Friday, May 26, 2006

Teaching rant #1

I think any teacher worth his salt has been a victim of this kind of crap once in a while. Some administrators are amazing. They go out of their way to support you, but some are spineless weenies. Sadly, there aren't enough of the former. I once had a principal tell me to stop teaching an objective lesson about Buddhism when we were reading a story about India when a parent complained. The next week a Christian group handed out Bibles at lunch and he had no problem with that. Luckily, the school where I work now is led by a very capable administration, but every day I'm nervous that it could change.

So if you've got kids and you don't like something your teacher is doing, sit down and shut up for a minute before you go bitching to the administration. Your momentary discomfort might just be less important than the overall education of the youth of America.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Teenagers do think

The going theory in Hollywood is that teenagers want movies that appeal to the lowest common denominator. They just want sex and explosions and Josh Hartnett. And that's true, to a degree. But they're not giving the kids enough credit.

Right now in my class I'm showing Life is Beautiful to accompany my section on Elie Weisel's Night. I'm looking around the room and seeing every head aimed at the TV, mouths closed, cell phones away. They love this movie.

They also love Crash and Baz Lurhman's Romeo and Juliet. They like these movies better than they like Gladiator, which is a constant violence fest you'd expect them to love. Of course, this doesn't mean they won't sit through The Longest Yard 80,000 times, but kids are just like anybody else. They're hard to pin down into a simple category. They have brains and occasionally they like to use them.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

What your pickup line says about you

Since I've started working out at the gym, I've apparently become hotter, and that has lead to more brazen behavior from guys on the street. As a result, this week I've heard some of the worst pick-up lines ever. "Is your name July? Because you are hot!" and "Got any black in you?" to which I replied, "Not that I know of, but you never know," rendering him mute in his response. Another guy came up to me in the Metro and asked me if he thought his shirt looked okay or if he should turn it inside out. Then he told me he was a bouncer at a prestigious club. Then he asked me about some cross-streets I'd never heard of. I wasn't actually sure if he was trying to pick me up or if he was just gay until he walked off mumbling about what a dork he was.

All this has made me think about dialogue and what it says about a character beyond what it literally says about a character. The difference between the guy who uses the July line and the guy who fumbles a crappy question about his T-shirt is a level of cockiness. The guy with the July line made me laugh. The guy with the T-shirt line made me uncomfortable, but I wouldn't go out with either one of them. But if I had to choose? The muscular guy with the British accent who was obviously around hot girls all the time but still couldn't muster a good pickup line is far more interesting than the stereotypical sleaze on the street. At least, as characters go. I might have to use him in a story.

Friday, May 19, 2006

But it all was bullshit...

I started working on a new feature a couple of months ago that has been kind of slow going. It's a script about the way people sacrifice themselves for relationships. While writing the script, I've been through so much emotionally that my world view has changed. I go through new emotions every day as I write new pages. So I have a feeling the script is going to end up like that song Robby sings in The Wedding Singer, where he wrote part of it when he thought he was getting married and part of it after she left him at the altar.

I started out writing fast because we were in lock down all day and I had nothing else to do. Plus, I was immersed in my own psyche at the time. But now it's going very slowly. I guess it's just easier to write when you're depressed. When I get ready to write I now have to listen to really depressing songs to get into the right mindset. I'm curious to see how it will all turn out when I've finished my schitzo writing project. It could either star a really developed character with intense, complicated emotions, or it could be a cluster fuck.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Emily the Diva

So last night was a resounding success. Despite a few last minute changes, the school fashion show went off without a hitch and everybody had a blast. The kids enjoyed it, the teachers enjoyed it and the spectators have been extremely complimentary. I got a few cheers. Now I'm on a mission to find some pictures.

It was just so much fun. I see why the girls on America's Next Top Model always talk about how exhilirating the runway walk is. It really was. I didn't even see the people, really. I just saw the cameras in front of me and blurry figures off to the side. Then I went off and ate sandwiches and cookies and brownies about which my trainer must never know.

They're having another fashion show in December, and next year they're going to try to custom make the clothes for each model from day one. I am so there.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

America's Next Top Model Teacher

Our school has SLCs - Small Learning Communities - little schools inside the bigger school that are designed to specialize in one area of expertise. Mine is the Arts and Entertainment SLC, the idea being that all my kids are into the performing arts. It doesn't exactly work that way, but it's a pretty good system. I still have several kids from the other SLCs, one of which is Fashion and Design.

