Monday, May 31, 2010

My First Tag

Last week I was tagged by Eric at Working My Muse. I told Eric I would use the tag for one of my posts, but I completely forgot until I visited his blog today. Eric posted a great poem honoring veterans, take a minute to check it out.

The point of the tag, as I understand it, is to answer 5 questions with five facts and then select 5 other people to do the same. It seems like a fun exercise, so here we go.

1. Where were you five years ago?

I was teaching, but at a different middle school. We were still living on Pima Street, a few months away from the decision to move. Meg had left teaching to stay home with the girls. Our dogs, Chili and Goldie, were alive and well, and I was still a huge Brett Favre fan.

2. Where would like to be in five years?

Despite all the negative publicity lately, I still love Tucson, so I plan on being right here 5 years from now. On the job front, maybe I'll try high school. Like many bloggers, I would love to be a published author. I can't imagine we won't have at least one dog running around, and last but not least, ARod will have more Super Bowl rings than ol' Brett.

3. What is on your to do list today?

Today's almost over, so let me think ahead to tomorrow. I want to get at least 2 pages of the book done. I need to get in the pool with the girls. I'd like to read at least 50 pages of the Jonathan Tropper novel I started today. Quinn's reading is really coming on, and I'll sit with her as she reads Magic Treehouse. The most important thing tomorrow is to get up to the hospital to hang out with my dad.

4. What snacks do you enjoy?

My favorite snack is Goldfish. To be honest, I eat so many Goldfish, they're more like one of the food groups for me. I don't really eat any other snacks with regularity, but I do enjoy Dots, Rolos, grapes, and cheese, preferably some kind of cheese spread, Merks or Pub Cheese, on pretzels.

5. What 5 things would you do if you were a billionaire?

This one is fun to think about. The basics come first, dream house for Meg, college for the girls, big checks for family and friends. I'm sure there would be a lot of travel. Meg and I would start a charitable organization, fund different projects, make that our life's work.

Thanks again to Eric for thinking of me with the tag. I don't have a lot of followers yet, but here are 5 bloggers I enjoy reading. Of course, I have no idea if I'm doing this process correctly, but what the hell:

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

School's Out

I didn't go into teaching to have summers off, but it's certainly a nice perk, one of the few we have in the teaching profession. Today was our last day of school, so the teaching off-season is now officially under way. Much like athletes need the off-season to heal physically, teachers need the summer to heal mentally. Well, at least I do, and I've got a lot of healing to do this summer.

This was a particularly trying school year for me. Around this time last year I agreed to participate in a federal study. In exchange for switching to an underperforming school, I was given a bonus. The point of the study is to see if teachers who have had success in raising test scores can duplicate that success in underperforming schools. I was honored to be asked, and ultimately, the money was too much to resist.

I knew going in I would have my work cut out for me, but I have to admit, the experience has been more challenging than I expected. Getting 8th graders to do their work is always a battle, one I pride myself on winning. Let's just say my winning percentage took a severe beating this year. There were many days when I felt like Don Quixote charging those windmills.

I don't want it to sound like nothing good happened this year, because I had some amazing kids, and more than a few transcendent moments. That really hit home today at promotion. Every time a kid came up to say thanks, and it happened a lot more than I expected, some of the lingering negativity fell away. Every parent who thanked me for helping their child reminded me why I put up with all the bullshit.

Now I have the summer to recharge the battery. When it's time to report back I'll be ready. Like teachers everywhere, I'll walk in those doors ready for the best year of my career. For now though, play me some Alice Cooper.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Do The Right Thing

Tuesday night was a big night in the Riley house, and I'm not just talking about Lost. Voters in Arizona overwhelmingly passed a 1 cent sales tax increase to offset massive cuts to education, public safety and health services. With the current mood of the state, I was expecting the measure to be shot down rather handily. That's the great thing about this life, you never know. Not only did the sales tax pass, it passed by a nearly 2/3 margin. Not to be hyperbolic, but this was a bi-partisan victory for common sense and decency.

I don't want to get all political, I am a registered independent after all, but I do think there's a lesson here. What the results say to me, and I hope our state legislators, is that people don't want to destroy the education system to balance the budget. I know times are tough; the budget deficit is no joke, but schools have already shouldered their fair share of cuts in this state.

We can't just cut spending to vital programs to get ourselves out of trouble, there has to be some new revenue coming in. No one wants to pay more taxes, including me, but we're not going to get out of this mess without some sacrifice. I think we all realize this, but the definition of sacrifice has been very limited. Too many legislators in this state have decided that sacrifice can only mean cutting spending. I hope they see things a little differently after this vote. Arizonans showed they are willing to pay a little more to provide their children with the best education possible.

We're still way behind the curve down here in the desert. We need to be talking about spending more on education, not less. For one night though, Arizonans did the right thing. It's a start.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Leave It To The Bard

I'm reading Romeo and Juliet with my honors 8th grade English class. I see no reason to wait until high school to read Shakespeare with advanced readers.The kids are all very bright, but Shakespeare is tough, it really humbles them. We stop a lot to break down what's being said, what's happening. My questions are often met with averted eyes and the kind of silence that really should be accompanied by crickets. That's what I love about teaching Shakespeare to this age group, it's a challenge, they have to work at it.

