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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Sub 21

I finally hit 21 without going over. I guess I win.

Today I was a "Behavioral Disorder" teacher. They normally have two to five kids in a classroom with almost as many paras. Today a couple were absent. I read a book off of the teacher's shelf most of the day, though I did spend some time with a boy working on his reading. We were working on Paul Bunyan, and Sam was answering some questions from the reading. I found out some surprising things:

1. Paul Bunyan's deeds included squishing people.
2. Lumberjacks cut down trees and try to avoid being squished.
3. Babe, the giant blue ox, was particularly good at squishing people.
4. Without trees, we would die from lack of oxygen and Paul Bunyan cut down trees, therefore Paul Bunyan was bad.

This last one in particular seemed like a very modern take on a traditional story. However, while all tall tales have their own particular embellishments, I can't recall ever reading a version of Paul Bunyan in which people got squished. I think it's time for a new version.

The book I read was book 10 of Lemony Snickett's "A Series of Unfortunate Events," The Slippery Slope. It was amusing, to be sure, but I'm not sure if I could sit through all ten of them, even if they do go quickly. I am sure that I'm not willing to pay for all ten. I do enjoy his style though, and have a quote to offer:

"Fate is like a strange, unpopular restaurant, filled with odd waiters who bring you things you never asked for and don't always like."

If a book chock full of sentences like this (click on "Search Inside" and read some bits) and plotlines to match appeals to you, you should pick one up. If, like me, you grew up reading stories of precocious children saving the day and having happy endings, you might enjoy this for a change. It has no happy endings. Briefly hopeful middles, but the horrible things keep coming. Fun stuff.

Anyway, the subbing was very low key. I guess I don't mind having a day like that from time to time, especially the Monday after a holiday. But I really prefer doing some teaching. It was a good opportunity to watch teachers deal with problem kids. Ultimately it's all about offering them a clear choice with consequences and rewards, also clearly laid out. Of course, they have to be followed up honestly and fairly. It seemed to me that if these kids had been getting the same thing at home, they wouldn't necessarily be in a behavioral disorder classroom.

Shock of the day: A fourth grade boy telling me with glee about a movie he had seen in which one guy cut off another guy's hand, and the blood went all over and it was cool.

Well, I need to get to bed. It is likely that I will get called at six a.m. tomorrow to sub some more. After no subbing last week, I really need to get more in.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Team Elanor

Last year I didn't get anything posted about this, though we did make a donation. It was in the middle of our moving back to the states and settling in, and I just didn't make time for it until it was too late. And so this year, I'm just posting the email that I received from Jon and Clarissa (almost a month ago!). I do hope that you will stop by their site to make a donation. Unfortunately, as I write this the CFF site is not working properly, so I can't tell whether or not the links are correct. Please let me know if they continue to not work.


Spring is in the air, and with it inevitably come thoughts of ... fundraising? Also, of five-mile walks along the Rio Grande, pizza, music, and fun!

Great Strides will begin at ~8:00 AM on May 17 this year, at Kit Carson Park. For anyone who would like to join us, you can go to to sign up, or if you have signed up in the past, login at to reactivate yourself. Please feel free to invite anyone else who you think might like to join us.

New this year, CustomerCentrix has donated a website redirect from that can be used on posters and flyers. I plan on picking up some posters this week; please let me know if you want me to grab some for you. (Donations that come in through can't be credited to a particular walker and will be shared by the team.)

We have a lot to celebrate this year! Elanor has gone almost two years without a confirmed pneumonia. I am settled into a part-time job at U.N.M. Jon (this is the big one) is expected to complete work on his Ph.D. by the end of the semester with his degree conferred at the end of the summer. In fact, Jon may not be walking with us because he has his convocation that afternoon! We hope that you will join us in our annual show of support for the organization that makes it all possible.


Christmas With the VanHoose Family

Well, I said that I would post these photos on my Roblog, so here they are. Only three months late. Not too shabby.

A few days after Christmas, Jon VanHoose and his family (wife Clarissa and daughter Elanor) were in Leavenworth visiting Jon's parents, and we went to visit them. As you can see, we spent some time watching a video.
It's one of those intellectual things for kids:
As you can see, they're learning all kinds of stuff there. The video is "Here Come the ABC's" by They Might Be Giants. This is still one of Maxine's favorite videos, and has been for six months or so. Luckily for me, it does not drive me right up the wall, like a certain giant purple dinosaur who shall remain nameless.
Elanor was a bit more interested in the book she had given Maxine for a Christmas present. If you haven't read "Good Night, Gorilla," it's a fun little book.

