Wednesday, October 31, 2007

This is the Stuff

Mario Perez is an 8th grader who, at the beginning of this school year, had never read a chapter book on his own. He was pretty sure there was no reason to read. He wasn't belligerent about it like some students can be; Mario had just never considered it. His English teacher approached me to help her solve the riddle of what Mario might like to read. He doesn't read well, so that was an added challenge. I/we/he chose the Shredderman series by Wendelin Van Draanan. According to School Library Journal (aka the Bible), "This entertaining story of an egghead who cannot keep his shoes tied who uses his brains to triumph over the worst bully in school will keep even reluctant readers laughing and wanting more stories about this cyber superhero." Having read some Van Draanan, I knew she was good. Even though these books are about 5th graders, I was pretty sure that subtitles like "Attack of the Tagger", "Enemy Spy", and "Meet the Gecko" would transcend age.

Mario read the first book in the series. Then the second. Then he came to get the third book and brought his friend to check out the first. The friend brought a friend who brought a friend who brought a friend, and pretty soon I couldn't keep the books on the shelf. I was turning away disappointed 8th grade boys on a daily basis. Mario had started a buzz.

Mario has gone off-track recently, meaning that he is not in school again until January. Most kids stay home during this time, watching tv, playing video games, babysitting, maybe working with their parents. Mario is here, in the library, right now, as I write this. Right now. Here. In the library. Yesterday he sat in one chair for 2 hours and 34 minutes and listened to the audio book of How to Eat Fried Worms. Today he came to school at 7:30 in the morning (did i mention he's on vacation?) and he is sitting in the same chair, unmoving, listening to another audio book (today it is the Misfits by James Howe, a great book). He's not leaving until it's finished. This will be his 21st book since July. He has caught the bug, and I have been so lucky to watch him discover this pleasure that is my favorite of favorites.

Monday, October 1, 2007

High School Scares Me

On Friday, I spent the day at a very large high school just south of downtown Los Angeles. I will spend 9 days there this semester as part of the field work that is required for my graduate studies. To tell the truth, I thought that I would be immediately intoxicated by the maturity, the independence, the intellectual freedom a high school would surely have to offer. I assumed that I would be coming back to the first tug towards a life in education that I experienced thanks to my 11th grade English Lit teacher. It would be like spending time with my middle school kids, only they would be smarter and more well-spoken. I would be WOWed by the difference a few years can make.

I was WOWed all right. High school was not what I remembered or expected. Was it just this high school? Perhaps. I hope. Oh, please. Or is it just that I am now a lover of middle school personalities, booger-humor, petty arguments, and cracking voices? That might also be true. To begin to explain my reaction to high school, here are a few of my observations:
- Almost all of the students in the library were using some sort of electronic device that is technically outlawed by the school district, like iPods, cell phones, hand-held video game systems. Although I cannot fault anyone for wanting to listen to music while they browse, research, or read, it was simply a shock to see it happening.
- When those students were asked to put their electronics away, they did not. Or they did, but then they took them back out less than one minute later.
- Very few students checked out books compared to what I am used to. Maybe 5-10% of what I would have thought.
- Of an entire 12th grade economics class, not one single student was sophisticated enough at using the Internet to successfully conduct research on a given topic. The best any of them could do was to google a vague term and shuffle through results without really taking in any information.
- One of these 12th graders was very, very pregnant. A group of girls came in later that day to ask if the library carried baby names books. It did not.
- The student workers in the library were very smart, hospitable, and articulate.
- After the lunch period, there were at least 150 students milling around campus, looking as if they had no intention of finding their classes. I took a walk at this time and noticed: a group of hulking, intimidating boys in a stairwell; a couple making out in a stairwell; a pair of cigarette-panted, thin, mod boys darting out of a stairwell when they heard me coming (smoking? lovers?); a group of couples (girls on laps, of course) lingering at the cafeteria tables; four teachers walking right past this as if nothing was wrong; zero adults working to get these kids to class.
- They have a POOL!
- A young man came to the library to ask for books that would help him learn how to read. He said that he only knows how to read a little bit. I wanted to hug him. I wanted to buy him a gift for being to brave. I wanted to shake each and every one of his previous teachers (he was in at least 11th grade) for not helping him sooner.
- There is a great college and career center at the school. Each time I walked by (3 times) it was empty except for the hopeful adult stationed there.
- Some of the students have completed all the coursework available to them at a certain grade level, and so have nothing to do for 2 periods a day. Even though there is a community college two blocks away, the solution to this problem is to have these kids sit in the library. Doing.....

I know there's more, but I am overwhelmed just remembering this much. I am sure that there are wonderful things happening in high schools, but I felt such disappointment and sadness at the end of my time on this very first day. The adults seems resigned. The students (that I saw) seemed blissfully uninterested. That's not entirely true - I did meet a few girls who were filling out college applications. I liked that. How do you run a school when some of the students there are legal adults? How do you tell a legal adult to spit out his gum? How do you promote reading for pleasure and the use of the library during lunchtime when the school is so populated that some kids don't even get through the lunch line before the bell rings for the next class? Why haven't 12th graders learned anything more about online research than what we are teaching them in 8th grade?

I hope that I am speaking to soon. Maybe the next time I am there, I will discover some of the romanticized high school life in the movies, the life that I superimpose on my own memories to make it seem like high school was fun. After all, no one at this high school (at least that I saw) poked anyone else with a pencil, was a tattletale, crawled on the ground under a desk just for fun, or ran through the aisles chasing the object of their affection. Of course, what's so wrong with those sorts of middle-grade, impulsive, uninhibited behaviors? For all that I moan and groan about the immaturity of middle school kids, I think this experience will make me love them all the more. Those poor, poor 9th graders. How did any of us get through it?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Connotation or Denotation?

At some early age, the words connotation and denotation were defined for me (by a teacher) in the following manner:
Denotation is the definition of the word according to the dictionary. D for dictionary. Connotation is the definition of the word according to common experience or understanding, how it is used, what is implied, etc.

So, I wonder if Ralph's supermarkets chose to rely on the connotation or the denotation of the word local when they decided to advertise their locally grown produce. A few days ago, I received a voicemail message from the new store manager of my neighborhood Ralph's. He politely told me that Ralph's considers anything within a 700 mile radius local. Huh. What does that include, I wonder? It includes Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, perhaps Colorado, Nevada, all of California, almost Oregon, and most importantly....Mexico. Yup. All those Mexican grown garlic cloves, apples, and other delicious items are considered local by Ralph's supermarkets.

So, I guess Ralph's used the denotation of the word local, which according to Merriam Webster is "of, relating to, or characteristic of a particular place." Hmm. Yes, Mexico and Utah are places. So is Nevada. I guess their produce (does Nevada have any, I wonder?) must be local then.

Maybe I need to write to Merriam Webster....

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The Cat is So Wise, It's No Wonder

The priorities of middle school readers are quite clear. It's comics and horror that they want. Give them slime! Give them boogers! Give them fangs and drool and mutant growths and funny cats and they are happy forever. Here is a list of the most-borrowed-books from this middle school library since July of this year, in order of popularity. How many have you read?

