Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Anti-Santa

Sung to the tune a Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

(Let me hear you now, with feeling!)

Atnas the Christmas burglar,
He cased out a family's house.
Waited until the dad left,
And the daddy's pretty spouse.

Knowing that no one's home now,
He proceeds onto their land,
Atnas the Christmas burglar,
implements his rotten plan.

He begins out on the porch, taking stereos.
Then he moves into the back,
Stuffing things into his sack

Then he went for the tool shed,
Taking all my garden stuff,
He probably pet my dogs' heads,
'Cause the neighbors never heard them "rufff."

Instrumental (as the criminal loads his car in my circular drive and gets ready to leave the property)

Atnas the Christmas burglar,
has things that belong to me.
He's really made me angry,
although he's made my dog's happy.

I've searched through all the pawn shops,
Haven't found my trimmer yet,
At least I still have my family,
including two bad watch dog pets.

Thank you God, at Christmastime, amid our shopping sprees
Nothing's as important as
A good insurance policy

Now I just hug my children,
and I also kiss my wife.
But I sleep with eyes open.
Take my stuff but ne'er my life.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Evil Santa

You've gotta love the environment around a high school campus on the last day of class before final exams leading up to Christmas break. While the majority of students are exempt from their final exams, the halls are as dense and as festive as they are going to be until next year when everyone comes back to school rejuvenated with a hankering for mathematical instruction. Indeed, if there was ever a day where students could use an extra minute in between classes, today would be the day as they casually mender to and from their classes, not worried about being late and missing the first part of the in-class movie.

Not all classes, though, are showing movies. No, some are dedicated study halls where 28 out of 30 students play cards, chess, or draw festive pictures on the board while of the 2 students who actually have to take the final exam, one is asleep in a pool of slobber on his desk no doubt dreaming of working his review problems, while the other student is absent.

There are some classrooms, however, that are the exception to the "dead week" rule: those that forge ahead with new material up until the bitter end. These classes are, of course, the "uncool" classes with the "tyrant" teachers who never give students a break. These tyrants, realizing that most of their pupils (students, not eye parts) are not studying for the finals from which they are exempt anyways, uses every instructional technique in his arsenal of torture to hold the students' feet to the fire until the bitter end. Having quizzes and new lessons for which he, the unfavorable despot, will hold the kids accountable upon their return in January.

"It's not holiday break yet," he's heard to say as a faint, almost inaudible "muuuuuuuhaaaaahaaaaa" enters the consciousness of the forlorn students in attendance, their plaintive cries falling on deaf ears. "Trust me, I'm not only a ruthless dictator, I'm a professional educator," the oppressing autocrat sneers as his pupils (eye parts not students) dilate in ecstasy. It does no good for the already-crushed spirits of the students when the slavedriving wet-blanket of a teacher points out that if he were to allow partying and festivities in his classroom on an instructional day, not only would he be a terrible ward of the taxpayers and their parents' money, but he would have to compensate by giving a classroom lesson on Christmas morning in each students' home in their living room in front of the tree (quid pro quo), and logistical nightmare almost as daunting as Santa's himself, but an egregious violation of church and state. This message falls on deaf ears, much like the ensuing lesson.

So what sort of teacher would do such a thing on such day as the day before the day before most students begin their weeks-long vacation? A teacher that has the students' best interests in mind. A great teacher who has his eyes on the horizon and not just the ground in front of him (this is a great skill to have, but you have to have your eyes on the ground in front of you too, or you're likely to trip on a pothole while jogging on an unrepaired road at night at college right in front of a sorority lawn party . . . . you don't want to learn THAT the hard way . . . like some person I know).

Yes, I'M the person who has done all these things, quizzes on the day before finals AND the tripping thing. Luckily, my students know we very well, and they expected nothing less. Hopefully they also comply (somewhat) willingly because they actually REALIZE that I have their best interests in mind, that I LOVE math, and that there's no greater gift than the gift of knowledge.

It was very rewarding these past two days being the tyrannical, mathematical Santa. Let me just recite the final part of the quotient rule in calculus by saying . . .

Ho Ho.

Monday, December 14, 2009

If cavemen could speak

I hate to always rant and rave about the negative, but stupid people and stupid rules get me much more agitated than the smart, competent ones. Although blogs about the wonder of rainbows and the joy of a long-awaited and much needed rainstorm do wonders for increasing our awareness of the good things in life and help us to "count our blessings," they don't do NEAR enough to help us get those chips off our shoulder.

I'm convinced language was invented out of man's innate need to complain about things that effected and affected him.

