Thursday, June 29, 2006

Some days it's good to be a teacher

Today is the last real day of school. Technically tomorrow is a school day but nobody's gonna show up. So today I have a handful of students and they are the sweetest things ever. My second period dutifully watched Clone Wars, which I brought in to demonstrate the Joseph Campbell monomyth I went over yesterday. I gave my third period a choice: clean, take an exam or watch the video. To my surprise, they opted for cleaning. Go figure. So they got a trash bag and some paper towels and some cleaning stuff and wiped off all the tagging and whitened all the white boards and ripped all the posters down. They may not write in complete sentences, but boy can our kids make a room sparkle. I'd be depressed if they weren't so damn sweet.

Now it's fourth period and I have three actually students of my own, plus four others that have wandered in from other classes. They're playing Uno. I actually left them alone for half an hour earlier to run an errand. They told me to go, that it would all be okay. And it was.

I really like my job right now. What I thought was going to be a disastrous change will end up being a blessing. I moved to another department in the school and now I have a permanent classroom with lots of storage space. I actually want the classroom next door, but I have so much going for me right now that others don't that I'm going to keep my mouth shut. Maybe I'll get that room next semester. In the meantime, I'm teaching 12th and 11th graders next year. I have been waiting my entire teaching career to teach 12th grade, and yes, I know how dorky that sounds. But I can teach Hamlet now. I have notes I took on how to teach Hamlet three years ago that have just been sitting around waiting. I am a dork and I don't care who knows it.

So next week we start the new year (year-round school) and I am prepared with a new room, new kids, new yearbook and new classes. This is gonna rock a little.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

At least I can sleep comfortably

I missed the Disney deadline.

Apparently notaries don't work Friday afternoons. I went to three different places and the notary was out at all of them. Then there was the place where they were signing people up for quickie Botox injections. I didn't stick around long enough to see if their notary was there.

I had the bio done, the script ready, the paperwork all filled out, but I couldn't find a notary in time to go to the post office. That's what I get for procrastinating. I can still go for WB and Universal, but everybody knows Disney's the best.

On the upside, I got my bed put together. Although he wasn't an underwear model, my assistance did come at the hands of a hot young thing who's handy with a screwdriver, although sadly I only know about that in a literal sense. But now I can sleep up high and look out the window from my bed. I have a nice view of Wilshire.

It will have to make up for the Hollywood view I won't be getting this year. Stupid Disney deadline.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Autobiography help


I'm working on my autobiography for Disney. The deadline is tomorrow. Anybody want to go through this long thing and make some suggestions?

Emily's Autobiography:

I let things slide off me like water off a duck’s back. It helps in my line of work. I’m a high school teacher at MY SCHOOL, the now one-year-old high school in the heart of Los Angeles gang territory. I have Salvi MS-13s in the room with Mexican 18th street kids, all working together to write persuasive essays and read Julius Cesar. It’s a job that requires a little political finesse.
It’s all fairly new to me. A year ago I was teaching high school in rural North Carolina, an hour south of my hometown of Raleigh. There, the big event came when the seniors on the football team put a spraypainted-blue goat on the roof the week of Homecoming. Here, people get shot. These kids have no idea what it’s like to walk around barefoot in the woods. It’s a different world.
The kids always ask me why I came to LA. At first, I didn’t want to tell them because I didn’t think they’d understand. Back home, everybody thinks producers hang around on street corners looking for the next big movie, and it should be another month or two before I’m a household name. They don’t really get it. Here, though, the kids know. They may not live in Beverly Hills, but they’re just as moved as anybody else by the industry around them. One of my students just proofread my script and found a mistake. I was so proud.
Because it’s tough for them. People hear about the difficult trials of teaching in Downtown LA. I’ve lost a student to a gang shooting. Several of my boys get shot at or jumped on a weekly basis. Almost none of them can read or write at nearly the level they should. But they’re just as smart as any country kid from rich white stock, and I think the world should know.
That’s the kind of thing that drives me to write. When I was a reporter for The Washington Daily News in Washington, North Carolina, I was miserable. Everybody hates reporters, and I hated calling people who hated me, so that didn’t work out. Five months there and I was ready to split, so I decided to teach. My mother was a teacher. I just grew up knowing how.
But while I try to turn out better readers and writers and sudoku puzzlers, I’ve been missing my own true love. I write. I have written since that time I won a contest with a story I wrote for a class, a story about my lousy dad and his lousy house boat. I got a BA in 1999 and an MA in 2000, both in creative writing from East Carolina University. When I started teaching, I just always assumed I’d get back to the writing when I had time. I make as much of it as I can, but it’s difficult when you have essays to grade and yearbook pages to edit.
All I really want to do is tell stories. Like Dickens, who spread his tales out over magazines, one chapter a week to make sure people kept coming back. So I tell them to my kids, and they listen enraptured.
When I was in my mom’s class in middle school I used to help other people with their essays. When I was in high school, I was always the leader on group projects. My favorite was the time I made The Song of Roland into a play with a painted cardboard backdrop and sock puppets. Some would consider that nerdy; I call that the only project our teacher still remembers from that class.
I’m a leader, an educator, a writer. I have to be a showrunner. Heck, I run a show right now. You should see the alternate scenes from A Streetcar Named Desire my eleventh-graders created. Hilarious. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a seventeen-year-old Latina fake a crazy Blanche DuBois with a “Southern” accent that sounds more like a drunk exotic dancer. The kind of things I’ve seen these kids do are priceless character moments. I plan to put them to good use.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