Goosebumps: Don't Go to Sleep
The 4th Garfield Treasury
Double Trouble (a Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen book, if you can believe that)
Garfiled Eats His Heart Out
Garfielf Weighs In
Garfield at Large
The Simpsons Holiday Humdinger
Face to Face with the Lizard
Duel with Daredevil
Spiderman and Captain America
Garfield Makes it Big
Scream School
Scooby Doo: Surf's Up!
Krusty Krab Adventures (a Spongebob Squarepants book)
The Amazing Spiderman
Among the Imposters (the only real novel on this list, this book is the 2nd in a fantastic dystopian fiction series)
Cuckoo Clock of Doom
Stay Out of the Basement
Welcome to Camp Nightmare
Say Cheese and Die - Again!
Sonrie y muerte - otra vez!
Attack of the Jack-o-Lanterns
Killers of the Dawn (ok, this is a real novel too, part of the Cirque du Freak vampire series)
Night of the Living Dummy III
Junie B Jones is Almost a Flower Girl
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (why this one?)
Draw 50 Aliens, UFOs, and Galazy Ghouls

There you have it. Middle school in a nutshell. What more can I say?

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Out of the Blue (Which Happens to Be One of Our School Colors)

In a faculty meeting today, my bristly principal announced that our school was the only one in the local district (meaning in a very large area that is already larger than any respectable school district should be, but is only a small portion of LAUSD) to meet its annual goals for raising test scores for the '06-'07 school year. Huh.

She then told us that all of the subgroups (yes, that's what we call them) met their goals as well. This means African-American students, English Language Learners, and Students with Disabilities all improved. Huh.

She then thanked "all of the people who come into contact with the students each day" for making this happen. She never said teachers. The clerical staff looked nervous.

So what does this means? 15% of our students are performing at a proficient level, according to state tests. This is up from 12% last year, and it was even lower in years before. For this accomplishment, we were given cake (2 kinds!). And lemonade. Pink lemonade.

It is true that there is momentum building at our school, and that library circulation is up 1,000 books a month from just one year ago, and that we had elective classes for the first time in 8 years last year, and that our teachers are forming effective teams for the first time, and that we had math contests, reading contests, and other incentives for the first time....maybe ever! These things should most certainly help raise test scores, and I believe they should be credited. We may be experiencing a revolution at this school. This may be the beginning of an unprecedented upswing. They may make a movie about us called "It Took a Village", "Criminally Intelligent", or "Up from the Streets".

As I watched the PowerPoint slides that stylishly listed our achievements, a horrible part of me couldn't help thinking that this was somehow staged. Could someone have tampered with our scores? Why now? Why had we never improved before? Doesn't it seem convenient that this happened right before the state takes drastic measures, like firing the administration and taking over the school itself?

But then I looked around at all the happy and befuddled teachers eating cake and I thought, nah. Things might actually be looking up. This is a real crack team and we're on the case. Huh.

PS - no word from Ralph's.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

It Makes Me Want to Ralph

Lately I've been attempting to do my part to eat foods that are grown or produced locally. I'm not perfect, but I'm slowly catching on. I try to remember to bring my own cloth bags to the store. I shop at my neighborhood farmer's market each week, shop at grocery stores that offer local or organic options, and so on. If you're reading this, you probably know what I'm talking about. Yesterday, I went to Ralph's, which is something I've mostly stopped doing in recent months. I know that Ralph's doesn't carry much of what I'm looking for, but since it's close to my house and on the way home from work, I had a moment of weakness. I stopped in to find something to supplement my dinner. I glanced over to the produce section and saw a huge sign reading something like We are proud to support our local growers and provide our customers with the fruits of their labor. When I say huge, I mean about 2' x 2' with the word local probably 10 inches tall.

Eureka! Hallelujah! Amen! Or so I thought.

I looked at the heirloom tomatoes right under the glorious sign. Grown in Mexico. Avocados...Mexico. Peaches...New Zealand. It went on like this for a while. So I did what any self-righteous, thirty-something in LA might do. I asked the manager. He had no idea, but I could ask someone who worked in produce. Did I want to do that now, he asked in surprise? Well yes, I did.

Anthony, from produce, also did not know. He looked at the sign, looked at me, looked at the sign, looked at the peaches.
Anthony: I don't really know. This stuff just comes in on a truck, you know?
Me: So, you don't know which produce is locally grown?
Anthony: Uh....
Me: So, do you have any produce that's locally grown?
Anthony: I don't think so. I mean, they put that sign up, like, two weeks ago.
Me: Uh huh. Doesn't that mean you might have something that's been locally grown?
Anthony: Um, well, I think they just put that sign up so, you know, so people would know.

Know WHAT? I wanted to shake this nice young man. (I will not get sidetracked now to explain why this interaction defines my philosophy about education, but it does.) Anthony said I could call the produce manager, Lee, tomorrow. I did. Lee did not know of any locally grown produce either. It comes from a warehouse, he said. But I could call this number. I did, and I found that it was the wrong number (for employees of Ralph's only). Was Lee trying to throw me off the scent of locally grown produce? I could not be deterred! I shook my fist in the air and called 1-888-437-3496 (hint hint) to speak to someone at Ralph's customer service center. I was put on hold for two longish exposures to semi-groovy elevator music. I was told the following:
- Ralph's always tries to buy locally (um, yeah right)
- when they cannot serve their customers with local products, they may import them from elsewhere (um, duh)
- There is no list that states "where this potato comes from and where that potato comes from". That's a direct quote.

I said that wasn't good enough. Surely the people at Ralph's who pay for the produce know where it comes from. I want to talk to one of them, I said. If I want to know more than that, I was told, I would have to give up some personal information and hope to be contacted later. Don't worry, if no one calls you back, you can call us again. We'll have a file on you by then, so we'll know who you are. I guess now I am on record with corporate Ralph's as an instigator. My parents will be proud.

So the questions remain. Does Ralph's have any locally grown produce? If so, why doesn't anyone who works there know about it? If not, why do they feel they can post such a stinking lie for all of us to read? And why don't any of the employees care or wonder about this? And are We (capitalized, all of us, society) really allowing this sort of thing? In the two weeks the sign has been there, am I the first to ask? I hope not, but I'm guessing I was. I hope that someone will call me soon to say that Ralph's does indeed carry locally grown produce. I hope that the employees will soon be attending some sort of meeting to educate them on this topic. I hope that the demand for better food sources will sink in and take hold in the big world of agribusiness.

I leave you now to ponder this mess, and I encourage you to do the following:
- Go to your Ralph's. Do they have a similar sign? If so, do they have any locally grown produce? Find out. Allow it to matter to you.
- Ask questions of your food providers to help keep them honest and to let them know what their patrons want.
- If you aren't up on why locally grown produce is a good idea, start reading. Barbara Kingsolver's Animal Vegetable Miracle is a good place to start.
- Check back for updates. If there are any, I'll post them.