(rock hits caveman on head)
  • without language: caveman rubs head and tries to look up at spot on head only to realize he can't see it. continues to rub head.
  • with language: caveman yells "WTH!!" and feels better instantly
(caveman told to do something asinine lest he lose his caveman status)
  • without language: caveman rubs his head and wonders what the rubbish of sounds coming from the caveman making the threat actually mean and how he can actually lose his "caveman" status.
  • with language: caveman yells "WTH!!" then points out that the person making the demand is nothing but an unintelligible caveman and that he would actually PREFER to lose his "caveman" status, if it were even possible, so that he wouldn't have to be associated with such asinine cavemen.
(caveman told to quit making high-quality tools out of flint to attend a seminar put on by another caveman on how to make high-quality tools out of flint, whereby the presenter has never actually made a high-quality tool out of flint, but has rather only read about them in "books," incidentally carved into stone tablets by tools developed by the man forced to attend)
  • without language: caveman forced to attend points to his arsenal of tools and grunts puzzlingly.
  • with language: caveman forced to attend yells "WTH!! Have you ever actually noticed what I'm doing here?! I'm making the darned actual tools you caveman! Look here! Tools. They don't make themselves, but then again, seminars don't attend themselves, I get it. Why wasn't I at least asked to lead the seminar on tool making. I could have actually brought some of my samples. By the way, did you know that saber tooth tigers salivate when they hear about cavemen seminars? . . . What's that???!!! You want me to bring my stone carving tool that I made to the "tool making" seminar that I'm forced to attend so that all the other caveman in attendance can use it to sign in so that their attendance can be well-documented!!!
I'm guessing that since we as a civilization are well passed the caveman era, that we DID eventually begin to speak, and that we developed because bad ideas were voiced and pointed out. This is why caveman committees are not read about and why the saber tooth tiger is extinct. Unfortunately, we are forgetting common sense and our voices are falling on deaf ears. The process and "knowledge" of tool-making is transplanting the product, the importance, utility, and palpability of something real and meaningful, itself.

In a world where students are expected to train to build tools by reading about the process, then being tested on the process itself, it's no surprise that they, when thrown out into the tool-building world, must finally begin their education. It's also no surprise that the teachers actually skilled in tool building who try to teach the physical craft to their apprentices, when constantly required to attend (and document that they attend) tool-building seminars, are exiting the profession.

No extinct species can ever return from their ultimate demise, but I think the caveman is making a strong case to the contrary. If this happens, the saber-toothed tiger will soon follow. Perhaps we need more saber-toothed tigers on the loose BEFORE we all become cavemen again.
Hey, I think it's raining outside . . .

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A perfect way not to spend a day

There are two things I simply cannot do. I cannot sit standing, and I cannot stand sitting.

Although they are both physically impossible (send photo evidence to the contrary and I reciprocate by showing you evidence of division by zero), the latter is something I also cannot tolerate, and booooy did I get to practice my patience today.

As a self-diagnosed adult with ADD (among other ailments), my mind tends to wander without much effort. Although this can be a source of constant creativity and insomnia, there are other side-effects, namely my inability to sit still for extended periods of time as well as my lack of interest in people who ramble, babble, talk incessantly, go on and on, are redundantly repetitive, . . . Being the adult and professional that I am, there are times where I can focus my attention with the skill of a veteran Yogi and feign enough interest so that it appears to those around me that I DON'T have ADD, but perhaps only suffer from a pinched nerve in my coccyx and neck. Today was one of those days.

Attending the second of three installments of forced professional development by my school district, I missed an entire day of instruction to attend a seminar on how to be a better teacher. Much to my dismay, the first rule of the day was NOT "Be in the classroom with your students." Rather, the seminar focused on how we math teachers who teach at levels below calculus can implement calculus-type problems in levels all the way down to algebra I. Luckily for me, my training and experience have afforded me the opportunity to teach at all levels, so many of the ideas at the session were ideas, lessons, and strategies I already know and use. But I'm not above thinking I don't have anything to learn, I try my best to be attentive and to contribute to the conversation so that it's not a waste of time. This becomes increasingly difficult as we work through problem after problem after problem, hour after hour after hour, problems that I easily could have written.

It's days like today that I empathize with my own students and how THEY must feel sitting in my class each day, but then again, it only makes me realize more that if I'm the one in front running the show, I'd better make it entertaining if not interesting or I'll lose my audience. Unfortunately, not all presenters realize or are capable of this. Nothing against this presenter, per se, she was very knowledgeable and capable, but she WAS teaching down the middle to the crowd, and I've never fit in well with crowds. I know that if I cannot first capture my audience's attention, I'll never capture their imagination. Additionally, I must sustain their interest to keep them captive, all while keeping them moving in a direction that I want them to go in.

There were many times today that I felt that all I could do to endure the day was to jump up in front and start leading the seminar myself (this was AFTER I drank down my fair share of "complementary" coffee from the employee lounge.) It got to the point that I took long bathroom breaks even when I didn't have to go to the bathroom. Believe it or not, as many times that I got up to stretch my legs, I never missed a beat when I returned to my seat. It was like watching one episode of a soap opera every two weeks--you still pick up on the plot (even though the infants are now teenagers.)

