Friday, November 03, 2006

Another Credit Card Story

I suppose, in fairness, I should tell another credit card story. A few days ago, my husband got a phone call from the credit card company that has our VISA credit cards (different from the one I complained about on Sunday, May 28, 2006 in another post). It seems that there were some strange charges on my account, which has a different number from his, and they wanted to check if they were really mine. I am not sure what made them think the charges were strange. I don't shop at Walmart, but I do buy things online from various stores - what flagged the Walmart charge as suspicious? There were 3 other charges also flagged as suspicious and I still don't know what triggered the suspicious flag. I guess I am grateful, though. I will be even more grateful if I don't have to pay for the suspicious charges.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Subbing - Financial Aspects

Substitute teaching is what I do to contribute a little bit to the family income. It doesn't contribute much. As a certified teacher, I earn $125 per day - 7 hours of work and 30 minutes for lunch. That is much better than the pay rate in Illinois (where we lived prior to moving to Alaska), but it is still not enough to live on. Even if a sub worked every day for the entire year (highly unlikely), that is still only $22,500 before taxes. This includes no benefits - no health insurance, no retirement, nothing. If I got a summer job, similar to the one my daughter had, I could earn another $3000 for a whopping $25,500. Still without health insurance, without retirement, without any extras.

I enjoy subbing, usually, but I must admit that the financial aspect makes me feel worthless. Considering that I have to buy clothes for work, gas to get there, and coursework to keep up my certification, I sometimes wonder if it is worth it at all financially. It probably ratchets up our income to a higher tax bracket, too. I am not surprised that the school district has difficulty getting subs. I feel like I am working hard, doing a substantially similar job to what the regular teachers do, but for just not enough financially. I guess I should listen to my relatives and "get a real job".

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Annoyed at Credit Card Company

I was buying groceries today and my credit card was refused. Luckily, I usually carry two credit cards, so I could still pay for the groceries, but when I got home, I called the credit card company and asked them why it was refused. It turns out that the reason it was refused was that there were two charges made at approximately the same time on the card, from vastly different parts of the world. They refused the card in both locations because of this. The problem is, this was an extremely inopportune time for them to do this for the first time.

Background: My younger daughter has had a second card on this account for over a year. She is normally in Illinois; I am in Alaska. We have, in the past repeatedly charged things at similar times - and there was never a peep from the bank.

Problem: A couple of days ago, she had her purse stolen - and she is now in Uganda working on a summer internship. Fortunately, her passport, her ATM card, and her credit card were not in the purse that was stolen. But she wanted to get some more cash, since she is traveling away from the capital, Kampala, soon. I found Ugandan banks that would supposedly give her a cash advance on the credit card. And she wanted to buy a new camera, since the one she had was stolen with the purse. But, evidently the credit card bank has refused these purchases. And I am really annoyed. Why hasn't this problem ever come up before? Why wasn't I aware that the credit card bank might refuse a card for this reason? Am I clueless or is it the bank's fault? I feel so bad for my daughter. She is trying to recover her equilibrium after an upsetting event and the credit card company adds further upset to her circumstances. And it makes things very hard for her. She simply doesn't have time to go back to all of the merchants and buy the things she needs now that the credit card is working again. And, since email and phone calls have been very erratic and cut off unexpectedly, it is hard to even let her know that the credit card is working again.

And I am trying to figure out if it is the bank's fault or my own ignorance.

Friday, May 26, 2006

School Rant

From a news report: 'Neil Bush, brother of President George W. Bush, stated that he endured pressure from a private school in Houston to medicate his son Pierce with Ritalin for ADHD incorrectly diagnosed by the school. "There is a systemic problem in this country, where schools are often forcing parents to turn to Ritalin," said Bush, 47, who spent years researching the issue. "It's obvious to me that we have a crisis in this country." Neil Bush also said, "The problem is, it isn't the kids that are broken. It's the system that is failing to engage children in the classroom," and "My heart goes out to any parents who are being led to believe their kids have a disorder or are disabled."'