Friday, July 20, 2007

A Ghost from My Past

Five years ago, in an effort to help out a friend who was struggling in the classroom, I took on Pedro Lopez. Pedro was a puffed up 6th grade boy, startlingly attractive, scarred by grief, piercingly intelligent….and willful. And boisterous. And mischievous. In sum, Pedro was more than a first-year teacher could handle. When he would get out of line, his teacher would send him to my 7th grade class, where at first I was forced to break down his tough exterior through stern insistence, and later he blossomed into a participant in the class, a hanger-on at lunch, and a joyful part of my day.

The next year Pedro was part of my 7th grade class. Still head-strong and arrogant, he quietly became a reader, a writer of poems, and finally an actor. Outside of my room, however, Pedro still did not get along. An angry young boy, he was still grieving for his mother’s untimely death from years before. Other family members of his had been victims of street violence, which I believe now he must have actually witnessed. His PE teachers sent him to the dean constantly, he was always threatening to fight some of the older kids, and his bluster just could not be contained. Except when he was in my class.

I loved Pedro fiercely, and it became my daily mission to “save” him. I got him into a gang prevention program. I got him grief counseling. I met with his sister, who was the guardian of all four of her younger brothers; she was only 22. I chose books for him that dealt with grief, anger, violence, and teen angst. By the end of the year, I believed the spell had been broken. Silly, na├»ve, young, young me.

In 8th grade, Pedro had mostly first-year teachers again (a common thing in poor, urban schools). They did not pass his rigorous tests for reliability, trustworthiness, and grit. I saw him in the hallways everyday, and it nearly broke my heart. Once he popped his head in my classroom door after having been kicked out of his class; he had small, round, multi-colored stickers covering his face like a mask. He was dancing and showing off…for me? For my students? My heart sank. I had lost him. Without having him in my daily clutches, I didn’t know how to proceed.

Pedro graduated (well, he advanced to the next grade, but there were no robes involved) and that was that. I gave him my cell phone number, although I never heard from him. A few years later, I was filling in for the library media teacher whose place I have since taken when a younger version of Pedro showed up in the library. Jonathan, his younger brother, was harder and meaner than Pedro had been. He was unimpressed with my affection for his brother, and I suspect my hellos and best wishes were never conveyed. I had given up any hope that Pedro would someday come back into my life.

Until yesterday. A shorter, longer-haired Pedro came up the library stairs, out of uniform, chewing gum, singing a loud and rowdy song. His name is Chris, and he is a marvel. Along with his 6th grade class, Chris listening eagerly as I gave my orientation presentation. He was out of his chair, bouncing around behind it as I described the magazines and comic books we have to offer. He bounded around the library, glowing with the radiant intelligence and humor that I always saw in Pedro. I asked him to say hello to his big brother, but tried not to expect anything. Chris came back today. He said Pedro says hello in return and that he would love to visit me sometime. My heart was in my throat as I looked down at this replica, so happy to have been reminded of how Pedro changed my life.

Although he couldn’t possibly know it, working with Pedro is what made me a decent educator. From him I learned the possibilities and the heartbreaking limitations of my role in each student’s life. More than anyone or anything else, Pedro made me want this job. I haven’t allowed myself to think of him often in the recent past; it makes me worried and anxious to imagine that he might not be happy or safe or at peace. But now there’s Chris. Chris is happy, or at least he seems to be. This is a good sign, and it gives me hope.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Living Together in Perfect Harmony

The school year has officially begun, and I am grateful for the swarms of eager students and teachers who have inhabited the library this last week. If it wasn’t for them, I may have become the cranky, reclusive, hypersensitive shrew that surfaced here and there during our long and fruitless inventory. The children have worked as a tonic for me, reinvigorating my sense of purpose and inspiring me to, once again, crack a young adult novel and begin to read.

I find, however, that reading as many books as I can will no longer satisfy my current job requirements. In this second year of my life as a library media teacher, I am beginning to see why the word media is stuck there in the middle. Some of the projects I am currently developing are a library website, a murder mystery podcast, a school-wide wiki, a personal blog (duh), a library blog, and a library student worker wiki. I am actually going to give a workshop on using blogs and wikis in the classroom, which seems like a strange thing for anyone to expect me to do, except for the fact that I think I can actually do it.

When I was 23 and working in a used bookstore in Madison, I didn’t think I would ever even stoop to use a cell phone regularly. I imagined myself living a low-tech existence, because I believed (and strongly!) that books and technology do not mix. That was the foundation for my personal philosophy for almost a decade. If you love books, you couldn’t possibly care less about techno-babble. If you are a tech-dude, then you must not read much more than magazines or crap. I believed it. Not only that, I preached it.

I was a fool. I would like to take this opportunity to publicly (or to the 3 of you who read this) renounce my position as a tech-hating bookworm. It’s taken some time for me to get here, and I’m nowhere near finished, but I can now say that I am becoming friends with the wiki-wacky-web and all that it brings.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

A Little Something New

I just created a podcast for the first time. Take a listen.

Also, the library opened today for the school year! YAYAYAYAYAYAYAY! I was about to jump of a bridge to kill the sound of the silence. Good stories soon to come.


Wednesday, June 20, 2007

You Just Wouldn't Believe

Taking inventory of a collection of 34,000 items is both more and less than I bargained for. I did not expect, for example, that scanning 11,000 fiction titles would only take two panic-free days. I also didn't expect that the next section I would try to scan, Reference - a mere 1800 items, would require nearly the same amount of time. New spine labels for almost everything, some new bar codes, a lot of computer-wrangling to make it all work properly. This part of my job is both tedious and satisfying in the way that trigonometry was. Why the problem exists is a bit of a mystery, but solving it makes you feel like a genius.

Taking inventory required closing the library, which is a real inconvenience in the last weeks of school. Since I've been advertising it for a few months, most students and teachers have taken it pretty well now that it's happened. A few people here and there have called to beg for extensions, but I have been firm and loving in my denials of these requests. Today though, I witnessed a reaction to the closure that I really did not anticipate.

Around ten this morning I was finishing my skim-milk latte and sorting through the remainder of the overdue notices that needed to go out to teachers (still almost 700 items out). In walks a youngish teacher (young woman, has taught for 6+ years I think) that here I will refer to as Ms. Menace. Ms. Menace approaches my assistant at the circulation desk and asks if she can send groups of students to the library to work on a project. My trusty assistant explains that, no, we are closed to that sort of activity. Computers are being repaired, books counted, etc. She tells Ms. Menace to speak with me if she has further questions. I have not heard any of this and Ms. Menace bypasses the table where I am working, going to our teacher workroom to laminate. 15 minutes later she reappears, returns to the counter where my assistant is working and asks why she can't send students to the library. My beloved assistant explains, for a second time, the principles behind being closed and refers her to me. She declines, instead saying (and in the presence of my student workers to boot!) "Well I think that policy is stupid and I want you to tell Mizz Murphy I said so!" She then high-tails it out of there, literally running, laminated whatever tucked under her arm. That part I saw.

I ask these questions:
Why didn't Ms. Menace come speak with me? I was available. I am friendly.
Why did she not know we were to be closed?
Why did she run?

I believe I will never truly know the answer to that last question, but I have my theories about the others.
Another day, another panic attack, another after-school cocktail. So be it.