My Fashion Debut

I finally got pictures from the fashion show. I love this dress, but I'm not sure where I'd wear it if I bought it. Still, it was damn comfortable and fun to walk around in. I had to hold it up to avoid tripping.

The pajama picture was from backstage. It was fun to wear because I got to show my tattoo and my piercing which got a lot of cheers from the kids. At one point while we were all wearing our pajamas in preparation to go out, somebody put "Baby got back" on the stereo and the kids got in a big circle and took turns dancing. That was hilarious. I look pissed because the boy with the camera refuses to stop warning people that he's taking their pictures. As a yearbook teacher, that really annoys me. Good luck ever finding a picture of me at work smiling at the camera. But even though it doesn't look like it, I'm having fun. I just wish I wasn't slouching.

Then there was the vavoom green dress that had people talking the next day. It barely fit and I was constantly worried my boobs were going to fall out the sides. I clearly have an adequate amount of junk in my trunk, though. Apparently, I only know one pose. I'll have to work on that.

I'll definitely be doing this again next year. Rumor has it they'll be specifically designing the clothes to fit the model, just like project runway. By then I'll have a body worth showing off, thanks to my constant efforts at the gym. And I'll be in charge of yearbook so I'll have access to all the pictures and make sure nobody poses with a cheesy smile.

Who needs legs, anyway?

My trainer is evil. We boxed yesterday, which I love, even if it does make my hands kina stinky from all the accumulated sweat various people have left behind in the gloves. But anyway, that oart is fun. The part that's not fun is the fact that he spends the half hour leading up to the boxing destroying my legs. We did every major leg machine int he gym at really high levels of weight for someone my size. And the whole time he was all evil grins. That bastard. Today I can't walk at any kind of reasonable pace, yet I'm going to go to the gym anyway and do my workout because I'm as crazy as he is. I couldn't sleep last night because of the soreness of my legs, although I'm convinced that having a matress on the floor has something to do with it.

I briefly thought about staying home today to recuperate and finish my script for the Disney Fellowship, but I've missed so many days lately and each time it's a disaster for the kids, so I decided to come in. The deadline is Friday, so unless they extend it there's no way I'm going to make it with this script, which is a shame because I think it's really good. But I'm going to try my House script instead because it's finished and has gotten some positive responses from people I trust. Still, it doesn't carry the theme with as much strength as my Supernatural will when it's finished. But oh well. That's what I get for procrastinating.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Maybe I could outsource my dialogue

A dude from The Gap just called my cell phone. My bill was like two minutes late this month and they want their money. I sent in the bill three days ago, though, so there's not really anything this guy needs to worry about. Nonetheless, there he was, clearly calling from India. He had to say who he was with like eight times. I kept thinking he was calling me about some "DAP story". I was wracking my brain trying to figure out what I could possibly have written that would have been shortened to "DAP". Outsourcing is so annoying.

