Monday, February 25, 2008

I spent a few hours this weekend preparing a presentation for today only to have it postponed until next week. I don't know whether to feel irritated or relieved. Both, I guess. I have enough work to keep me busy for the foreseeable future, with stacks of student essays to read and more articles about postmodernism to decipher, not to mention preparing lesson plans. And I'm supposed to be writing a thesis somewhere in there, too, but let's be honest, that's not happening. My life is turning into a plate-spinning act.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Interesting comment thread on 19-year-old college student/entrepreneur Ben Casnocha's blog post about not wanting kids. I would say I share his view--having children has never been a life goal of mine. Parenting requires sacrifices that I'm not sure I'd be willing to make, a true giving up of the self, if you're a good parent. But then again, never say never.

Merit-based pay for teachers?

This TIME cover story by Claudia Wallis looks at performance-based pay for teachers:
Before ProComp, Betz had reached the top of the district's pay scale at $53,500 and, despite high marks from her bosses, was looking at nothing more than an annual cost-of-living raise (currently $260) for the rest of her career. "I've worked in hard-to-serve schools my entire career," says Betz. "I make home visits. I make phone calls. I'm looking at ProComp as compensation for the things that are above and beyond." Betz didn't expect performance pay to change anything about how she does her job but says it has made her even more driven. "Now I refuse to let kids fail," she says. "I'm going to bulldoze whatever the problem is and solve it." The bonus money is simply a just reward. "I'm not a money grubber. Most teachers aren't. But people in other professions get raises," she says. "Why shouldn't we?"

It's a good goal for an entire nation in need of better-quality teaching. As U.S. school districts embark on hundreds of separate experiments involving merit pay, some lessons seem clear. If the country wants to pay teachers like professionals—according to their performance, rather than like factory workers logging time on the job—it has to provide them with other professional opportunities, like the chance to grow in the job, learn from the best of their peers, show leadership and have a voice in decision-making, including how their work is judged. Making such changes would require a serious investment by school districts and their taxpayers. But it would reinvigorate a noble profession.

This seems like a good idea to me, if done well. "Like factory workers logging time on the job"--I think that describes pretty well the current state of how America treats teachers. Which is sad, considering that teaching actually takes a lot of time and effort to master. According to the article, "It takes at least two years to master the basics of classroom management and six to seven years to become a fully proficient teacher."

Also interesting is the sidebar article describing the teaching profession in other countries.
All teacher candidates in Finland, Sweden, Norway and the Netherlands, for example, receive two to three years of graduate-level preparation for teaching, at government expense, plus a living stipend. Unlike the U.S., where teachers either go into debt to prepare for a profession that will pay them poorly or enter with little or no training, these countries made the decision to invest in a uniformly well-prepared teaching force by recruiting top candidates and paying them while they receive extensive training.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

- The weather today is cold, cloudy, and windy. Yuck, something to further deepen my already bad mood. Then I got to my office and my co-worker started singing quotes from the "Marge vs. the Monorail" episode of The Simpsons, which forced me to laugh.
- It's decided: I'm going to New York City next month. Anyone have any ideas on what to do there? I've got the Statue of Liberty, Wall Street, museums, etc., of course, but any ideas on some more out-of-the-way places?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Celebrating the Semicolon. I like semicolons.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Our house/Is a very, very, very fine house

A little over a month ago my mom came home on a Sunday afternoon and said, "Guess what?"
"What?" I said, although I knew what the answer might be, given her big, mischievous smile.
"I bought a house!!" I knew she had been looking for houses, but I didn't know it would be this soon that she would find one that she liked, much less buy it, all in one day.

It has been a little over a month since that bomb was dropped. Things have happened fast, and as of this weekend my mom and sister and I are moved into the new house. It's a great house, really, a brand-new house on the "fancy pants" Westside of town. Moving back to the Westside from the Northeast part of town had been a lingering idea ever since we moved out to the Northeast three years ago to be closer to Mom's work. It's something my family talked about constantly. We missed our friends and our church and the neighborhoods we grew up in, as well as the perks that go with living in a nicer part of town. Not that the Northeast is so horrible, but, well, it is a little dingier than the Westside. A dollar store on every corner. Huge potholes in the Albertson's parking lot near our house. Homeless veterans wandering the streets. One Starbucks, when the Westside has three. The Northeast has about four decent restaurants, one of which is Chili's, and another of which is Applebee's. The Westside, on the other hand, has a huge number of really great restaurants: Mexican, Italian, Chinese, Southwest, breakfast, ice cream, etc., etc. Yum.

You'd think I'd be jumping up and down to be moving back, but I wasn't. It's funny how once Mom announced that we'd be moving back, I just wasn't that enthused. Maybe it was that the task of moving seemed arduous to me, but I think I had also gotten used to the Northeast and its little quirks. I grew to appreciate its more working-class nature. I also liked how it wasn't as congested as the Westside. I liked being near the baseball stadium and being able to walk up the side of the mountain whenever I felt like it. I guess it was always in my mind that I'd leave the Northeast eventually, but when the day actually came and I was finally going back to the Westside, I just felt sad and like the rug had been pulled out from under me. I did spend two and a half years of my life at that house. I had gotten used to the commute, gotten used to the Wal-Mart and the library branch, gotten used to coming home at night and seeing the church across the street from the house lit up at my return.

Maybe more central to my surprising discontent is that I thought that the next time I'd move would be the time that I moved into my own house. "When I have my own place..." is something I've thought about quite a few times. My house will be Downtown. My house will be warm. My house will have terra cotta tile. My house will have character. It'll be just like Friends! Sure, this is a sparkly, new, beautiful house, a sun-filled house with tan walls and new appliances, but it's not mine. I'm back on the Westside, but not on my own terms.