Monday, June 18, 2007

I am remiss

I am back at work with so much to say, but STILL have not found the time to write. Should I comment on the fact that all library materials were due last Friday so that we could start inventory today, but more than 1100 items are still wandering out in the universe? Or should I write about the girls who called me some very unfriendly names when I caught them cheating on a test and then proceeded to berate their teacher for believing me, a "liar lady", over them? Perhaps the lack of AC on the entire campus today would make a good post, or the fact that there were announcements every 30 minutes to tell teachers to open their windows or turn on fans (um, do our teachers really need to be told that?). In that story I would have to mention that a huge fan provided by the custodial staff for an entire hallway was somehow stolen along with its extension cord.

On the other hand, I could tell you about Yesenia, Darlyn, and Mayra, three 8th-grade girls who begged me to allow them to take books home over the weekend even though it was past the deadline to turn in all books. They each read two huge novels in two days. Or there are also the 9 kids who came in today to apply for a job in the library (not for pay, but as an elective) and spent nearly an hour perfecting their applications. Or the teacher who actually spent 10 minutes explaining to his students what inventory meant, and why it needed to be done, and how he had done it (on paper! Oh my God!) when he worked as a knife salesman long, long ago.

I can't decide. Vacation melted my mind.

Friday, May 18, 2007

A Thief Among Us

When you work in a school, it makes sense to emotionally prepare yourself for the fact that some of your possessions are going to be stolen. It would be foolish to think otherwise, which I learned in my 2nd or 3rd year of teaching when a boy named Bryant or Bryan or Byron stole my wallet out of my purse, which was in a cabinet, which was behind my desk, which was in the corner. How did he get there? Why wasn't I aware of his location at all times? First of all, I was new at this and easily distracted. Secondly, I popped my head into the class next door to ask what had just been announced on the loudspeaker, since my class was so lively (euphemism) that I couldn't hear a thing. Oops. Anyway, the whole class saw it; many of them tattled, but without hard evidence a school cannot accuse a sweet, innocent child of such a crime. So there went my wallet. Big whoop, really. I've had books stolen, which is semi-ok with me because it may mean that someone desperately wants to read. Other things disappear all the time. Markers, trinkets, various office supplies. Lots of the time it's probably not even stolen, but misplaced by this absent-minded educator who can't keep track of her keys. But I never expected what happened today. Today, a teacher robbed me.

Our principal is the defendant in a lawsuit (yes, school-related) that has gone to court. She has been away for two weeks. Things at school have been running very smoothly, I must say. Today was the last day of state testing, and to celebrate one of the assistant principals organized a potluck lunch for the entire faculty after the kids had gone home (early). The Multi Purpose Room buzzed with camaraderie and surprise at how such a simple occasion could make teachers feel appreciated and worthy of attention. Several long tables were lined with offerings like tamales, roast chicken, cupcakes, pozole, green salads, and my silly attempt at something light(ish) and crisp - a garbanzo and celery salad with cilantro and rice vinegar. It's to die for, I assure you, but it turns out that it's not exactly South LA haute cuisine. Nevertheless, almost everyone tried it, which pleased me.

After the feast ended, I returned to the MPR (after having run up to the library for some reason or another) to find my garbanzos and their twelve-dollar, brand new tupperware container with the red lid....gone. Yup. I checked with everyone who had anything to do with the organization of this event. The assistant principal, the custodian, the office manager. Baffled, all. It's not that I am emotionally or spiritually attached to my tupperware, but I was shocked that a teacher would walk off with something that silly, that small. We may not make a competitive wage, but we can afford plastic ware! Did this teacher think, "Ooh, this garbanzo salad is delicious. I'll eat it all weekend long and then bring the tupperware back and just leave it somewhere in the main office." Did this teacher think, "Well, if no one wants this, I might as well keep it from going to waste." Or, was it my current nemesis? Could he have deliberately made off with the chickpeas to hit me where it hurts, thinking, "Heh, heh, heh. So much for Mizz Murphy and her big, garbanzo-stuffed mouth!"

It is difficult to say what happened. A shocking way to end the week, a perfect way to begin the weekend; I will have stories to tell at dinner tomorrow with my friends. If I didn't have this job, would I have anything to say?

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Testing Schmesting

This week students all over Los Angeles are hunkering down for the state tests that have plagued us all for eons. Well, maybe not eons. And maybe not plagued. I, for one, loved taking these tests as a child. Knowing the right answer pleased me, and puzzling out the more difficult ones pleased me more. When I took standardized tests, I felt that I was proving something, showing what I was made of, bringing it all together at the end of the year.
I am afraid that this is not the case for the most of ths students I teach today. For many students in urban school districts, the tests are nearly punishment. "Do well or our school will get less money." "Try hard or next year you might not have art class!" These are the messages sent to sweet sixth, seventh, and eight grade souls who are struggling to keep their heads above water on a normal school day, let alone one packed with such cruel consequences.
As library media teacher I no longer have a class to test, so I was assigned to assist in a 6th-grade classroom. When I asked how many of the students had remembered to prepare for the test by eating breakfast, six kids raised their hands. Six children had eaten breakfast. This is no good. Something else that is not good is the fact that it was six out of thirty-seven! 37 students were crammed into a classroom to take a test that holds the school's fate in its hands. One was sitting at a table that was piled with textbooks, only a small clear space in front of him in which to spread out his testing materials. Another sat at a computer table, shoving the keyboard and mouse to the side to make room. No distractions there! The rest of the kids were sitting at group tables, facing each other. FACING EACH OTHER. Not good. Did I mention that the air-conditioning was not working? It was sweltering inside that room. 37 kids x 98.6 degrees + hooded sweatshirts to cover up ugly uniforms + no breakfast = disasterous results. I believe this is what is called a stacked deck.
This will go on all week. It is torture for all involved. Will the results tell us what these students have learned in a year? Will they tell us that the school has recently added art, drama, anthropology, digital imaging, and computer classes after a seven-year drought of no elective classes? Will they tell us that the assistant principal plays jazz and world music over speakers at lunchtime? Can the test possibly show that these students are begging to take home one of the library's praying mantises, or that they want to do well so badly they could cry?
As I left the testing room to wander back to my oasis, I saw a hand-drawn sign adorning a science class door that read "We Will Do Are Best On The Test." I nearly wept.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Mum's the Word