But that highlights something I've been trying to get better about in my writing. Most of us writers tend to make things a little too convenient in our stories. Characters understand each other and are johnny-on-the-spot with whitty comebacks. I don't know about you, but whenever I talk to this guy I have a crush on I sound like a moron. Two minutes later in my car I'm spouting all kinds of awesome responses. But in movies and on TV, people never seem to have that problem. And they never have to deal with stuff like outsourcing phone calls. Except in comedies. Friends did that kind of stuff all the time. I should go watch old episodes. I'm also gonna go read more Salinger because he is the master of naturalistic dialogue. Then I'm going to work on that with my next spec. It's not that I don't do dialogue well because I do, but I think I need to work on the dialogue of miscommunication.

Maybe in the process I can absorb the ability to have better replies when I talk to cute boys. It could be like a superpower.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Ikea beds don't require power tools, do they?

Does anybody have a drill I can borrow? Or a construction worker, perhaps a hot one, who can read schematics?

I bought a bed from Target and I can't put it together. The headboard requires a drill which I do not own, and the frame comes with eight pages of instructions I am completely unable to understand. So for now I'm sleeping on a matress on the floor. On the upside, it makes the room feel like I just moved in, which is always a nice feeling. But I got the frame and headboard specifically because they came with storage drawers and shelves, and until it's built my crap is all splayed throughout the apartment. And I almost can't get through the door behind all the wood slats lying about. I keep hoping some male underwear model with a drill and a construction job will get lost in my neighborhood and knock on my door for directions. I'm expecting him any minute now.

Insert dirty joke about drilling wood beds here.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

This place ain't Fuquay-Varina

I love LA. I love the fact that so many people from so many different places all converge on this place for one reason, and that people you'd never have met anywhere else can become an integral part of your life here.

For three years I lived in a town called Fuquay where I knew approximately no people. I spent all my nights in watching TV and wishing that at the very least there was a neighbor I could share Angel episodes with. But people in Fuquay didn't watch Angel so much, and the closest thing I ever got to striking up a friendship with anybody was when the owner of the antique store downstairs tried to get me to come to his church.

But here it's different. A guy I used to date back in North Carolina like five years ago lives here. I went and hung out at his house and met some great people last weekend. A guy I only knew a little in high school lives here, and last night he came over and we had a few dinks and talked about the past and the present. Tonight I'm going to an Ibiza party in Santa Monica hosted by a girl from work.

In North Carolina, I never would have been out with this many different groups of people in such a short span of time, and from so many different backgrounds. It's good fodder for scripts. Unfortunately, it's also a big time killer when I should be home writing them.

So on that note, I have to finish my Supernatural script now in time to get dressed up in all my white clothes. I'm hoping to have the script finished in time for Disney, which is next week. It's gonna be close.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

I'm better off leaving them with a monkey

I had to be out for three days during the past week. I was out Firday for - ahem - illness, and Monday and Tuesday I had to go to a workshop downtown. So I carefully thought out three days worth of detailed lesson plans that contributed to the curriculum and kept the kids busy practicing their persuasive writing techniques and studying Amy Tan.

Friday two of my classes were supposed to finish Romeo and Juliet. The sub did that, but also showed it to the class that had a lesson plan. Whatever. I had been planning to leave a movie for them for Monday and Tuesday, but now that they're behind they'll only be able to see half the movie. At least the other classes are still on track.

I came in Monday morning to put in the new lesson plan and noted on it that the students were not to watch a movie Monday at all. They were instead to do the assignments as written, dammit. I even locked the TV cabinet to make sure nobody could get in it. Apparently, handing out papers and sitting down while the kids write is too much work. The sub decided the best course of action was to watch World Cup soccer ALL DAY. No access to the television? No problem. My devious little substitute tried to pick the lock on the cabinet, then borrowed a TV from down the hall and wheeled it in, then eventually found a custodian to open the cabinet. This is what California tax payers paid him to do.