Boo hoo, I know I should count my blessings and not complain about things. I know the day will come soon when I'll be all grown up and out on my own and most likely living in much poorer conditions. What's a house, anyway? I'm still me, Mom's still Mom, the dog's still the dog. The more I move from house to house, the more I realize how arbitrary a house is. Like a hermit crab, it seems I can get used to living anywhere, given enough time.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

I hate Valentine's Day. Actually, I think I hate the whole month of February.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

I was there. Still don't know whom I'm going to vote for, though.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Woo hoo, the UTEP women's basketball team is in the AP Top 25 poll. They sure played an awesome game against East Carolina on Sunday, a game that was televised nationally on ESPN2.

Friday, February 08, 2008


There are a couple of interesting exhibits are now at the Centennial Museum (which I visited today)--Bracero Memories and the Border Film Project, both of which you can read about here.

For those who don't know, the bracero program was a guest worker program that brought Mexican workers to the United States from 1942-64. Some photos from the bracero exhibit can be viewed here. It's a nicely put-together exhibit about a program that I think is often overlooked in America's history. My grandfather once employed braceros on his farm, and my dad told me he used to hang around with them as they worked the fields. It was interesting to put a visual to some of the things my dad has told me about.

The Border Film Project is a project by a group in Arizona that put disposable cameras in the hands of both Minutemen (volunteer border patrol groups) and Mexican migrants. They provided address labels and mailers so that the cameras could be returned to them anonymously. The photos in the exhibit are not the most artful, as they are obviously not professional quality, yet you do get a good idea of the culture of both groups. It's an interesting contrast, the white (mostly) guys sitting in their trucks watching for migrants, and the migrants walking through the desert, water bottles in hand, or sometimes in hotel rooms or on buses. Predator and prey, I guess you could say.

If you're in El Paso, these are worth a visit to UTEP to see. I was very pleased to see both of these exhibits, since I think both are such great fits for a border city museum.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

- It's a little past seven and I'm waiting for a pizza for dinner. Pizza for dinner, generally not a good thing.
- I'm torn: Clinton or Obama?
- Today I taught my students how to use colons properly. Is that really so useful? I think it is just a huge pet peeve of mine when people use colons wrong, i.e. "The primary colors are: red, yellow, and blue." Aagh. That makes me crazy.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Candy fix

From last night's pack of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. Even the cardboard underneath the PB cups now has advertising. I thought it was cute, though.

Monday, February 04, 2008

My so-called blog post

I forgot that I had added "My So-Called Life" to my Netflix queue. I've already seen most of the episodes, but OK, I admit I watched them all the episodes on Disc 1 again anyway and enjoyed every second of Angela Chase and her rebellious ways yet surprisingly thoughtful voice-over remarks. Actually, when I first saw the series I was 13 or 14 and thought Angela was stupid to hang out with losers and that she should just listen to her parents and maybe she wouldn't be so tormented about things. No, Angela wasn't who I related to. Brian, now, there was a character I could relate to. Nerdy. Loner-ish. Didn't break the rules.

Ah, the teenage years. We sure did a lot of sitting around and standing around in those days. Sitting in class, waiting for time to pass by until you could finally go home. Standing in the hall, talking with your friends (or so-called friends). I say this because it seems like every other scene involves one of the former, and unfortunately, I think it's all too true of how high school really is.

Ironically, I relate more to Angela Chase's adolescent angst now at 25 than I did at 14. Call me a late bloomer, but now I get why someone would want to dye her hair bright red. I get why you'd want to do something exciting just to feel alive, even if it's stupid. I've had a few Jordan Catalano-scale crushes in my life. No, I will not elaborate. But I guess the point is that I still relate to the adolescent experience, even though I am quite a few years past the age for it now. Does some of the teenager remain inside a person, no matter how old he or she gets? I think so.

Advice/lyrics from Boston

Take a look ahead, take a look ahead, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah...

Now everybody's got advice they just keep on givin'
Doesn't mean too much to me
Lot's of people out to make-believe they're livin'
Can't decide who they should be.

I understand about indecision
But I don't care if I get behind
People livin' in competition
All I want is to have my peace of mind.

Take a look ahead, take a look ahead. Look ahead.

"Peace of Mind" by Boston

Saturday, February 02, 2008

So yesterday I'm sitting at Starbucks talking with some friends. I'm nervously fiddling with the remnants of an iced mocha (caffeine always makes me nervous). Suddenly I drop the container. It lands on its plastic dome-shaped lid. Darn. Luckily only a few drops of coffee get on my sweater and pants. Good thing, since the pants are light tan-colored. And no one I was sitting with got splashed with coffee, thank God. I was lucky. But I guess the most remarkable thing is how I didn't freak out. I saw that there wasn't too much of a mess, said "sorry," picked up the plastic container, sopped up the coffee drops with a napkin, and threw the container away. Then I sat down and kept talking. I don't get super-embarrassed when I occasionally drop things. Sign of maturity?
In Ireland, you have to pay a 33-cent tax for every plastic bag you use. "Within weeks [of the law's passage], plastic bag use dropped 94 percent. Within a year, nearly everyone had bought reusable cloth bags, keeping them in offices and in the backs of cars. Plastic bags were not outlawed, but carrying them became socially unacceptable — on a par with wearing a fur coat or not cleaning up after one’s dog." via New York Times