I took the bus to work yesterday. It took seven years of driving to work in LA for me to finally see the light. I have always heard the following lie: "There's no public transportation in LA". Hogwash! Poppycock! All one needs to enjoy the conscience-soothing, pocketbook-friendly joys of public transportation in LA is the will to get up a few minutes earlier and access to an online trip planner.
I did spend a loooong time planning my maiden voyage. Unsure of myself, I studied maps and timetables for two solid hours on the day before my trip. I do not know how a person who is willing to hop on a bus in a foreign city without having an understanding of where it might go or how to ask for assistance can be so afraid of a town where she could navigate blindfolded through the streets! But she was.
I ended up catching the 92 to downtown LA, where I hopped off at Spring and 7th. A woman with silver teeth sold tamales from a styrofoam cooler and I felt alive! I hopped onto the 51, which was to take me to the doors of the learning institution in which I work. Mysteriously, two blocks later the driver turned a corner and called out "End of the line!" Was he ill? Did I catch the wrong line? All of the passengers got off of the bus and, with unsurprised expressions on their faces, walked half a block to another bus stop and began to wait, quietly. I followed, of course. I may have remained forever in the dark if it wasn't for the appearance of Mr. Barton, a Santa Clause-esqe special education teacher at my school who happened to be riding the same bus. We had "caught the wrong 51" he explained. Apparantly some of them only go so far. I could have been annoyed, but recognized that I would have thought the event quaint if I had been in Rome, so I continued to enjoy my morning. A few minutes later the right 51 came along and Mr. Barton and I were on our way. He comes in from quite a distance, he explained, leaving home at 4:25 in the morning. An experienced traveller by my side made me feel confident and pleased with myself.
A few miles before we reached the school, a boy got on the bus and sat down across from me, next to Mr. Barton. I recognized this boy as a student from our school. He avoided my gaze, hunched over, and looked at his feet. This is a teenager, I reminded myself; perhaps he would not be pleased to receive an energetic greeting from the school librarian so early and so far from school. Did he know who I was? He must, or how would I know him? DId he know Mr. Barton? Is it rude to say nothing, or is it exactly the right thing to do? I couldn't decide, so I kept mum. I rode this bus all the way to school and said not a word to this boy. Afterwards, I regretted my choice. Teenagers are perpetually embarrassed as it is. One more little unpleasant moment would have amounted to nothing in a day's worth of teenage agony. I should have said hello, should have made that teacher-student connection that is so lacking in our schools, should have shown that I knew his face and cared who he was, should have wished him a good morning on this fine, bus-riding day. The greatest thing about riding the bus is, as I now know, that I will have this chance again. I feel better already. Bus-riding is very therapeutic.

Friday, April 27, 2007

I Smell Trouble

Somehow people know that The Onion is a joke. We know that Stephen Colbert is not really conservative. We know that Reno 911 is not actually a documentary about cops. But what if we didn't? If a person did not have the basic knowledge, for example, of some of the things that are really happening in the news, is it possible that person might read The Onion and believe it is news?

Yesterday I asked a group of sixth graders to evaluate three websites (I've added them to my links). They were given a checklist of criteria that a credible site would have. The kids spent about 15 minutes at each site and then explained to the class what made each site credible. This is a great activity to teach kid the parts of a website, but I wondered what would happen if the websites they evaluated were bogus. The scary thing is, they didn't notice.
I'm not kidding.

One of the sites describes an elusive tree octopus. The only objection to that information was that the kids thought teachers would be more likely to assign a report on "the regular kind of octopus." The next site reported on a study of cats' reactions to bearded men. The kids couldn't really see why they would need to know that cats are turned off by pictures of Abraham Lincoln, but they didn't question that it was true. Finally, a history of the Fisher-Price airplane. Even the name didn't give it away. The kids told me this was a great site, that they would be able to find information about the plane's engine, size, and speed - all things a teacher would surely require for a report.

When I told them the sites were bogus, most of the kids were surprised and uncomfortable. One claimed he knew it all along, but I think that was because he was embarrassed about being the one who had championed the airplane site. Did the kids not catch on because they don't have the background knowledge to know better? Perhaps they just don't know enough about octopi to rule out the possibility of a tree-dwelling version. Or is it that we aren't asking enough of these kids, intellectually? If stats about a plane's size and speed is all that's required for a report, where is the analysis? The critical thinking?

It worries me, this discovery of mine. I want to rush out and give this lesson to the entire student body before it's too late. Something has to be done!

My thanks to Kathy Schrock, a teacher who has made her lesson ideas and templates available to all teachers. These activities are really all her idea.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

A Regular Rollercoaster Ride

Ah, this job. How I love it. How many jobs can boast that one day at work can bring uplifting, joyous encounters with some children...and also infuriating, bitter, ugly moments with others?
First I will tell you of the sweetness. Pictured here are soap sculptures that were made by a human civilizations class studying Inuit culture. It's hard to tell from the picture, but these works of art were made with subtlety and a simple beauty that I have never seen in student work. Seals, whales, fisherman, polar bears, owls and kayaks are among the more popular subjects. Anyway, yesterday a 6th grade boy was visiting the library in the afternoon. He is chubby-cheeked, has braids sticking out of the top of his head, and has a slightly girlish face. I love this guy. On his way out, he stopped at the display case that contains the soap sculptures and said, "I can name all these sculptures!"
I thought, Cool, this kid knows a think or two about Inuits, or Alaska, or animals, or something.
He points at a sculpture and says, "That's Zest." He continues, "That's Irish Spring, that's Dove, that's Zest again, and Dial..." On and on he goes, naming all of the soaps in the case. I thought I was going to pee my pants. At the same time, I wanted to hug him. He was showing me what he knew. He was serious and proud that he could name them all. It was great.
Later, an 8th grade class came in to use the computers. One student kept asking if she could leave. "Why?"
"Cause I don't want to be here, that's why!"
I wasn't sure what to think of that. What the heck did she mean? It was confusing that a students would so casually ask to be dismissed from class, from school, because she didn't want to be there. Then I thought, Who am I to force her to be here anyway? I am often uncomfortable with that part of my job. On her way out at the end of class (when she was supposed to leave) she said, "Racist white bitch."
Warm soap fuzzy negated. Back to neutral. Darn.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Soooooo Not a Scientist

Today part of my library became a laboratory (a LIBoratory, if you will). About a month ago, my assistant brought in a praying mantis egg/cocoon/pod that she bought on ebay. We put the brown, papery blob in an aquarium lined with dirt. We also threw in a plant that I had purchased at the 99 cent store and was infested with something grody. Food for a mantis, we thought. After a while, we forgot about the aquarium (apart from the occasional, "I think they're dead" comment from me).

This morning, I heard a cry from across the room.
"They've hatched Mizz Murphy! They've hatched!"

I thought, "Crap! What's hatched? Do we have bugs in here?" I attribute this reaction in part to the fact that the boy's voice was high-pitched and frantic.

When I walked over to the aquarium, swarms of mosquito-sized praying mantises (manti?) covered every inch of the glass, the plant, the dirt. It was really exciting. And then, it was scary. What the hell was I going to do with all of these? My assistant, the mantis expert, was home with her feverish baby. Luckily her son was among the squealing onlookers.

"Call your mom! She'll be so excited." Well, she would be excited, but mostly I hoped she could come help me deal with the onslaught of creepy crawlies.
True blue as always, she showed up an hour later with a million small plastic containers and lids. We separated most of the babes into their own containers to save them from cannibalism. We put multiple subjects (as the tech coordinator called them) into some containers to see if they would eat each other. Some stayed in the tank because of our cross-eyed fatigue after several hours of bug corralling (and also we ran out of containers).