What's cool about the Fashion and Design SLC is that the kids in the elective classes actually designed their own line of clothing. From concept to production, it was like a high school Project Runway, without all the gay men and the weekly eliminations.

Since I teach some of these kids and the class is right down the hall, they asked me to be a model. Most of the models are kids, but a few of us teachers have been roped in to walking the catwalk. Yesterday I got to see what I'm wearing, and I gotta say, I'm impressed. A slinky emerald green halter evening gown, a casual bohemian burnt orange, floor-length dress and a pair of pink and blue pajamas. The shirt on the pajamas is too long, so they're tying it up in back, exposing my pierced navel and my tattoo. So I told my trainer to work me extra hard yesterday, which he did. My abs are rock solid, baby. I only hope the kids have enough tact to keep their thoughts to themselves.

Walking the catwalk is harder than it sounds. I've been practicing for the past couple of days and I think I'm ready. I've seen a lot of episodes of America's Next Top Model, so I feel pretty prepared to do my angry swagger.

Usually yearbook keeps be behind the scenes. I end up in pictures sometimes, but I have been able to avoid standing up in front of the whole school and showing my ass. Tonight I'll just be showing my midriff.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Jim and Pam and the serious comedy


I'm so glad The Office got better. When it started out, it was trying way too hard to be a carbon copy of the British series, but without the charm of Ricky Gervaise. As time went by, the show got its own identity until last night when Jim and Pam got serious. Jim was in tears, and followed it up with a romantic-as-hell kiss to end the season. I have no idea where they're going to go from that, but I'm so glad they did it, and not just because I was jealous of Pam. There's no way the British version would ever have taken itself that seriously. But when a good sitcom does something serious it has all that much more impact because you're so used to laughing at these people that when they make you cry you feel it with more intensity.

On Scrubs a few weeks ago, Perry lost his will to doctor after losing all his patitients in a bunch of organ transplants. On the Friends episode where Ross and Rachel broke up, almost the entire show was their argument, ending in tears, only broken up by the comic relief of the rest of the gang hiding out in Monica's bedroom. It doesn't always work, but when it does it really packs a punch.

I wonder if that would work in a spec script? Would it be too much of a departure to throw a really serious and emotional moment smack into your comedy? It would almost certainly have to come at the end, like with The Office and Scrubs. Would that turn your reader off to go off on a serious note like that, or would they be impressed with your gumption as long as you did it right? Now I've got to go ask somebody.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Better TV than we deserve

Oh my god. Did anybody else see Veronica Mars last night?

It's been said before in various place, but last night's Veronica Mars just confirmed that this has been the best season of television ever. Although I felt the ending was a little rushed, that episode had me saying "Holy Shit!" at least ten times. Sunday's Gray's Anatomy left me in tears, the Battlestar Galactica finale has me obsessing over what can possibly happen next, and this week's Prison Break nearly gave me a heart attack. Then there's Lost, which is a different show every week, and all of them are good.

To think, I wasn't sure I could love again after Buffy and Angel, and along comes a season of television where there's not enough room on my DVR for all the dramas I need to watch. And here it is, pilot season, and I have no real way to get in on the game. The Disney deadline is coming up so I'll definitely apply to that, but in the meantime I seriously need to get my shit together. Who knows how long this brilliant age of television will last?

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The marker bandit strikes again

I was actually in a really good mood this morning. I was organized, prepared for the day, ready to have really deep discussions in all my classes. It's Tuesday. I love Tuesdays. They're shorter than regular days, and they end with my personal training session which is always fun.

Then at the beginning of advisory, one boy pushed another into the door as I was closing it, slamming my hand against the wall. Then somebody stole the only two working white board markers I have. I was stupid enough to leave them out on a desk, so of course they were taken. All my other markers are old and beat. I asked for their return but so far have been unsuccessful. I even did an abbreviated backpack check on some of the more obvious suspects, but to no result. Can you believe I had to check backpacks for white board markers? Seriously. At my old school I could leave my purse alone on a desk in a room with a wide open door, and it would be there when I got back. Here, I can't even leave markers unattended. Then again, that is the name of the blog. It just makes me sad that these kids don't have any problems stealing anything, and even emotional pleas don't move them. When my DVDs were stolen last semester I begged for their return. One was part of a boxed set. Nothing.

