24 February 2006

3. Viking Voyage by W. Hodding Carter

Just because you go on an adventure that doesn't mean you have to (or are able) to write about it. And no, this is not a book about the notorious Minnesota Viking boat trip.

Hodding Carter is an adventure writer for Outside magazine, and has written about all kinds of different and neat stuff he has done. I picked this book up because I had read about the Viking boat he had built in WoodenBoat Magazine and thought reading about the journey would be pretty cool. The boat is called a"knarr" and is pronounced kahh-narr.

What I liked about Carter is that he had very little experience sailing or boatbuilding before this project. He just got a wild hair to go on a Viking expedition and made it happen through sheer determination. It probably also helped that he wasn't married and didn't have kids when he started the project, though by the end he had both.

We go from idea to boat build to boat trip. They build the boat in Maine, have it brought by cargo ship to Greenland where they sail it back to Newfoundland, copying Eric the Red and Lief (Eric's son)'s voyages. It sounds like it was my kind of trip – wet, cold, and uncomfortable.

Another cool thing about the trip was that Carter had Viking clothes made up as close as possible to the real thing. He had some expert make them up based on bodies and sailing gear found in archeology digs. He opted not to have the inside of his cape smeared with seal fat, but everything else was pretty much period. And he said he stayed warm despite the constant wetness – most of his gear was wool, and though it was heavy, it seemed to do the job.

This book reminded me a lot of "North to Night" by Alvah Simon. Lots of the author's feelings about the people on the trip with him, diary-like doubts about whether they were going to be safe, whether the whole thing was daring or dumb, and how the crew was going to get along without killing each other all the way to L'Anse aux Meadows.

But what I especially liked was the fact that they did this adventure at all – I mean, nobody ever seems to think something can be done if it hasn't been done already. For example, you can't hike to X, you have never hiked that far. You can't ride your bike in the winter…and so on. At least freakin try something difficult, damn people!

But ultimately, I could have gotten the same result from the WoodenBoat article that I got from reading the whole damn book. And so, this book is not recommended even if you love them Vikings.

23 February 2006

If that's moving up...

So over the past few weeks I have been sending out resumes and looking for teaching jobs on LI, and one job in the city. I have mixed feelings about this. I do love living and working in the city. I love the kids at the school where I am, but I am a little weary of the system in which the school exists. And the systems the school has created to manage the kids' educations.

My school is small – there are 400 kids in, 7-12. Many of them apply to get in to the school in 6th grade and stay until graduation. Some opt to leave and go to other HS – including all the fancy highly-sought specialty high schools in Manhattan. My chief frustration comes from kids who come to the school and do not know how to read – these are the infamous NCLB kids. Sent from failing schools to not-failing schools to get some help. That would be great if we had a proper resource room and a special-ed program. We do have a teacher, and English teacher, who volunteered to work with kids with extra-needs, but that's not enough. At best it's a Band-Aid, and at worst it's ineffective.

And then there's the kids who come to the school but quit class and spend a lot of time in the halls. This is the equivalent of kids hanging out on the corner. Except that they are not on a corner – they are safe, at least. The thinking is that eventually they will wisen up and go to class and get their work done and graduate. And if they don't, and they quit school, well, at least we kept them from getting hurt, killed, or arrested until they did. But it's very difficult to maintain motivation in the kids who are on the line between Fing off and working hard. We rarely leave kids behind, making them repeat a grade because this increases the chances they will drop out.

And we have no dean, so that makes everything else very difficult. But even if we did, the traditional consequences, detention, ISS, and out-of-school suspension, do not exist. The joke is that if a kid screws up he gets a hug and a coke from the principal and sent back to class. In reality, the principal, the teacher, and the kid will get together and discuss why each is unhappy with the other. Sometimes this does not happen right away, but it always happens behind closed doors – so some kids will perceive that Lisa got away with telling me to go F myself. And she did, if you perceive "getting away with something" as not getting a suspension or detention.

These aren't exactly the reasons I am leaving, but they do contribute.

And I do have lots of freedom at my school. I can come in tomorrow and teach whatever I want. Literally. Last week we watched 5 full episodes of West Wing and next week in the same class we are going to play Diplomacy. I get to pick all my own books. I read Earth Abides last summer, emailed the book ordering guy/AP and the book was there for the first day of school. This is something I will miss. We do not take the Regents exams so I spend zero time doing (fake) test prep (fake because it teaches no valuable skills).