Anyway, the point is that THE KIDS WENT CRAZY. Kids have been reading about bugs, finding websites about bugs, talking about bugs, and inspecting bugs all day. Some of them even read the encyclopedia. Voluntarily. That is serious business.
I don't really know what will come of this. Will they live or die (the mantids, not the kids)? What will I feed them? Where will this lead? Whatever happens, it was a great day for teaching. Their faces and little motor-mouths, impossible questions and false expertise (this time I'm talking about the kids) made my day something entirely different than what I expected at 5:40 this morning. This is definitely why I keep coming back.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Total Disconnect

Lately it has been a challenge to see how cutting-edge library practice applies to this middle-school library. I am currently learning about blogs, aggregators, podcasts, metadata, making imovies, holding video conferences, etc. These are some of the topics that come up regularly in professional publications for those of use in the library sciences, which makes a lot of sense.....unless there is little chance in hell that you will get to actually use any of this technology in the workplace.
A week or so ago, I teamed up with a 6th-grade math and science teacher to take a stab at a loosely constructed library skills class. The class is 40 minutes a day for 4 weeks. We decided that we wanted to see what would happen if 25 kids had a chance to learn certain information retrieval skills outside of the hustle and bustle of a standard class. We planned to spend a week on reference materials, a week on using the library catalog, a week on the district's digital library (databases), and a week on using websites for research. We started with websites, knowing the kids were itching to get to the computers the minute they walked through the door.
As adults, we often assume that the 'kids these days' were born with a mouse in hand, a flash drive around their necks, and Das Interweb running through their veins. We think we will be sooooo far behind these kids once they hit the workforce. Not so. Here are some of the things that these 6th-grade sweethearts neither knew nor understood:
  • the Internet is not an application
  • where to type a URL
  • what a URL is
  • not to use spaces when typing a URL
  • how to click on ANYTHING
  • how to move between websites
  • how to find the name of a website
  • why a website will not appear if its address has been spelled incorrectly

The list goes on and on and on. I was met with blank faces when I used words like homepage and browser. The kids were given a pretty standard website evaluation sheet which asked questions like "are there photos on this website?", "does the page take a long time to load?", and "does this site link you to other useful websites?". Nothin'. And I mean nothin'. Pinball they know. How to find video game cheat codes, also yes.

The funny thing is, many of these kids have computers at home. I am beginning to suspect that having a computer at home means very little if no one knows how it works. So don't worry too much, fellow adults. I think your jobs are safe, for a little while at least. My 6-month old niece might steal them from you someday, but I don't think you'll get much trouble from my 6th-graders.

Friday, April 6, 2007

We Like Our Tape Fire-Engine Red

Working in a large school district has its ups and its way, way downs. The worst part for me is my slug status in the grand scheme of things. In some ways, the district's apprehension about the conduct of teachers is a necessary evil. There are nearly 80,000 of us, and the odds that all of those tens of thousands of teachers are upstanding, hard-working, dedicated masochists is pretty low. There are indeed teachers who ignore their students in favor of email, grad school work, or just plain old online shopping. Others call in sick and leave no lesson plans. Some say horrible things to their students, things that would make you wince. However, most teachers I have known are lovely people. They have a strong work ethic (you would have to in order to wake up at the crack of dawn, take abuse from kids and adults alike, get paid less than all your friends and keep coming back), show up on time, think about how to improve their practice well after the school day is over, and pursue advanced academic and vocational degrees.

This is all theoretical ranting, you might say, but I have a concrete example of one small way the Almighty lets us know that we are not worthy. Occasionally schools will have what's called a minimum day, which in normal human language might be called a half day. These often happen on the day after teachers and students have been at school in the evening for parent conferences or an open house. One might think that such a half day makes a good reward for the hard work and inconvenience of the night before. One might even think that the teachers would be encouraged to take a couple extra hours (seriously, it's less than 3) for family, rest, and warm fuzzies about a job well done. Not so, dear readers.

Today is Friday. Good Friday to be exact. Today our students will go home at 12:40 to begin a holiday weekend (although I am not religious, I still appreciate a good chocolate-based holiday). We teachers will stay until 3:24 on the dot, under the watchful eye of our warders. Most of us won't do much work, to tell the truth. We will linger by the bitter, burnt coffee that is beginning to stick to the bottom of the carafe. We will check our email and read the LA Times. We will eat leftover half-doughnuts (these were the thanks given to the teachers for staying late last night), maybe make some copies for Monday, and probably spend a not insignificant amount of time thinking of how best to sneak out without being detected. Why do we stay, you ask? Why such inefficiency? This must be the reason our schools are in such bad shape, you say.

We stay, of course, because they make us stay. Our contract says that we are not allowed to leave. We are paid, after all, for the whole day. The whole 6.6 hour day. Wait a minute! 6.6 hours! That can't be right. School starts at 7:30. School ends at 3:24. That's (wait for it, wait for it) almost 7 hours and 54 minutes! Oh right, we don't get paid for our whopping 30 minute lunch, or the 20 minute morning break Californians call "Nutrition" in spite of the nachos that are served in the cafeteria. That's still more than 7 hours of work. Lucky for the district, our contract is so long and complicated that no one really understands how nearly 8 hours turns into 6.6. We also fail to get paid for time we spend at school before or after the official school day, time we spend grading and planning on the weekends and in the evenings, or time we spend agonizing over the daunting task that is our chosen profession. So, on a day like today, I can't help but feel that this forced teacher-detention is especially cruel. It is insulting. It is plain ol' rude.

For me, the light at the end of this tunnel is that, in its own twisted way, this vicious oppression actually helps to build relationships among teachers. During the two hours and some odd minutes that we are trapped, faces pressed to the bars of the enormous professional fence that surrounds us, we will talk to each other. We will actually stop and talk about our students, the subjects we teach, and the techniques we have recently used in class. We won't have to run full-tilt towards our classrooms at the bell, cutting off the conversation just as it's getting good. We will sit down with teachers who are new to the school, or those who a ready to retire, and we will be teachers together. We will bond over this foul treatment of our kind, and we may come out stronger for it. So HA! school district. IN YOUR FACE!

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Foiled Again!

The following is a summary of a conversation that I had today with two of my library volunteers (cousins, 8th grade, smart). They are the shyest young things I have ever met. Today the afternoon was slow and they had little to do in the way of library business. I found them sitting side by side, one swiveling on an office chair and the other on a library stool, facing the same direction and staring into space, eyes glazed, blank looks, totally quiet.

“They’re bored! So bored, with nothing in the world to do,” I exclaimed in an exaggerated teacher- voice that lets kids know I’m joking around.

Giggles from them, then silence.

“Are you telling me that you actually cannot think of a single thing to occupy your time? No websites to visit? No books to page through?”

Smirks and shrugs.

“Ok. Let’s see. What do you like to do? What do you want to be when you grow up?” By the way, I hate the wording of that question, but find it often spills out of my mouth without my permission; it sounds so superior. More smirks and shrugs. They make eye contact with each other, but nothing develops from this.

“Do you think about what your lives might be like in the future?”

Giggles, then, “noooo?”

Then, out of nowhere, one of them nudges the other and says, “A vet.” Hallelujah! This was just about to get really painful for me.

“Great!” I am overly enthusiastic about this answer. It is a common aspiration at this age and therefore pretty unoriginal, but I am so happy to have learned that their vocal cords are still functioning that I don’t care. “Do you have pets?” I learn that she has three dogs, used to have more, and one of them recently had puppies.