I'm going to try to forget that my hand hurts and that I don't have any markers to write with, and remember that's it's Tuesday and I have good lesson plans. I don't want to be pissed off two days in a row.

Monday, May 08, 2006

I'm not even supposed to be here today

Today is not a good day to be at work. I'm reading the same book aloud for the umpteenth time, doing the same lesson plans over and over. In another class I'm reading things I've never done with a class before, but it just means more work. In the meantime, I have to babysit these immature freshmen in advisory, and I'm not getting a break until October. I was going to spend my summer writing teleplays, but now that's going to have to wait.

Which means I'm going to be stuck here even longer. I can't finish my scripts as fast when I'm working, but the scripts are the only way I get to leave this job and get on a writing staff.

It's not that this job is bad all the time. There are days when I'm glad to be here, when I think I could do this for a while if my scripts don't get me anywhere. Sometimes these kids say the most adorable things and some days they really want to learn. Today is not one of those days. I'm bored, I'm tired, and I think I have pink eye. I was going to stay home today, but the co-worker who would have passed along my lesson plan for the sub never called me back, so here I am.

I want to be home on my laptop, working on my feature. More than that, I want to be in a writer's room right now throwing around ideas, not sitting at a desk in this cold room finding new ways to keep kids awake enough to write down literary terms they'll have forgotten by next week. I just want to go home and write.

How I spent my summer vacation

I teach at a year-round school with three tracks. Two tracks are always on while the third is off. So you spend sixteen weeks on and eight weeks off. Unless you came late to the party. Even though I now have five years of experience as a teacher, I am new to the district, and since I came in after the school year started, I'm behind even first-year teachers in seniority.

A Track ends in seven weeks. C Track begins the next school day. Savvy teachers realized that if they are on C Track, they can pick up an extra-long summer vacation by switching to A Track. That means soem poor sap with no seniority has to trade with them, and this time that sap would be me. In order to give somebody a long summer, I will now have none. That's 32 straight weeks of teaching until I finally get a vacation some time in October. Then I'll probably be coming in all the time anyway since I'm teaching yearbook, and I may also do some SAT prep.

So next time somebody goes on about how much time we teachers get of vacation, please think of me and my summer days spent in a teenager-filled classroom with no view of the sky.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

I've got to tone up on Will

My personal trainer at the gym is always making fun of the fact that I have no concept of anatomy. This week he started grilling me on where various veins are, so I responded with a challenge on Shakespeare, forgetting that he's an actor too. So he started quoting the bard at random, at which point I realized that I have seriously been neglecting my Shakespeare. I love the tragedies and I've read my share of the comedies, but never any of the histories. So to make sure I'm prepared for next week, when I'm going to have to defend my honor as an English teacher to an actor with a chemistry degree, I'm reading plays like crazy. Today it's Richard III. Tomorrow, Henry V. I am not going to be bested in a Shakespeare-off by a man who spends his afternoon pondering how best to tone a set of abs, even if he is smarter than me in a general sense. Curse him and his good looks and his big brain.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The weather in the classroom

One of the problems with a building full of large rooms with tall ceilings and filled mostly with desks is the complete inability to control the temperature. It' like that Office episode where everybody fights over the thermostat, except nobody has any control so all we do is bitch. At my old school it was a constant tug of war. It would be 89 degrees one day, so people would complain. The next day, it would be 30 degrees. So people would complain, and it would go back to 89. During the summer, they actually turned up the heat in some bizarre effort to stave off mold, so the humidity would knock all the posters off the walls and melt any papers you were dumb enough to leave out of a vacuum-sealed pouch.

Here it's a little more managable, but still a problem. None of the rooms are especially hot, but a few are arctic temperatures. One down the hall is a good five degrees colder than any other room in the school. Why? I don't know. It's just a random pocket of frozen.

Today my room is colder than usual. I started out the day wearing a cute little skirt and collared shirt. I was pretty sure I'd end up frozen like Brendan Frasier by the end of the day, and was lamenting the fact that I had no pants, when I remembered my gym bag. So I'm now wearing a black collared shirt with blue sweat pants and sandals. So far nobody's said anything, but I know I look a little weird. At least I won't be cold.

That's the beauty of LAUSD. I could come to school in a halter top and as mini skirt if I wanted to, but the kids still have to wear uniforms.