And I get tired of people blaming the whole problem on the teachers failing to "engage" children in the classroom. There are many kids who spend more hours outside of school watching TV and playing video and computer games than they spend sitting in the classrooms. And then they come to school and expect to be entertained and "engaged" there. Kids who used to run around and play physically when they weren't in school don't nowadays. No wonder they have too much energy. And they watch so much TV/video/computer games that they have attention spans of gnats.

When I went to elementary, junior high, and high school, I never expected it to be a 7 hour game every day. Yes, school needs to be interesting, but I am getting tired of people expecting it to be entertaining. Perhaps it is the passivity of this viewpoint that irritates me. Children and their parents expect them to be engaged BY TEACHERS in their school work; they don't expect to engage THEMSELVES in the pursuit of learning.

And while I am complaining, I would like to ask why it is that kids nowadays think that they have to talk all of the time? Whenever I lament as a sub that I have had difficulty with a class that talked a bit too much, teacher after teacher will complain that the kids are talking all of the time in their regular classes, too. You get the kids quiet, so they can listen to instruction or directions on how to do something and the second you open your mouth to speak, they start talking again. This can and does go on for 20 minutes or more and the only thing that stops it is sending one or more kids to the school disciplinarian. That works for about 5 minutes and then you have to threaten them again. Or teachers will put names on the board and take time off of recess for excessive talking. The only two other things that stop the chatter are movies or TV and tests. Even tests work for only the part of the test where everyone is working. As soon as one kid finishes, the talking starts again.

I have tried thinking about causes for this behavior and the major ones I can think of are:

1) When kids watch TV or movies or actively play computer or video games, they are not talking. In fact, they seem to be passively receptive, even when they are actively pushing buttons for a video game. So when they finish this type of activity, they have a greater than normal need to connect with other people and they talk, talk, talk.

2) Kids are not taught to listen to instructions or conversation. They are so visually oriented (TV, video, and computers again) that their auditory processing is less capable. And they have learned very well in school that, if they do not pay attention to verbal instruction given to the whole class, once they are given the assignment, all they have to do is complain that they don't understand, and the teacher will give them individual help, often complete with several answers for which they have to do little or no work.

I guess I am feeling cantankerous today. Sorry.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Myers-Briggs Type

I just took an on-line test for my MBTI type a and this is the result:
Your Type is:
INFJ Strength of the preferences %
Introverted 44
Intuitive 62
Feeling 38
Judging 33

I always have trouble with these kinds of tests, though.  I fit either both sides of most questions, or neither. There are only a very few questions that I can truthfully answer completely comfortably one way or the other. One is usually something like "You analyze everything." To that one, I always give a resounding "YES!" (and that characteristic annoys my daughters endlessly). But given my discomfort with many of my other answers, I tend to feel that the result is more dependent on my current mood than it is dependent on my personality.

On the other hand, the Keirsey explanation of my type in this particular test, the Counselor type, certainly does seem to fit. I AM extraordinarily able to tell what people are thinking and feeling when I am with them. It is one of my greatest assets as a teacher. But it also makes teaching large groups of children difficult, because it is so frustrating to not be able to act on all of the input I am getting.

And now I just finished reading the Butt and Heiss explanation of my results and I am thinking that maybe there is more to the MBTI types than I have previously given credance.

Characteristics that seem particularly relevant/apropos:
1) Abstract in thought and speech -- I seem always to be trying to derive a general principle from what I am observing/experiencing.

2) Focus on human potentials, think in terms of ethical values

3) Not generally visibly a leader

4) This type has great depth of personality; they are themselves complicated, and can understand and deal with complex issues and people.

5) self-expression comes more easily to INFJs on paper

Things that seem NOT to match:
1) Make decisions easily -- I can agonize over purchases for weeks.