I know someone who works at a school in the city that has a boatbuilding and sailing program and I have spoken, via email, with the principal. I feel like I have a good shot at a HS English teaching position.

Though I feel myself being drawn toward LI or Westchester. I grew up in the 'burbs, so I know what I am getting into. I also desire much more order and structure. I do not want to continue to find out that I have to go to a staff development the day before the meeting, I do not want to find out about parent-teacher conferences a week before, I do not want to find out about picture make-up day on the day of the pictures, I do not want to not have books in time, I do not want to have kids get promoted if they did zero work and do not have the skills to be successful in the next grade. I want computers that work, a library, and a desk with a telephone in a quiet place to call parents. Or email them without a billion interruptions from an inefficient system.

I don't pretend to myself that a suburban school is going to be any better – just different.

I am conflicted though. I'm not looking for an affirmation from you, dear readers, that's it is OK for me to go to a suburban HS. I'm just explaining my conflict, which is this: Am I selling out by leaving NYC? Certainly there are kids who are in deep need here, but also the same in the 'burbs. Kids out there have problems – my stereotypical LI kid spends the evening listening to loud music by himself, pissed off, in his room, or is out with his friends drinking and doing Ecstasy and/or meth, wishing his wine-soaked parents would please shutthefuckup. Or they are super-duper-mega-over-achievers and they spend their evenings pissed off in their rooms working on applications for special camps and summer internships so their wine-soaked parents will finally, please shutthefuckup.

The lifestyle will be vastly different. I enjoy and want to do more outdoor activities. Should I get a job on LI I will go mt biking, hiking, camping, sailing, overnight sailing, night sailing, long and short distance sailing, and just generally messing with boats much much more often. I think I will have more fun.

And I do think teaching out there will be easier – the systems around me will be more organized (but perhaps not efficient either), my schedule will be lighter, and my extra-duties will be fewer and more manageable. So is seeking something easier selling out?

Whitman on the sea shore

From Specimen Days, 1892
Sea-Shore Fancies

EVEN as a boy, I had the fancy, the wish, to write a piece, perhaps a poem, about the sea-shore—that suggesting, dividing line, contact, junction, the solid marrying the liquid—that curious, lurking something, (as doubtless every objective form finally becomes to the subjective spirit,) which means far more than its mere first sight, grand as that is—blending the real and ideal, and each made portion of the other. Hours, days, in my Long Island youth and early manhood, I haunted the shores of Rockaway or Coney island, or away east to the Hamptons or Montauk. Once, at the latter place, (by the old lighthouse, nothing but sea-tossings in sight in every direction as far as the eye could reach,) I remember well, I felt that I must one day write a book expressing this liquid, mystic theme. Afterward, I recollect, how it came to me that instead of any special lyrical or epical or literary attempt, the sea-shore should be an invisible influence, a pervading gauge and tally for me, in my composition. (Let me give a hint here to young writers. I am not sure but I have unwittingly follow’d out the same rule with other powers besides sea and shores—avoiding them, in the way of any dead set at poetizing them, as too big for formal handling—quite satisfied if I could indirectly show that we have met and fused, even if only once, but enough—that we have really absorb’d each other and understand each other.)
  There is a dream, a picture, that for years at intervals, (sometimes quite long ones, but surely again, in time,) has come noiselessly up before me, and I really believe, fiction as it is, has enter’d largely into my practical life—certainly into my writings, and shaped and color’d them. It is nothing more or less than a stretch of interminable white-brown sand, hard and smooth and broad, with the ocean perpetually, grandly, rolling in upon it, with slow-measured sweep, with rustle and hiss and foam, and many a thump as of low bass drums. This scene, this picture, I say, has risen before me at times for years. Sometimes I wake at night and can hear and see it plainly.

16 February 2006

Ah, February

To February
by Ethelwyn Wetherald

O Master-Builder, blustering as you go
About your giant work, transforming all
The empty woods into a glittering hall,
And making lilac lanes and footpaths grow
As hard as iron under stubborn snow,
Though every fence stand forth a marble wall,
And windy hollows drift to arches tall,
There comes a might that shall your might o'erthrow.
Build high your white and dazzling palaces,
Strengthen your bridges, fortify your towers,
Storm with a loud and a portentious lip;
And April with a fragmentary breeze,
And half a score of gentle, golden hours,
Shall leave no trace of your stern workmanship.