“What about you?” I look at Shy Girl B and wait on the edge of my seat.

Shrug. Smile. Giggle. Shrug. Smile. “Pharmacy Technician.”

Um. “Wow, really? Is someone in your family a pharmacy technician?” No offense to pharmacy technicians, but I cannot figure out where this girl got the idea unless she knows someone in the profession. It’s pretty specific.

“No, I just think it sounds interesting.” Don’t we all.

So, joyous in my success, I bound out onto the library floor and pull books about careers for people who love animals, communicating with animals, rescue dogs, guide dogs, Chihuahuas (Shy Girl A’s preferred breed), history of medicine, alternative medicine, chemistry, and experiments with mixtures and compounds. They accept my offerings and politely flip through the books for a minute or two. I have great hope that I have changed the course of their lives with this one conversation until I am thwarted by a teacher just returned from a field trip. He brings us leftover pizza, and after having plopped pepperoni on one of the dog books, the girls retreat (bookless) to the library workroom to eat theirs. I haven’t seen them since. Damn that teacher, damn field trips, and damn cold meat-lover’s pizza on a sagging paper plate.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Waels Mating, Rinos Popular

Some of the computer tables in my library are round, meaning I cannot see the many of the monitors from the front counter. This is a problem at the busiest times of day. What I believe this arrangement says to the kids is "She's not looking! Search for porn!"
Below is a list of searches that were recently performed using MSN's image search. Original spellings have been used in most cases, although the history shows that in a few cases the student made several attempts before the computer's auto-correct was able to interpret what s/he was trying to say. I should also mention that applause for the district's blocking capabilities should be firmly held. I leave it to you to pick apart this child's thought process as s/he conducted the search.
girdles [i believe this was meant to be girls, but maybe not]
pupies mating
dogs mating
rinos mating
lions mating
horses ass
jake ass
zeabra ass
donkey ass
gay people mating
mating people
kangaroos mating
waels mating
anemals gone wield
naket anemals
rhinos mating
horney anemals
horse shet
horses gone wield
zeabras gone wild

Friday, March 30, 2007

Thievery Update

The crime is more vast that could have imagined. For those of you who read my post "The Fine Art of Thievery", I have an important update. I also have some words that I must reluctantly eat.
Today I found out the THE LITTLE RASCAL HAS GOTTEN AWAY WITH IT BEFORE! I am struck dumb. I thought I was soooooo clever, writing about how good I am at busting young criminal masterminds. Well, I have been challenged. I now know that my skills need some honing.
The perp's sister came into the library this morning, to return some books that her brother had "checked out" (yeah, right). She knew what happened yesterday, and when she got home from school and saw him reading library books, she decided to do a good deed (knowing he was banned for the moment) and return them for him. OR, the two siblings thought it would be a good laugh to flaunt their skills and prove me inferior. Either way, the sister unzipped her backpack and produced.....two more pro-wrestling books from the same series. I kid you not. My face fell. At that moment I knew that I had been duped.
I told the sister that these were similar to the book her brother had been trying to smuggle the day before. She looked appopriately shocked. I looked up the computer's record of their checkout history, and guess what I found? That's right. He had never checked them out.

Well, security system be damned. This kid was better than I thought. My only consolation is that this recidivist is now on my radar.

Hear Them Roar

For Women's History Month (March), I invited our 8th grade girls to partcipate in an essay contest. The Woman In Me was the title of the contest, and the girls were asked to write about women they admire and the kind of woman each hopes to be. The results were both disheartening and touching. First, the disheartening part. How far could we possibly have come if the 8th grade girls of 2007, in Los Angeles no less, write things like this?

"I see the role of women as second class in our world. The reason I say that is because women are still being beat this day and age by their husbands and boyfriends. Also women are still being controlled by their husbands or boyfriend which means they tell them when they can leave, talk on the phone, have friends or not all of these things. Some women have no role and it's sad because their man just walks all over them like a candy [w]rapper."

Spelling and grammatical errors aside, this provides a pretty clear picture of what this girl sees at home. Other essays included these phrases:
  • women must "not care about people telling you ugly, dumb, and letting them make you lose confidence in yourself, and making you fell like your not worth a thing"

  • "we help do most of the house cleaning, since most men can't even handle a broom. We women have to cook, even though some men DO know how to cook but are just to lazy to do work"

  • and a very hopeful: "Boys rule the house. Women can rule something bigger like the world!"
What does this say about how our young women are being taught about womanhood? The men in these scenarios seem like pretty big dopes if you ask me, but they are somehow maintaining control over the women in their lives. I worry about these girls in South LA. They're thirteen, yet they wax off their eyebrows and pencil them on. They have lip rings and tongue rings. Their bodies have developed well beyond their years, possibly due to poor nutrition. They know that they have to fight for their place in the world, but they are ill-equipped to do so. At thirteen, the battle against the boys is still fun. It's flirtatious. It gets them attention.
When will it turn on them, I wonder? When does note-passing and hand-holding turn into obeying orders and answering to the man (literally)? How will these girls learn to overcome the suffocating gender roles that serve as their models?
The good news is, they've been paying attention. Somewhere, somehow, the idea that women know how to struggle and beat the odds has wiggled its way into their adolescent brains. One girl wrote about Tyra Banks, saying that she is "a great speaker, creeative, humble, and furthermore outgoing." Another girl writes that "A fierce personality will take a person a long way if she really wants to make it in life." Another says that "women are as important as men are", which is both hopeful and infuriating, making me want to scream, "OF COURSE THEY ARE!"

My favorite passage, however, is so lovely, so thoughtful, so sincere, that it leaves a big lump in my throat. It goes a little something like this:
"I want to be a mother who takes pride in herself and her children. I want to be a wife who takes good care of her husband. I want to be a loving sister who looks after her siblings. I want to be a niece who treats her aunts with all the respect in the world. I want to someday be a grandmother who can teach her grandchildren how to be brave and live life to the fullest."
She goes on to say, later in her essay, "I want to be the woman who steps up and speaks out for woman across the nation. I see the role of a woman being important and leaving a mark in history. I live to see women make it with or without the help of a man. In the end, I want to be me, [insert name here], a self-respected woman of her word."

Can't you just picture this girl standing behind a podium someday, telling it like it is? This girl makes me excited to be a teacher. They all do, really. All of the girls who turned in essays had something they needed to say. Whether their thoughts struck me as uplifting or tragic doesn't really matter in the end. They thought about womanhood long enought to write 500 words about it. They considered the women in their lives, noticing the bad and the good. I so want good things for these girls.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Fine Art of Thievery

My library has a theft-protection system that works very well thanks to one basic assumption that the kids make that is entirely wrong. Most of our students believe that the book's bar code is what will set of the alarm. If the book is not scanned, the alarm will go off. It's actually a pretty good guess. But wrong.

Kids make attempts to steal books about twice a month. These are usually comic books or graphic novels, books about cars, pro-wrestling, or sex. Boys are usually the thieves, for whatever reason. Maybe the girls just don't get caught.

Today, a 6th-grade boy came in to return the book Hoot by Carl Hiaasen. He then browsed for ten minutes or so, setting off the alarm when he tried to leave. When I called him back in (they always come back; they never run), he emptied the contents of the large portion of his backpack onto the counter. No book in there.