Early on the kids really struggle, but by Act IV and V, the light goes on for more kids and more frequently. When I stop to ask questions, there are more hands, so many that certain kids can't take the chance they won't be called on and just shout the answers out. I can literally feel these kids learning how to read Shakespeare. It's the kind of feeling teachers crave, it's our drug.

Every year there are students who get it more than others, and this year is no exception. One student in particular is damn near bringing me to tears. His name is Rene, and two years ago he didn't speak a word of English. When I ask what things mean, Rene does this little half raise of the hand, almost daring me not to notice him. I do, and he's always spot-on. Rene volunteers every time I assign roles, but I notice he's become partial to Friar Laurence. His English is heavily accented, but his voice is firm and loud, I can hear the pride as he reads these ancient lines of English.

As a teacher, it's very easy to be cynical these days, especially in Arizona. Reading Shakespeare with a kid like Rene is what this whole teaching gig is about.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Mother's Day Weekend

We had a great weekend, the highlight being Mother's Day brunch at our house. It was a real treat to celebrate with three amazing Mothers: my mother-in-law, my mom, and my wife. I feel very blessed to have these exceptional women in my life.

Scout has become very interested in cooking, so she helped me make the spinach/egg dish for the brunch. We watch a lot of cooking shows as a family, and Scout couldn't resist providing narration: now I'm adding the spinach to the eggs and giving them a nice mix. It was pretty damn funny.

There are a lot of great Moms out there, but Meg is hard to beat. Friday night, after an exhausting week of work, she spent the night with a rowdy troop of Girl Scouts, camping in the other troop leader's backyard. Up at dawn, all day Saturday at a Girl Scout event, she finally got to relax Saturday night. She managed to stay awake long enough to watch The Informant! I normally love Damon and Soderbergh, but not this time. The music was distracting, and it just wasn't that funny.

I had a great time with Quinn while Meg and Scout were gone. It's so much fun to spend time one-on-one with the girls, it's a totally different dynamic. We had dinner at Whataburger Friday night, and did some Mother's Day shopping at Target afterwards. Quinn is so adorable, she missed her sister, so she slept in her bed. I spent a couple hours flipping between Pulp Fiction and Jerry Maguire, two movies I doubt I'll ever grow tired of. Saturday morning Quinn crawled into bed with me bright and early and we had a good long talk. We finished up the Mother's Day shopping and then hustled over to the bowling alley for a birthday party.

It was an action-packed weekend, and by Sunday night Meg and I were exhausted, but we couldn't go to bed without watching Betty White on SNL. It was great to see all the female alums show up to support Betty. We laughed a lot and called it a weekend.

Friday, May 7, 2010

I Crack Myself Up

Last summer I turned 40 and started working on a novel. I realize this sounds like typical mid-life crisis behavior, and maybe it is, but in a good way I think. I'm having a great time writing the book. The finish line is still a ways off, but I'm confident I'll get there; I'm having too much fun with the story to stop. I have no delusions about becoming a famous author. I know the odds of making any money as a novelist are slim, but that's beside the point. I'll know I did it, I wrote the book I set out to write, and that sense of accomplishment is what I'm chasing, not money or fame. I'll try to get an agent, go the traditional publishing route, but if that doesn't work, there's always the self-publishing option these days. My kids know I'm writing a book, and I want them to see me finish what I started. That will be more important than anything else.

I was reminded again last night of why I'm writing in the first place: having a good time. I wrote a couple lines that I thought were pretty funny. I actually laughed as I wrote them, and I laughed even harder rereading them later. I may be the only one who thinks they're funny, but for what it's worth, here they are, with a visual aid for those unfamiliar with the Gravedigger:

Vic never went on the road without a full trunk of liquor. On this particular occasion, he had a cooler of beer and enough Jagermeister to anesthetize Gilbert Brown.

Get it? Gilbert's a big man? There's a lot of Jagermeister? Well, I'm laughing right now, and I'm going to have a shot of Jager in Gilbert's honor.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Back to the 80s

Meg and I stumbled across Eddie and the Cruisers on cable Friday night. I don't think either one of us intended to watch the whole thing, but we did, and it was a lot of fun. Of course, after three Jack and Cokes I probably would have enjoyed any movie. For me, the best part of Eddie and the Cruisers was always the music. I forgot how much I loved those songs. When I was in high school my brother and I shared a room together. We would fall asleep to music every night. One of the albums in our rotation, and yes, they were albums, was the Eddie and the Cruisers soundtrack. The other mainstays were Purple Rain, Born in the USA, and the Platoon soundtrack. Hearing all those songs took me back to that time, it was like I was back in my old room. Those were good times, it was fun to revisit those memories.

I had a similar experience Sunday night. We try to do Family Movie Night every Sunday, and this week the girls picked E.T. This is another movie that triggers a very specific set of memories, and I enjoyed rummaging through them as I watched with the girls. I was 13 when E.T. came out, and I was living in Appleton, Wisconsin. The highlight of any weekend at that age was taking the bus downtown to get a personal pan pizza at Pizza Hut, and then going to our rinky-dink mall to play video games in the arcade and see a movie. The freedom of those days was a highlight of my time in Appleton. I can still remember how I felt the day a bunch of us went to see E.T. Just enough of that feeling is still in my brain somewhere, and it felt good to let it out.