. We have a fired up group of teachers (we have over 1,200 members, so this group is sizable) who are ready to burn everything (and rightly so–after years of being asked to do more and more with nothing but burnout on the horizon). So I keep trying to educate, educate, educate an already agitated crowd ready to escalate. Our board is putting together mechanisms to listen to our members, develop their goals (what they want), and organize them to be able to use their “fire and fury” well. Their rejection of the tentative agreement was the initial “shock and awe” tactic. Now it’s time to roll up the sleeves and get to work.

And that just what our board started to do last night–in a rather fractious meeting that dragged on and on. We officially adjourned after over two hours at work, then half the board continued to work for two hours more developing talking points, then a few more stayed an additional two and half hours educating themselves further on the processes of organizing. We are working overtime to capitalize on the fervor of our colleagues, but hope to help them feel empowered to advocate on behalf of themselves, their students, and their colleagues. It’s up to all of us to be the change we wish to see.

alinsky change

“Changes” by David Bowie


I still don’t know what I was waiting for
And my time was running wild
A million dead-end streets
And every time I thought I’d got it made
It seemed the taste was not so sweet
So I turned myself to face me
But I’ve never caught a glimpse
Of how the others must see the faker
I’m much too fast to take that test

(Turn and face the strange)
Don’t want to be a richer man
(Turn and face the strange)
Just gonna have to be a different man
Time may change me
But I can’t trace time

I watch the ripples change their size
But never leave the stream
Of warm impermanence and
So the days float through my eyes
But still the days seem the same
And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They’re quite aware of what they’re going through

(Turn and face the strange)
Don’t tell them to grow up and out of it
(Turn and face the strange)
Where’s your shame
You’ve left us up to our necks in it
Time may change me
But you can’t trace time

Strange fascination, fascinating me
Changes are taking the pace
I’m going through

(Turn and face the strange)
Oh, look out you rock ‘n rollers
(Turn and face the strange)
Pretty soon now you’re gonna get older
Time may change me
But I can’t trace time
I said that time may change me
But I can’t trace time


180 Days: Day 38–NaNoWriMo Starts Today! Woo Hoo!

Extra Credit! Extra Credit! Come and Get Your Extra Credit!…

If there’s one thing that students love almost as much as summer, it’s extra credit. Enter National Novel Writing Month, more affectionately known as NaNoWriMo. NaNoWriMo started with a small band of writers in 1999 and has spread internationally in the ensuing years. The goal is to write every day in the month of November on a single story and at the end of the month have over 100 pages/50,000 words towards a novel by month’s end.

I explained NaNo to all of my students and offered them extra credit for every day in November that they made a legitimate attempt at writing a single story, hopefully leading to at least the beginnings of a novel. My intention is to help students build discipline–writing daily is one proven way to become a better writer. Practice. Practice. Practice. Plus, students do not get many opportunities to write narratives in high school, much less narratives of their on topics/genres of their own choosing. So this project really is all about sparking some creativity amongst the students–even though it’s extra credit.

I got the typical questions. “Have you ever written a novel?” “Is it hard?” “How do you do it?” “Do you type or handwrite?” etc. etc. etc.

  1. No. I’ve never finished a novel with NaNo, but I have written every day for the month of November in years past. And I enjoy the challenge in developing a story, or building a format, or blogging daily, or whatever I choose to do.
  2. Yes. It can be hard. But, no. It’s not always. It’s a process. It’s all about learning who you are as a writer and how to develop your own voice/style/methods/strategies as a writer.
  3. Personally, I use both computer and handwritten techniques. I often blog straight onto my computer. I edit online and post with minimal revision. I often write fiction into a binder filled with looseleaf paper. I have a research section and a text section. I research names, topics, etc. online and record the info by hand, then write by hand before typing and revising. I like carrying a notebook everywhere I go, much like Quentin Tarantino does, even if I don’t use it. This part really is about building self-discipline to write with regularity.

Last year, my NaNo goal was to blog every day in November in order to kickstart my blog. I succeeded for not just 30 days, but over 45 days. And while I’ve written on the blog sporadically in the months afterward, I decided to start this school year borrowing an idea from a colleague, resulting in this 180 Days blog. Let my blog tell the story of my school year. It may not be a novel, but it will be a documentation of a year of my school life. And for NaNo this year, my plan is to continue my 180 Days blog while picking up my FB 30 Days of Thanksgiving, and adding a sprinkling of my Jules’s Jukebox into the mix. So I do plan to have a flurry of writing throughout November. I want to set a good example for my students. I write because I want to write. I write because I want to challenge myself. I write because I want to develop discipline.

So here we go…

“Miserlou” by Dick Dale and the Del-Tones


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 28–Enjoy the Silence

It was so quiet, I could hear the wheels turning inside the heads of my students today as they completed timed writings. My sophomores wrote on personal narratives while my seniors wrote on a released AP Lit poetry prompt.

The sophomore personal narratives will lead to a published narrative to serve as their narrative essay final score. We have been practicing narrative strategies for six weeks, so I have high hopes to see movement toward the use of the strategies upon which they will be scored: use of vivid word choice (verbs, sensory/imagery words), dialogue, and well-structured exposition (beginning) to their story.