Tuesday I had a different substitute. This sub came in and saw that his predecessor had not done the assignments, so he did them instead. That would seem like the responsible thing to do if this guy hadn't been a psycho. He "cleaned up" my desk because he was appalled at its messiness. By clean up, I mean he stacked things into piles and threw away anything he thought looked like trash. For the record, my kids are awesome. I have some of the best behaved students in the school right now, but my sub still managed to kick three students out of class for talking and spent like fifteen minutes on the phone to my boss complaining about the rest of them. They were so resentful of his behavior that the kids rebelled against doing the assignment. I had one student actually turn anything in all day.

So three days away was three days wasted. And it's not just Los Angeles. In North Carolina one day a sub let the kids watch the NCAA basketball tournament all day and broke my stool in the process. At least here the jobs are a little more competitive so we can actually fire them. Now excuse me while I go figure out how to make up three days of wasted time in one ninety-five minute class.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Donuts and Dr. Phlox

So I'm at a training session today on how to teach "Studio", a class for students who struggle with reading. It's a dumb program, but there is some useable material in its core, and fortunately for the first time, we have a lecturer who has a brain in his head, so today hasn't been so bad. These things are usually abysmal, but they come with free bagels and a day away from the kids where the sub is no doubt ignoring the five hundred pages of work you left as an assignment and showing the class Shrek 2 in Spanish.

Just so you know, if you ever want to lure a teacher into a dark room and steal her brain, offer free food. We'd follow it like a breadcrumb trail, although donuts work better than bread. In fact, I'd put up a teacher's capacity for chowing down on donuts up against a cop's any day, but only if they're free.

John Billingsley goes to my gym. I've seen him there several times, and each time really wanted to say hi and how much I admire his work. The other day he got on the ellyptical machine right next to me. I kept mum. I like to say that I don't talk to actors at the gym because I don't want to interrupr their workout, but the truth is that I'm a big chicken. I don't want to say something to a minor celebrity and come out looking like an idiot. Because I will.

But I suppose I'll have to get over that, because it's kind of necessary for what I want. I didn't say anything to John Bilingsley because I was afraid of looking like an ass. But what if by saying something to him, I opened up an opportunity? We're supposed to constantly be taking advantage of networking opportunities to help our writing careers, right? But it's just so unseemly. Because in reality, there is no unselfish reason to talk to a celebrity, minor or not. It would make me feel good to know that I know who he is, but I doubt he wants a sweaty dork at the gym to bother him while he's trying to watch Without a Trace on that tiny TV over the treadmills. Then again, I'm hotter than most dorks. Maybe he'd be flattered. But I'll never know because I'm a big old chicken.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Why I teach

I haven't posted all week because grades were due and I was frantically trying to grade essays.

But the most exciting thing happened, the reason I put up with all the students who cuss at me and threaten me and don't care. I have a student who's had a really rough life up to now and has gotten in tons of trouble, and recently decided it wasn't worth it. He's really smart, but has a lot of bad decisions to make up for if he wants to go to college. The problem, I discovered this week, is that he never planned to go to college. He never thought he could. He said he just figured he'd graduate high school and get a regular job and that would be it.

But he also started asking questions about writing and publishing stories. After talking to him long enough, I recognized the signs of a truly gifted writer. I haven't read a story by him yet, but the way he sees the world, a way he thought was really weird, is exactly how writers view everything. He changes details of his life to make a better story, he thinks about how a short story would be better if events were different, and he can imagine what botht he villain and the hero are thinking.

So I told him to read Salinger's Nine Stories and write me a story. I'm going to read it and critique it and essentially hold a separate class with him. He's already failed this English class enough times that he's read all the books, so he might as well learn something new.

According to this boy, nobody ever told him he could be a writer before. Nobody ever told him he could be anything. He kept asking me why I cared so much, which made me sad and happy at the same time.

But the best part is, he loves coming to my class and sees a new reason to keep his grades up: he might go to college and become a writer.