2) ... but they are reserved and tend not to share their reactions except with those they trust. -- I seem to be more open than this.

A Mixed Bag:
1) ...because of their strong ability to take into themselves the feelings of others, Counselors can be hurt rather easily by those around them -- I do have this ability, but I don't seem to be hurt easily.  It is more like I have the ability to understand the feelings, but the detachment to recognize that it isn't MY feelings.  (Which seems to be more what Heiss and Butt say.)

This has been more interesting than I expected, mainly because, as I stated above, I typically have a lot of trouble with these types of "tests". I have always wondered how a valid result could be generated when the preferences
for many of the particular answers were so slight. But it does seem to have done a decent job overall. Intriguing.

Harry Potter's Evil Cat Counterpart

This cat's name is Cookie, but that innocent name belies a truly evil connection. Note the lightning shaped scar on her forehead and the black heart. She strikes fear into the hearts of cats twice as big as she is. Lady Voldemort?

Friday, May 05, 2006

The Failure of Parenting

[rewritten from a post on GT-Talk]
Regarding the discussion about why children eat unhealthy foods, don't get enough exercise, don't know some of the basic academics that were commonplace a few years ago, etc.

I am part of the Boomer/Hippie generation and what I see happening is that my generation rebelled against rules of all sorts. In college, we protested the Vietnam War, in loco parentis became weaker and weaker from freshman year to senior year. Freshman year, we weren't allowed to have men in our rooms, except from 2:00 - 4:00 pm on Sunday and the door had to be open with all four feet on the floor. By senior year, nearly all of those regulations were completely gone. Men stayed in the dorm any time - even over night, with the doors closed.

What I see is that my generation wanted to give their children more freedom from rules, so the next generation grew up with far fewer restrictions. But now, years later, those children are the parents. Not having grown up honoring rules and regulations, they don't even know HOW to impose the rules. They don't have any intuitive feel for when rules need to be respected and when they need to be broken. My generation knew - we had grown up with (too many?) rules and restrictions. Our lives were all about breaking through society's restrictions: sexism, racism, economic disparity. So we had the perspective to know what the rules were, how to break them, and why.

But our children grew up without many of the rules and restrictions, so now they have no idea how to impose them on their children. They make some feeble attempts and think that is all that is required. You see them in the grocery store all the time:
Kid: I want [X];
Mom/Dad: No, you don't need [X];
... repeat N times ...
Kid: Cries loudly;
Mom/Dad: Gives in somehow - by buying the item or a substitute, by promising reward if kid stops crying, etc.

My mother who is 91 was recently watching some old old family videos of me with my older daughter when she was a baby. At one point, she asked me how I knew how to parent my daughter so well. I answered that, as with many things, the key is having a good role model. My mother was a good parent. I followed her example almost unconsciously. But, as my kids got older and got to the ages where breaking restrictions due to sexism, racism, etc., became important to me, I was on less sure footing. I think, to some extent, I didn't impose restrictions I should have - especially in the area of making my children assume responsibility for themselves (except academically - they are both pretty good about that).

I had my children when I was pretty old, so they are not yet parents, and I don't know how they will do at parenting, but many of my compatriots are grandparents and I teach these grandchildren. I see kids who have a lot of trouble with rules and restrictions - even those that are deemed very important by most of society.

If this analysis is anywhere near correct, it will be very difficult to get back to a better position. Some of the parenting techniques have been lost and will be difficult to recover. New parents will have to use reason and outside advice to gain expertise that my generation had intuitively, even if we chose to circumvent it in some cases. And, in our increasingly diverse society, even finding solid advice becomes problematic - one expert says one thing; another says the opposite. New parents feel powerless and confused.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Clear View

The mountains are clear right now. It occurred to me yesterday that, in some ways they resemble crinkled aluminum foil, painted over with Wite-Out. This is not a very poetical image, even though the mountains are beautiful.