"Hm. That's odd." I said, curiously. "May I look in this smaller pocket, just to be sure that there's nothing else that might set off the alarm?"

"That's my friend's book. He in my class," says the boy, a wild look of terror in his eyes. I haven't even opened the pocket yet, but I already know that there's something good in there for me.

"Ok." Unzip.

"That's my friends. He in my class."

"What's his name?" I am always willing to listen.

"Ummm." He's gazing at the ceiling, really trying to come up with this name. "He sits next to Arturo."

Oh! Right. The kid who sits next to Arturo in Ms. _______'s class this period. Of course. I know him well.

Needless to say, the book hadn't been checked out to anyone. The bar code hadn't been scanned, and the security device hadn't been deactivated. This was a case of attempted book theft. The young boy, who had fooled himself into thinking his plan would work. became belligerant. He changed his story several times, finally telling me quite severely"You'd better be quiet!" before storming out of the library, foul words on his tongue.

But as all hapless thieves are wont to do, the boy messed up again. He left his school ID on the counter. Ha!

I take great pleasure in busting the wayward student. The library is a place where student crime thrives. Theft, vandalism, ditching class, bullying, inappropriate Internet frolicking, littering, harrassment, extortion, gum-chewing and candy-eating, note passing, cussing, teacher-bashing, ... I see it all. Except for violence, I see every manifestation of school rule-breaking there is. And I love to expose it. I do. I love to realize that I am witnessing a crime in progress, observe carefully to confirm my suspicion, approach the perp with nonchalance, phrase my first question in a non-threatening manner, get a partial confession or piece of evidence due to luck or investigative skill, and then bring it all home. Get the ID, get the name, call the teacher, explain the situation, and see the student realize that the library is not a free zone. The library is a classroom where each offense counts.

I don't spend my day looking for students who are misbehaving; I'm too busy for that. They just appear before my eyes. They ditch class in the library, but sign in using their real names. They attract a throng of observers around the computer screen, only to close the application as soon as I walk up. If that isn't an invitation to check the Internet history, what is? They leave spilled, sugary candy all over the couch....and leave their textbooks right next to it.

I love my students, and this is one of the things I love most about them. Some of them are always calculating the odds of getting away with something, which means that their little minds are churning away in there. I love that. I love to point out to them where they went wrong, and most of all, I love the way their faces look as they consider how they will revise their plans for the next time.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

A Sense of History

Sometimes I like to look at the history of Internet use on the library computers. Today, my favorite search (keep in mind we're talking middle school here) was for "sexy puerto rican girls". Honestly, I would like to applaud this student's spelling exercises. I usually see things like "pusy" or "prono".

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


This phone message, written in all earnestness, was left for me by the 6th-grade son of my library assistant.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

What I've learned from creating this blog.

This is a simplified view of what it takes to create a blog. My boyfriend, Jason, is very clear about his belief that blogging is not something you DO, but a blog is a medium and should be treated as such. I am brand, spanking new to all of this, so my opinion remains to be formed. This flowchart reflects how I might use a blog, for my daily musings rather than for a greater purpose. As many people seem to do, I intend to use this blog much like I would a journal.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Photographs of Photographs

These photographs were taken in the lower 9th ward in New Orleans, about 7 months after Hurricane Katrina. My family visits NOLA often. We were not touring the 9th ward as part of a "devastation tour", but on our own as part of my parents' ongoing efforts to absorb and participate in the changes that have overtaken this magnificent city. I took a lot of pictures that day, of Lakeview, New Orleans East, Gentilly, the 9th ward, Mid-City, and the surprisingly large Vietnemese community on the east side of town. These pictures, however, seemed the most beautiful and sad when I looked them over later. The photo albums were laid open on the green, lush lawns, undoubtedly having drifted out of one of the open doorways or windows of the many homes in the neighborhood on a wave of flood-water. These singing, smiling, dancing people may have lived blocks and blocks away, for all I know. The waters could have carried the album a great distance, as it did with countless other heirlooms and appliances.

I wanted to rescue these pictures, to find the dancing people and return to them this archive of church gatherings and family reunions. Instead, I took these photographs of photographs. I showed them to my 7th-grade students in Los Angeles, along with other pictures of New Orleans both before and after the flood. It seems strange that now I have these photographs, even if they are just photographs of the originals, instead of the people who posed for and originally took them. It doesn't seem like they should be mine, which may be the reason I want to post them here. To share them opens up the possibility that I can somehow return them to their owners, however improbable that may seem.

Marshall McLuhan, that sly old fox.

Thinking about Marshall McLuhan's statement, "The effects of technology do not occur at the level of opinions or concepts, but alter sense ratios or patterns of perceptions steadily and without any resistance" (page 18, Understanding Media), I'd like to share a little anecdote from my information life.

A few months ago, I was in New Orleans with my boyfriend for a 2-week vacation. We were staying in an apartment without an Internet connection, which to him is about as awful as being without plumbing or food. He brought his laptop, and every day we/he would go to a nearby coffee shop with wifi and "google doodle" for about an hour. Cravings satisfied, we were then free to take walks, read books, listen to music, and vacation peacefully.

One day we decided to go to the Pharmacy Museum, which we had passed on a walk the day before. It was rainy, so we wanted to call to find out the hours before stepping outside, but EMERGENCY! HOW WILL WE FIND THE PHONE NUMBER? My boyfriend was distraught. Would he have to go out into the rain with his laptop and find a wifi coffeeshop to get this number? As he tromped around the apartment preparing to do just that, I looked at him with calm surprise. I got up, walked over to a cabinet, opened it, pulled out a phone book, and handed it to him. He was stunned. Not only had it not occurred to him to use a phone book, HE WAS UNABLE TO USE IT! He could not locate the phone number and did not know the difference between the white and yellow pages. Needless to say, I had a lot of fun at his expense for days afterwards.

Today, I am ashamed to say, I did nearly the same thing while at my sister's house. I recently moved into her guest house and we are now having trouble with phone and Internet lines. Sitting in her living room, I tried to look up the customer service line for AT&T (using the Internet) so that I could use my cell phone to call in the problem. Since we are having Internet connection trouble, the page wouldn't load and I became frustrated. She then walked into her dining room, opened a cabinet, pulled out a phone book, and handed it to me. The number was in the front and I had not thought of this solution. I haven't told my boyfriend about this yet.

So, later today, as I was reading McLuhan, I began to think about his assertion that we are changed by this media whether we like it or not, regardless of the content. It is not what I read on the Internet that determines whether or not I am forever changed by it. It is the existence of the Internet that changes society (and therefore me). McLuhan says that "our conventional response to all media, namely that it is how they are used that counts, is the numb stance of the technological idiot" (p.18). I AM THAT IDIOT, if McLuhan is to be believed. Dang!

I suppose my point is that I have been either unaware or unwilling to admit how much I have come to depend on certain technologies, prefering instead to tease my boyfriend about his information choices and (what I saw as) dependencies. If the effects of technology do occur without resistance, then perhaps I should stop resisting so much?