Jon's sister, her husband and their baby were also there. (Sorry! No pictures of Jenny or her husband!) Elanor seems to really like her cousin.
I mean when she's not stepping on his head.

We had a fun afternoon, and wished that it could have been longer. Hopefully we will see the VanHoose family again during their next visit, whenever that might be.

For those of you who don't know, Elanor has Cystic Fibrosis. It's a genetic disease that causes the body to form mucus that is thicker than it should be. This causes digestion problems, as well as making the body more susceptible to infections, especially the lungs. The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation is a charity dedicated to advancing treatments that will help those with the disease to lead a more normal life. They have made significant advances, and will continue to do so with the support of people like you and me.

Clarissa keeps a fantastic blog named after their daughter, Elanor Mira. Jon is an occasional contributor as well. It is, of course, very much centered on Elanor, unlike my scatter-shot, what's-the-next-shiny-object approach to Roblog. It will definitely give you a sense of how Elanor's life is different from that of most three-year-olds, but it will only give you the barest hint of how charming Elanor is live and in person. It may also educate you as to how health care works for one American family in this day and age. I've been reading the blog and emailing with Jon quite a bit since she was born, but this Christmas was the first time to actually meet her, and it was certainly a pleasure.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Customer Experience

So I was organizing watches the other day at the Wal-Mart Jewelry Counter. It takes a fair amount of focus, to keep from losing one's place, keeping multiple numbers in one's head while searching for little boxes with UPCs that match those numbers, and just trying to remember and match a lot of little pictures of watches that don't necessarily have the same UPCs as the ones in the drawers. Since these are small, expensive items, it's not a good idea to start a project like this and just walk away from it. I had noticed the customer standing 20 feet away looking at some jewelry, but she was wandering from case to case, and didn't look in my direction at all. So I kept working on my watches, looking up at her from time to time until the phone rang. I got up and went over close to her and answered it. Still no eye contact, so I didn't say anything.

I don't know who was on the phone, but it had the feel of management. "Are you busy?"

"It depends." I replied. "What do you need?"

"The woman standing behind you says you've been ignoring her."

"Oh. Thanks." I hung up and turned to help her. "I'm sorry, I didn't realize you needed help," I offered.

"I've only been standing here for ten minutes," she said. I honestly couldn't have told you whether that was true or not, only that it was irrelevant. It seems to me that if a salesperson who is working on something doesn't seem to notice you after 10 minutes, perhaps you should try talking to them, rather than going right for management.

"I noticed you, but you looked pretty intent, and some customers don't like to be bothered while they're looking. Anyway, what can I do for you?" From that point, it chilled out into a more normal customer encounter. She picked out a couple of things which I took up to one of the registers for her. In the end she came around to my irresistible charm (of course), and seemed to be pretty much over the bad beginning. I apologized one more time for not coming over sooner. I didn't suggest that perhaps next time she might try asking for help. Why bother? She had already been proven wrong once in judging me as someone who would deliberately ignore her, but she didn't have to admit it in so many words. If I had suggested different behavior next time, she might have taken it as another insult, and left annoyed. This way she left happy, and all I had to do was be nice when I didn't feel like it.

There. That's my customer story. Take a moment or two to digest it. Decide who you think was right and who was wrong, if such a judgment can be made. I've told you my motivations, so what were hers? Bear in mind that as both reporter and participant, I am unable to completely put my own biases behind me. I have tried to present this as factually as possible, but let's face it: Each of us is the hero in the story we tell ourselves that is our life. Think about it, and two paragraphs from now I will add one bit of data that may put a bit of a different spin on it.

So take a moment.

There. Did you do it? Doesn't matter. I can't hear your answer, no matter how loud you yell it, so stop annoying the other people in the room. I ask because I'm about to throw out that little piece of information that I referred to earlier. Namely this: the customer had darker skin than mine.  

[This is where my original post left off.  I believe I was aiming for something like this to finish:

Does it change the story?  Does it make me seem like more of a jerk?  Am I more of a jerk?  Was she just unloading some of her baggage on me?  I'm not sure.  I feel like the moral of the story is "Be more sensitive to some people than others," if not, "Don't be such a jerk."]

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Subs 16-20

As I said in my previous post, it's becoming difficult to keep track, so here goes:

20 Elementary vocal music: The system called me three times before I accepted. I kept holding out for something in the afternoon, or something not in elementary school, or something that would just let me sleep the rest of the morning away. I called the school to let them know I was coming as soon as I got cleaned up a bit, then washed my face, had a quick bowl of cereal, and left. I had missed the first two classes, and the third was starting soon. Word search. Video. The end. No problem.