When I first moved here, I was struck by how the whole vista to the south looked like an elaborately photographed Hollywood backdrop, with only the nearby trees in front of the backdrop actually seeming to be real. As I have come to know the place better, this image has faded slightly, but is still striking. The view out the window has two distinct distances - the close up and the very far away. The middle distance is shielded from view by the close.

Is there a metaphor for life here? The things in the distance are the past - mostly static and a bit unreal. What we see most closely is the present, which obscures the middle distance.

Best not take that too far.

Sunday, April 23, 2006


This is Hobbes when I first got him - in the hotel in Toronto. He was about 3 months old. He is a Maine Coon and he is a very sweet, playful, affectionate kitten/cat.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Pullout Special Education

I have been observing since January the effect of special education pullout classes on the students who attend them.  It is interesting to me how this effects the rest of their time in the classroom, as I am a sub and get them when they are not in their special classes. I do NOT dispute that the classes are important and they ARE effective, in that the statistics about skill achievements seem to be improving.

What is of concern to me, is how much of their time those students waste in the regular classroom. Yesterday, I heard from two of those students, "I don't do your social studies" and, at the same time, "I don't have anything to do". This is not the first time I have heard similar comments. This is evidently a chronic occurrence, since, even though one of those students wanted to participate, he didn't know what the assignment was, so he couldn't - even in a adapted manner. And, the suggestion to "read a book" has no appeal to a student who has difficulty reading in the first place.

So, in some ways similarly to gifted kids, the kids who need extra services are spinning their wheels much of the time. I know it is logistically nearly impossible to arrange it so that, in a classroom of 27 students, each child is at his/her correct challenge level all of the time, but, again, it seems like there should be some better arrangement of children, teachers, and time.


Saturday, April 01, 2006


Periodically in the past I have contemplated why it is that people cannot be perfect. Why CAN'T we do everything correctly? So I have begun drafting a list of reasons why. Here is my admittedly incomplete list so far.

People Can't Be Perfect Because ...
1) Lack of Time
There are many demands on people's time and the time required to do a task perfectly means inevitably that another task cannot be done perfectly.
2) Lack of Knowledge
Some tasks require more knowledge than is readily available. Sometimes this lack of knowledge relates to time, i.e., if I had more time, I could get the knowledge required to do the task perfectly; sometimes it doesn't, e.g., I can't talk to a student's dead grandparent about their relationship - that information is simply unavailable. Sometimes the information doesn't even exist, e.g., research hasn't yet shown us the best way to remedy certain problems.
3) Lack of Will
Sometimes there is no desire for perfection. I could make my bed perfectly every day. It doesn't take long; I know how; I even know it looks better; but it just isn't that important to me.
4) Competing Desires
I would love to lose weight - a lot of weight. But I also love good food and I hate being hungry. But, even though I eat nutritious food and I exercise regularly, I must eat too much, because I still weigh too much.
5) Lack of Ability to Empathize
This relates to Lack of Knowledge, but is slightly different. I may know about a student's problems at home, but I may never have experienced anything closely related, so while I could potentially recite all of the facts of the case, I have never, for example, lived in a foster home, so I don't really know how it FEELS.
6) Lack of Understanding
This relates to Lack of Knowledge, too, but is again slightly different. I may know about a student's problems at home, and I may have experienced something very close to that type of problem. So, while I have the knowledge needed and I can approximate the feelings, I may not have the understanding I need of how the various factors differ or interact. This may also happen in the purely scientific arena: I may have the facts about a scientific problem, but I may not yet understand their individual, relative, and cumulative importance.
7) Chance
I am not sure yet if this should be included. It seems to me that it should be, but I can't think right now of a situation in which I have done everything else perfectly, but the result was less than perfection, due to chance. Maybe this: I left in plenty of time to get to a job on time, I drove fine, but there was an accident blocking my normal driving route, so I ended up late. I am not convinced that I shouldn't blame that on something else, though, e.g., if I had more time, I could leave early enough so that traffic accidents wouldn't be a problem.
8) Conflicting Definitions of Perfection
I may cook what I consider a delicious dinner - hot and spicy squid with vegetables, but my husband hates hot things, all spices, and squid, so perfection is unattainable. If I want a perfect dinner for me, I have been perfect; but if I want to cook "the" perfect dinner, there is no such thing, since my husband and I don't agree on the definition of perfection in this case.