On the other hand, my seniors were testing over Renaissance poetry, so I gave them a released AP Lit Exam prompt featuring an Elizabethan Era sonnet. They don’t know it yet, but they will get an opportunity to rewrite the essay next week after we look at student samples and examine the prompt to determine if they did indeed answer the prompt in their writing. Most of the early essays in the year from my AP kids show that they often do not answer the prompt, or if they do, their answers are incomplete. So I want them to be able to write well-developed responses to released prompts, then we can worry about cutting the time it takes to perform the task to 40 minutes (the amount of time they will be given on the AP Lit Exam in May).

The one good thing about writing days–it’s super quiet. And the kids really work hard. They do have things to say, and they do stay focused. So between my rounds to check their progress and answer a few questions, I work hard to catch up on planning the next units since we checked the books out yesterday. I enjoy the silence of these days because it allows my head to clear and my mind to focus instead of being pulled in a hundred different directions at once. Writing days provide some sanity for this old teacher.

“Enjoy the Silence” by Depeche Mode

“Words like violence
Break the silence
Come crashing in
Into my little world
Painful to me
Pierce right through me
Can’t you understand…
Words are very unnecessary
They can only do harm.”

180 Days: Day 22–The Friday Before A Four Day Weekend

Being the only standing between my students and a four day weekend makes me really unpopular, especially when I make them write essays in class. But that is just what we did. I committed to keeping the students on task and focused on their lessons since I would not be seeing them for almost a week. My students would have a four day weekend, while my colleagues and I would come to school for every kids’ favorite days–“teachers meeting” days. Upon our return next Wednesday, each high school in our district will host a college day.  So I had to make today count since I won’t be seeing my students again until next Thursday. So my sophomores wrote the first drafts of a personal narrative while my seniors continued to analyze Renaissance poetry.

Sophomores: Today’s lesson focused on reviewing the Show Don’t Tell strategies my 10th English Team Colleagues and I deemed to be the most essential to successful narrative writing. We looked at a model of a personal narrative that I wrote regarding some boys from my high school days who wore skirts to school to protest being unable to wear shorts. We quickly reviewed proper dialogue punctuation and purposes for usage in storytelling. Then I gave them a prompt centered on our unit’s essential questions. And amazingly, they worked quietly, asked phenomenal questions, and accomplished quite a bit of writing on a Friday before a long weekend.

Seniors: My seniors worked in teams to define the metaphysical poetry movement compared to the carpe diem poetry movement (also called Roundheads vs Cavaliers). They identified key literary devices and notable poets within the movements–like Herrick, Lovelace, Marvell, Herbert, and Donne. Then we watched a couple of modern poets to emphasize the idea of conceits, or extended metaphors, in poems. We watched Taylor Mali and Billy Collins deliver poems with a humorous twist but both extending metaphors throughout the length of their poems. And my students learned what a Poet Laureate is. Now the real test will come next week when we apply the knowledge of these conceits to works by Renaissance poets.

Overall, it was a productive day which could have been far more difficult than it was. And I’m thankful that my students felt engaged enough to play along.

“The Lanyard” by Billy Collins (former Poet Laureate of the United States)

“She’s So Cold” by The Rolling Stones (a Carpe Diem/Cavalier style modern song)

I’m so hot for her, I’m so hot for her
I’m so hot for her and she’s so cold
I’m so hot for her, I’m on fire for her
I’m so hot for her and she’s so cold
I’m the burning bush, I’m the burning fire
I’m the bleeding volcano
I’m so hot for her, I’m so hot for her
I’m so hot for her and she’s so cold
Yeah, I tried re-wiring her, tried re-firing her
I think her engine is permanently stalled
She’s so cold she’s so cold
She’s so cold cold cold
Like a tombstone
She’s so cold, she’s so cold
She’s so cold cold cold like an ice cream cone
She’s so cold she’s so cold
I dare not touch her my hand just froze
Yeah, I’m so hot for hot for her, I’m so hot for her
I’m so hot for her and even so
Put your hand on the heat, put your hand on the heat
Aw c’mon baby, let’s go
She’s so cold, she’s so cold, cold, she’s so c-c-c-old
But she’s beautiful, though
Yeah, she’s so cold
She’s so cold, she’s so cold
She was born in an arctic zone
She’s so cold she’s so cold, cold, cold
I dare not touch her my hand just froze
She’s so cold, she’s so goddamn cold she’s so
Cold cold cold she’s so cold
Who would believe you were a beauty indeed
When the days get shorter and the nights get long
Lie awake when the rain comes
Nobody will know, when you’re old
When you’re old, nobody will know
That you was a beauty, a sweet sweet beauty
A sweet sweet beauty, but stone stone cold
You’re so cold, you’re so cold, cold, cold
You’re so cold, you’re so cold
I’m so hot for you, I’m so hot for you
I’m so hot for you and you’re so cold
I’m the burning bush, I’m the burning fire
I’m the bleeding volcano