11 February 2006

blogs by teachers

I stumbled across this via gawker and another teaching blog. But there are some links there to other teacher blogs. Seems like much of their time is spent complaining, which to me means they are being acted upon more than acting. If it's so bad, leave! And many of the complaints about misbehaving students are textbook testimonials from teachers who have bad lesson plans, or no idea what they are doing. Make the material interesting, thought provoking, and relevant and then sit back and watch the magic happen. Please.

Also a common thread you will see in these blogs, at least for the city teachers, is an additional 150 minutes of teaching time added to the schedule (in order to get our raise, which was advertised as 14%, but is actually 4% this year and then 3% for each of the next three years - so really a raise to match inflation, so really no raise at all). At my school this time was divided into three 50 minute periods, one on Mon, Tues, and Thurs.

The periods are supposed to be about helping failing kids, and at my school will be. We are going to have tutoring and extra help in all classes and each teacher is obligated to stay for the time and obligated to be working with kids. I saw on one teacher's blog (in a school that divided the time into four blocks of 37.5 minutes each) that they are going to have a quiet reading period one day and work on Romeo & Juliet the other three. Weird that kids who need after school help so bad could have time to add a Shakespeare to their lives.

There are three more years to the contract, and it doesn't seem likely that the teachers union would be able to get this extra time revoked. Can you imagine the headlines? "Teachers don't want to help the most needy kids!" Etc. What I expect is that suddenly fewer kids are going to be failing. Not because the tutoring is really going to help, but because students who fail are mandated to go to after-school tutoring, staffed by teachers. No failing kids, no need to do after school tutoring. Can I go home now? AND, my other guess is that the 150 minutes is going to be spent on test prep, not good old-fashion thinking.

Here's one whiny math teacher's blog and associated links to other blogs. To be honest, to blog about work has never crossed my mind. I burn enough mental energy there, and getting ready to be there, that I don't think I could bear to spend more time writing commentary about it.

10 February 2006

O Maid

Come down, O Maid

COME down, O maid, from yonder mountain height:
What pleasure lives in height (the shepherd sang),
In height and cold, the splendour of the hills?
But cease to move so near the Heavens, and cease
To glide a sunbeam by the blasted Pine,
To sit a star upon the sparkling spire;
And come, for Love is of the valley, come,
For Love is of the valley, come thou down
And find him; by the happy threshold, he,
Or hand in hand with Plenty in the maize,
Or red with spirted purple of the vats,
Or foxlike in the vine; nor cares to walk
With Death and Morning on the silver horns,
Nor wilt thou snare him in the white ravine,
Nor find him dropt upon the firths of ice,
That huddling slant in furrow-cloven falls
To roll the torrent out of dusky doors:
But follow; let the torrent dance thee down
To find him in the valley; let the wild
Lean-headed Eagles yelp alone, and leave
The monstrous ledges there to slope, and spill
Their thousand wreaths of dangling water-smoke,
That like a broken purpose waste in air:
So waste not thou; but come; for all the vales
Await thee; azure pillars of the hearth
Arise to thee; the children call, and I
Thy shepherd pipe, and sweet is every sound,
Sweeter thy voice, but every sound is sweet;
Myriads of rivulets hurrying thro' the lawn,
The moan of doves in immemorial elms,
And murmuring of innumerable bees.

- Alfred Tennyson, Lord Tennyson

03 February 2006

Drunken Babysitter

So I am sitting here (not on the Group W Bench) babysitting the Jacob, the godson, the cutest baby of the Modern Era, having a coupla Molsons and what do I see on the back label but some clever marketeering: the aforementioned label has a sillhouette of a hockey player about to unleash a blistering slapshot underneath the caption, "he shoots, he scores."

Accept no substitutes.

The Barber Shop

If you live/work downtown and need a haircut before an important job interview, date, or other high stakes social event where first impressions count, I highly recommend the Neighborhood Barbers at 439 East 9th street (between 1st and A). I got my hair cut by this dude Ben who looks kind of mean but isn't at all, has long pinky nails, and a new baby. They are open every day: M-S 8-8 and Sunday 10-7.