I suppose there are other reasons, but this is a start.

Saturday, March 11, 2006


There was a recent posting on another list I belong to regarding the number of dropouts in the United States and the reasons for doing so.

After scanning the article, I am pondering two things:

1) Many of the dropouts complain that classes are "boring"and not relevant to their lives. "Boring", as the report does discuss a bit, can mean too easy or too hard or simply not entertaining. One of the recommendations of the report was that teachers try to make their classes more relevant and more interesting. But, in many respects, I think teachers are doing a reasonable job in this regard. The problem is that this generation of kids is used to not only TV, but also the Internet, Instant Messaging, hand-held games, etc., etc. How can teachers even hope to compete with all of the other distractions available to kids these days?

As many of you know, I have been a substitute teacher off and on for the past few years and have therefore seen a wide variety of American classrooms. It is true that a few of them are routine and uninteresting, but, in my experience, most of the teachers are really trying to make their classes interesting.  But kids are quite jaded these days. It is as though they need ever higher doses of "fun" just to keep them motivated to do anything at all. And if it isn't fun, the only thing that seems to work is threat - bad grades or talking to a parent. I see very few kids who are really excited about the subject matter. I was in a 3rd grade class this week that was really excited about writing, but that is such an anomaly that it really stood out in my mind.

2) Is it possible that the dropout problem would be better viewed as a lack of alternative pathways? When I was a foreign student in Germany 40 years ago, they had what they called the "zweite Bildungsweg", which was a second pathway to the type of education that the student wanted.  There seemed to be a conscious effort to accommodate
students who wanted to change their education course.  Maybe if we made a concerted effort to establish more
apprenticeships, or similar entry level jobs, and meld them to part-time education, we could change "dropping out" to beginning a work progression. Maybe "lack of relevance" to their lives could be changed into specific coursework needed for their chosen job path.

I have long been interested in different structural ways of reforming American education. By structural, I mean the organization of bringing teachers and students together, not by changing the curriculum directly or by improving teacher education (both of which are worthwhile, just not what I consider structural changes), but rather by altering who is put in contact with whom and when. E.g., putting a cluster of gifted kids in one classroom, rather than spreading them out among many teachers is a structural change; having each teacher differentiate the curriculum for each of the gifted students is not what I would consider to be a structural change.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Ideal Structure of School

It has long been an interest of mine to try to figure out what an ideal school structure would be. The basics of the problem are as follows:
1) Students (and I am talking about young students right now, ages 4 or 5 to 11 or 12) come to a school setting with different achievement levels and different learning rates.
2) Teachers typically can only do one thing at a time. They can arrange the classroom so that kids can be doing different things, but the teacher can only focus effectively on one thing at a time.
3) The ability span of the students who are one chronological age is at least as wide as the age, i.e., the ability span of 5 year olds typically ranges from that of a typical 3 year old to that of a typical 7 year old. There will also be some students who fall outside of that range.
4) Students learn best when the content is mildly challenging.
5) Most students learn best when there are peers learning similar material.

The questions: how can the students be arranged so that each child learns at a rate that is comfortable for him/her?

It is clear to me that the most prevalent structural arrangement in the United States - chronological age groupings, with yearly advancement based largely on age - is inadequate for those at the top and the bottom of the achievement/ability spans.

What are some better ideas?