And that was it. Lunch time. I ate lunch in the cafeteria with some kindergarteners. And let me tell you, if you want to experience a modified reality in which many of the rules as you know them are thrown out the window, all you need is a little time with a table full of kindergarteners. It started when they noticed my blue shirt and called me a blue dinosaur, perhaps linking me to Barney. I invited myself to sit with them (no children sat at the table where I sat! how sad!) and did my best to participate in a conversation that covered plans for the day, siblings, friends, friends being called siblings, denial of being a sibling of a friend, and what the heck was I doing there.

Then I went home and made some lunch. I almost feel bad about getting paid for a half day when I spent two and a half hours at the school and only did an hour and a half of work, but it makes up for the times I have I have spent five hours and did seven or eight hours worth of work.

19 High School English: This was another example of how a well-conducted class can run smoothly, even with a sub. There was only one problem, which made for an interesting story:

The teacher left plans for the students to work by themselves at their desks. In the second period one girl on the far side of the room from me kept facing back towards the guy sitting behind her. They weren't making noise, or talking loud enough for me to hear them, but sometimes that kind of thing can be the crack in the dam that leads to a flood, so I went over and asked them to do their own work. He said nothing. She said something like, "You don't need to worry about it." Had she not turned back around to her own desk at that point, I might have considered moving her to another desk, because it was bordering on insolent.

A short time later, she was turned back to him again. I went over and asked her to please move to another desk further away. She packed up her stuff and walked past the desk I had suggested, and out the door. I quickly went out into the hall and asked where she was going. No reply. What could I do?

I sat down at the teacher's desk and tried to call the office. The damn phone proved too difficult to use. In many schools dialing zero gets you the office. Not this one. Once I got someone to reply on the speakerphone, but she couldn't hear my voice. Frustrating. I'm not sure if a couple of students in the class were laughing at me or at something else, but I was starting to get a bit annoyed, so I stopped messing with it. During the next break between periods I managed to get it to work. I left a message on the vice-principal's voice-mail, then figured it was out of my hands. After all, I couldn't just chase this girl down the hall leaving a classroom full of students who were barely focusing on their work.

Then during the next period I got a huge surprise. The girl showed up at my door and asked to talk to me out in the hall. My students were working quietly, so I went. She apologized to me, and told me that they guy behind her was her boyfriend, and they were breaking up! Right there in my class! After she had left my class, she went to another teacher, a sort of mentor for her I guess. So she hadn't just been wandering around.

I thanked her for coming back to apologize, and reminded her that from my point of view what she did was very rude. I suppose the lesson for me is that not every student who is rude to a teacher is doing it just to be pig-headed. Some of them are doing it because they are caught up in the emotional storms that they have stirred up in their own worlds. It doesn't make the behavior any more appropriate, but it does make it understandable.

18 Jr. High Business and Computers: The first and last class of the day watched the same video about the stock market crash of the 1930's. It was from the History Channel, and I thought it wasn't bad, but the last class whined and complained and asked me to stop it right up until the bell. Of course, it was a Friday afternoon, so I guess I couldn't blame them, but I also thought that with just a tiny bit of focus they might have gotten something out of it and perhaps enjoyed it. The other classes all had computer stuff to do; typing exercises (including a fun little game called "Typer Shark", you should give it a try if you think you're a good typist, or if you want to be better.) and digital image manipulation, i.e. Photoshop. These kids are learning some pretty cool stuff. Once again, the teacher left good plans and kids who knew what to do with the instructions. Granted, watching videos is pretty lame, but as long as they connect to the subject material, why not?

17 Jr. High English: Advanced English, actually. Only two classes of it. The teacher left instructions for me to call in the morning, so I did. We had a nice chat, too, and she has since called with work for Horyon. She emailed me her plans, which came down to watching and grading presentations. I did my best. After seeing only four total, it was hard to make an accurate assessment, but I did my best. My favorite was the kid doing the presentation on peanuts using Powerpoint to illustrate his talk. It didn't hurt that he brought peanut butter cookies, too. And it certainly didn't hurt that there was a bite-size Snickers baked into the center of each cookie. And my grading wasn't one bit influenced by getting two cookies instead of just one.

This situation was interesting because the teacher was actually retired, but they asked her to come back to teach two classes of advanced English. She works the kids pretty hard, and they perform well. They didn't exactly speak glowingly of her, but by the end of the school year I think they may realize how much they will miss her. If not by then, then after they start at university.