Luckily, I did get to excuse myself a bit early because of a subsequent engagement--the Math Club Christmas party back at the high school (I hope they're not still waiting for me to come out of the bathroom). I felt so liberated as I walked out the double doors, with Nietzsche's quote resonating in my head: "If it doesn't kill you, it makes you stronger." I felt like the Incredible Hulk.

Arriving back at school among all my students who were filled with yuletide, mathematical spirit, I felt once again back in my element. I don't know who was happier to see who. For motivated students who love to learn and for an enthusiastic educator who loves to teach, we all agreed that I should miss school a lot less often. After all, that's what good teachers do, even if they're "weaker" for it.

Perhaps for the final session, I'll pull one out of Tom Cruise's book. No . . . not jumping up and down on a couch, but rather THIS one . . .

Of COURSE I'm awake!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Coming Clean

Forgive me readers, but I have sinned. It's been too long since my last blog entry. In fact, my computer's cache memory did not even recognize me, and I had to retype my username (although it then IMMEDIATELY pulled up my password with an--I could have sworn I heard--"Oh yes. . . of course . . . welcome back most eminent sir.") So much has happened since I last blogged, writing a poem about the rain (if you'd like to read it, log on to the blog that has been posted for the last 3 millennium). Ironically, opposite of what you'd expect, since my "Ode to Rain," it really hasn't stopped. Of course it has transitioned from HOT rain to COLD rain, as the time frame between posts has spanned several seasons, we've been fortunate enough to have had to use the "Resolve" carpet cleaner since then to clean up all the mud spots on the carpet in the house caused by the mixutre of all the formerly DRY dirt with all the WET rain on the lawn.

So what's happened since then? Not a whole lot. Obama is still president (although at the time of my last post he was still then just a president withOUT a Nobel Peace Prize). Since then, 30,000 more troops have been ordered to Afghanistan to fight the chimeral, elusive Taliban by the winner of this year's Nobel Peace Prize. (NOTE: the inventor of the prize himself is rolling over in his grave, not only because he is laying on an uncomfortable rock, but because he invented Trinitro Touline, alson known as TNT, or dynamite.)

I blame the lack of pedantic blogging on the current school schedule in which I am forced to operate. Having taught for 10+ (where + means "greater than or equal to 1 second") years under a 90-minute block schedule, meetin each class every OTHER day, this years regulare "work you butt off" schedule has been quite an adjustment. Meeting every class every day but for only 50 minutes has thrown my Circadian rhythms waaaay off. I've been trying to adjust, but I can't help but still being rudly interupted by the dissmissal bell about 2/3 into my lesson, usually right when I'm about to reveal the whole kernal of the lesson. How anticlimactic and unfulfilling is THAT to the studetnts??!!

I'm still in 90 minute mode, but every day.

They say this is better for the students, which I'm OK with. If they get 2/3 less math every day but they get it EVERY day, that's more math in the long run and in smaller chunks . . . provided they are doing their homework. Which brings me to the OTHER change this year.

Homework is worth 0% of their grade, which means it doesnt' count towards their final averages . . . numerically. Try convincing an over-extended teenager that they don't have to do homework but that it is as important as going to the dentist, and you'll have a lot of happy students with excessive plaque build-up. Add to the fact that when they finally DO go to the dentist, he'll not only CLEAN their teeth to a brilliant white, he'll also fill any cavity caused by lack of brushing. Well, I've become the mathematical dentist.

When it comes time for the test, I finally have chance to see, much to my DISsupprise, that many students aren't "brushing." In other words, MOST FAIL (at least according to my standard of brushing 3 times a day AND flossing DAILY). It's obvious that most are brushing once a week, in between episodes of "Glee" and "Grey's Anatomy," (I'm beginning to wonder if I should rename my two math shows to start with "G," or at least be aired on major networks.) As their "dentist," when I finally assess their "teeth," I feel the need to fix everything first, then gently reprimand. This means a generous curve to the scores and a stern talking to, whereby I vow to hold them in "low esteem" if they don't turn their habits around.

I have about as much recourse and influence as an eccentric dentist who happens to make it "cool" to brush constantly, floss daily, and who gives low-fat, tastless, hard, dry (but free) candy on the way out the door.

Consequently, I keep cleaning "more and more," while the teeth get "dirtier and dirtier," simply because no one at home, or in a position of real authority wants to deny children from enjoying their candy.

Draw your own inferences from this fable, the moral of which is: DO YOUR HOMEWORK.

Good luck Unicorns this Saturday. May you beat the Katy Tigers with the cleanest of teeth.