I will be out of town for a week, so that is all for now.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Good Things I See When Subbing

Sometimes when I am subbing, I see techniques that I think are really useful - or I even come up with things myself that prove effective. One thing that is always of interest to me is how the teachers manage attendance and lunch count - mundane, yes, but good techniques can really make the start of the day easier. Of course, they do depend on the age of the students.

One 6th grade teacher I have subbed for had a bulletin board devoted to student locations. At the beginning of the day, there were three different colored tags (with names on them) in the student's pocket, one for attendance, one for hot lunch, and a third for specials. As the student passed the bulletin board coming in the room (or as part of the getting ready routine), the student would pull his or her attendance tag and put it in a basket. If s/he was planning on getting a hot lunch, the lunch tag was also pulled out of the pocket and put in another basket. If there were two choices for lunch, there would be two baskets. When a student left the room to go to a special class - reading, band, gifted, speech, etc., the specials tag would be pulled out and placed in the appropriate out of the room envelop (also on the board). The teacher also had job assignments on the next bulletin board, so a student would take the lunch count and attendance. At the end of the day, it was the job of one of the students to return all tags to the proper pocket. As much as possible, this teacher tried to train the students to do routine chores in the class.

Other teachers have used clothes pins, magnets attached to popsicle sticks, or labels with velcro. When the child leaves the room, s/he moves his/her token and places it on/in the appropriate "gone" location.

Other things that I saw today that worked well: student desks arranged in a double horseshoe. Most of the desks were in the outer "shoe", which actually was shaped like 3 sides of a square. A smaller number of desks were in the inner rectangle. There was walking room between the two shapes. This made passing out and collecting papers very quick. And all of the students could easily see the front of the room and the teacher. Most of them could also see each other - which is nice for discussion purposes. Negatives - sometime neighbors didn't get along; and two students couldn't sit next to anyone, so had to be situated away from the group. I am not sure how to avoid this.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

The Beginning

Talking to myself.
I have no idea if anyone will ever see this. I don't even know if I plan to tell anyone about it, but here it goes, anyway.

After substitute teaching in a new magnet school for a week, I am again wondering about educational structures. The way this school is set up, students can arrive at 8 am, 9 am or 10 am. The first two hours are exploratories, with the students getting some choice in the subjects they will be studying. Even the youngest children, Kindergarteners, get to choose from topics such as Spanish, pet care, jump rope, etc. Some students are enrolled in classes that they need, such as remedial reading or math. Then at 10 am, the "core" classes begin. This seems to consist largely of a 1 1/2 hour reading block for the younger ones. I am actually more interested in the older students, but I was subbing in a mixed 1/2 class.

This was followed by recess and lunch. Then there was another reading block - one hour and a math block. Then the kids went home. I may have the schedule slightly wrong, as this was a testing week and there were some changes, but that is basically it.

Now, my impressions. There was an awful lot of movement from here to there. It seemed fairly efficient, i.e., the kids knew where to go and how to behave in the halls, and there seemed to be little time wasted. But nevertheless, it seemed hard to settle the kids down each time a new activity started. The groups of kids taught in the core reading blocks were ability grouped, so all of the kids were at a similar level. This actually helps as far as teaching skills.

The math groups, though were not ability grouped. All of the first graders did first grade math; all of the second graders did second grade math. This was very difficult for me as a sub - trying to teach a 1st grade math lesson at the same time I was trying to get the second graders engaged in their math lesson. Kudos to the regular teacher for managing to figure it out.

Still, overall, my impression is that the kids actually had very few minutes of direct instruction in math or reading. There was a lot of time spent on management issues - sitting so that they could see the teacher, sharpening pencils, finding workbooks, etc.

And one has to wonder, what happened to social studies, art, music, science? I think they are covered by exploratories, but I was not clear about whether any of this is required. The school goes from Kindergarten through 8th grade - how well will this structure address all aspects of the curriculum? What happens to kids with special needs - learning disabilities, gifted, etc. Is there a consistent plan for addressing them in each of their classes?

An interesting thing to ponder.