It was also interesting because one of the kids in class is a girl who sometimes watches Maxine at church. It's always interesting to observe the way kids who know you react to seeing you in school. She was friendly and behaved well. I asked her to take the attendance to the office because I knew I could trust her to not fool around. Though I had the sense that the same could be said of almost all the kids in those classes.

16 High School ESL. Hmm... Let's see. That was February 15th, a whole month ago. Small classes, wide variety of levels, from kids who spoke almost as well as native speakers to kids who had just gotten off the boat. We read an article out loud and discussed it, then they wrote about it in their journals. There was a para in a couple of the classes who was very helpful. Her name was Jesus (pronounced "hay-SOOS" of course), which was a bit of a shock to see in writing: "My class aid Jesus will be helping you with this class." (Insert your own punchline here.) She cracked the whip when I hadn't realized that the kids were getting noisier than they should have been.

Jesus was a college student with a very interesting style: multiple facial piercings, a seriously asymmetrical hair cut with highlights of colors more suited to flowers than hair, and an outfit that Madonna might have worn in the early 80's, back before she went all hyper-sexy. She was the kind of girl that you might look at and think, "Oh, it's going to be as much trouble keeping her in line as the students, maybe more." In fact, I thought she was one of the students until she introduced herself to me. In spite of her appearance, she was very well spoken, as well as fluent in Spanish. She was a pleasant reminder not to judge a book by its cover. Not that I had actually done so, but that was a cover begging to be judged.

As you can see, not much subbing in the last month. Between sickness and having other stuff to do, I'm only getting in once a week. Sometimes only a half. The extra time is nice to have, but I'm missing the extra money! I didn't sub today because spring break is next week, and I think students were out today. Hopefully I can pick it back up after the break, and hopefully you will hear from me before then.



Thursday, March 13, 2008

Future Plans

Well, I'm way behind. Being sick just sucked the energy right out of my life. I can barely remember what has happened the last few times I've subbed, and I've got bigger fish to fry anyway.

Friday I drove to the K.C. campus of Baker University for an interview. It wasn't really an interview as such, so much as a "Congratulations, you're accepted, here's what you need to do next" kind of meeting. So, for those of you are not familiar with this, allow me to summarize:

Kansas has recently (within the last six or seven years) implemented a program by which people with college degrees in fields other than education may get provisional teaching certification while simultaneously taking classes to earn full certification. The primary targets are Math majors, people with lots of science classes, and language arts majors. As an engineer, I was only about eight credit hours short of having enough math classes to participate in this program to become a math teacher. (On a side note, the other two fields were so far off that I might as well have just gone back for a Master's degree in Education.) So I took statistics last summer, elementary linear algebra last fall, and geometry for sadists this spring, and now I am in.

They gave me a letter saying that I am in the program, and now all I have to do is find a job. Once I am accepted into a teaching position, my contacts at Baker will assist in my application to the state for a provisional license. I will take a one week course this summer ("Introduction to not getting your butt kicked in the classroom" I believe) at the K.C. campus, then different courses throughout the next three years on-line during the school year. I have been told to expect to spend five or six hours per week on classwork for this, on top of all the planning and hassle of a new teaching job. It's gonna be a tough three years, especially the first. I was also told that the dropout rate is about 40-45%.

It's also a bit expensive, at a time when we do not have an income that exceeds our living expenses. That will shift quite a bit when I go to full time teaching, but for now getting over the financial hurdle will likely involve dipping deeper into our retirement money. Which scares me a bit. It always reminds me of an episode of the Simpsons in which Homer is facing a difficult problem, and he thinks to himself, "This is a job for my brain!" So he mentally looks inside of his own skull, but only finds a note that reads, "I.O.U. one brain.--Homer". "D'oh!" I don't want to hit retirement age and find nothing but an I.O.U.

I am a bit worried about the whole thing, to the extent that I am capable of, anyway. I've found that I'm a lot better at worrying about the future now that I have Maxine in my life, but I still have a tendency to not lay awake in bed at night unable to sleep because I think that we won't be able to handle what is coming our way.

This is mostly because it's just not in my nature to worry. I wish that I could say it was just because my faith, but I think my faith is actually bolstered by my nature.

In the next couple of days I will be putting together my resume for schools, and getting on the Kansas Education website. I hope that my meager substituting counts for something in this process. At least they've seen my name before, and I haven't started any fires or embarrassed any dignitaries.

A Brief Introduction

Roblog is my writing lab. It is my goal to not let seven days pass without a new post. I welcome your criticism, as I cannot improve on my own.

Here is a link to my cung post, which remains the only word which I have ever invented, and which has not, as far as I know, caught on. Yet.