Tuesday, February 14, 2012

In Honor of Valentine's Day, Student T-shirts I Love

My Cedar Ridge students wear some awesome tees. Here are some of my faves, in no particular order:

I put the MAN in Romantic

Love Exists

I Heart Vampires

I'm a Keeper

I Heart Haters

Tell Your Girl to Stop Texting Me

(In big, white block letters on a black hoodie sweatshirt, worn by a sweet-looking little girl) NRA

(stick figure man, with prohibition slash)
(This one was particularly good, because I saw it on Valentine's Day.)

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Inexorable Awkwardness of the High School Cafeteria

(Based on a tweet by Dan Fuchs)

Anyone who knows anything about high school administrators knows that lunch duty is a part of their job. You stand in the cafeteria and don't do much of anything, other than provide an adult presence, and maybe a sense of safety for those young people who find being in a gigantic, noisy room with 700 of their peers a bit intimidating. Occasionally you correct naughty behavior. Once in a great while, you prevent a fight from happening or escalating.

I actually don't mind my time in the cafeteria, each day from 12:45 to 2. In fact, it's kind of a nice break in the action, and I get to have good interactions with our students. I have good fun with them, like pretending I'm a waiter, either just after they sit down ("Good afternoon, ladies. Has anyone told you about our specials today?") or as they linger after the first bell has rung ("How was everything here, all right? Can you get you anything else? Coffee? Desert?") My experience brings the script right back, and there's always a moment where they're not quite sure what-all is going on. Then I let them off the hook, and tell them -- in the latter case -- to get to class. I even taught my "family handshake" -- the one I invented with my two young sons' help -- to a couple of kids.

There are a few features that make our lunchroom feel a bit less like a prison commissary (than say Evander Childs Campus, where I had my last AP Job). For one thing, there's a Java City at the south end of the room, where kids can sit and sip on a latte, a little removed from the din of the rest of place. Also, the chairs are individual and can be picked up and moved, which they are, daily.

As a result, you get the big, over-populated (and invariably LOUD) tables full of popular kids -- either the jocks, or the artists, or the skate geeks. There are a few tables that stand out -- the one with the very mature students who eat, calmly chatting, as though they're in a quiet Bistro somewhere, the singletons, who prefer to read a book as they eat, and the "Loud Nerds" table, where artsy kids need to continue their self-expression through primal scream therapy. The fumbling search for identity is undeniable, as these young ones figure out how they fit into this microcosm of an even more confusing world, just outside our doors.

Sunday, February 12, 2012


I learned something crucial about myself, and my feelings around a very serious aspect of parenting last night.

I had joined my friend Neil, along with a couple of his friends from high school, in order to celebrate his 200th variety of beer at the Flying Saucer in Austin. Just as I mentioned her to the group, my wife called me.

"Hey, I just conjured you up!" I said, cheerfully.

Her voice was panicked. "Dan! There's something wrong with Ally. She won't stop crying and shaking, and she's panting really heavily." Ally is our one and a half year old shepherd mix that we rescued from the Town Lake Animal Center this past August.

I had just started eating a really delicious burger, and downing a lovely brew, so I tried to suggest that I would finish before leaving, but the desperation in her voice rose, when she said, "Come home now. Please."

I gulped down a bit more of the beer and put my burger and fries in a to-go box, then said good-bye to Neil and his friends, before making my way back home.

At 9:00 on a Saturday night, the only place you can take a pet in distress is the Emergency Animal Hospital of Northwest Austin. Like almost every other money-making concern in that area, it's a storefront in a strip mall. Its sign shines in bright red hospital block lettering and can be seen from Route 183, which flies by overhead at 65+ mph. My six year old insisted on accompanying me and Ally, the latter of whom had compliantly hopped up into the car and sat next to me in the passenger seat the whole way there.

Luckily there was no one else in the waiting room when we arrived. The receptionist, nurses and vet were all very kind to us and to Ally, and we were in and out of there in less than an hour. As it turned out, Ally had suffered an injury to the soft tissue in her tail -- maybe a torn ligament or something. When I questioned Jackson about it, he claimed that one of his friends had been pulling on Ally's tail earlier in the day.

There are a couple of strong reactions I found myself having, once I confirmed the story with his older brother. First, there's the whole complicity of watching someone hurt another creature, especially one who is thought of as a member of your family. I expect my children to step in and intervene -- to stop cruelty from happening, or to report it, at the very least. That being said, I was a kid once, and I can remember some dark things I did to animals that I'd rather not recount. Never, though, was a family pet the victim of any of this violence.

Also, Ally is such a sweet dog that it breaks my heart. The reason she'd been crying was that she could not resist the urge to wag her tail -- a dog's version of smiling -- despite her injury. Even as a child was pulling at her body, giving her extreme pain, she never struck back, never protected herself. Never bit.

I must reiterate for my boys that no one has the right to hurt them. There are people out there who may try and hurt you. When they do, you must strike back. Protect yourself.


Thursday, February 9, 2012

Wait...is This MY Hand I'm Playing?

They say you play the hand you are dealt. This past Tuesday, I spent the day wondering whether the hand I'm currently playing makes me a sell-out.
Ridgeview Middle School feels like a pleasant place to be. It's a relatively new, clean building, and it's populated by Future Raiders -- the younger brothers and sisters of my students at Cedar Ridge High School, just a few hundred yards to the west. I'm here for a district-wide training of school administrators, and this latest one has to do with testing. . More specifically, they are giving us the information we need to successfully administer the state's standardized Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) and State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) exams. I sit through the worst kind of so-called "professional development," in which they read to you in the darkness from a wordy PowerPoint slide show. The last time anyone read to me in the dark I was six years old, and the expectation was that I would eventually fall asleep.
Now, I pinch myself in the arm to avoid doing so. But I get through it, and now have yet another binder to add to my extensive collection.
I have signed my oath as a Test Administrator. I am now an officially-sanctioned Giver of Tests, working in what the Austin American Statesman reports will -- as of next year, be the largest high school in Central Texas, with over 3,000 students.
It's a far cry from those Time Out from Testing Consortium meetings I used to attend at the Julia Richman campus as a representative of Satellite Academy High School, Chambers Street (which became Midtown), where we worked with approximately 200 students at a time.
I continue to marvel at where I have landed. There are many great things about Cedar Ridge High, despite its size, and I really do think I bring a small-school mentality to my work. But all this money and all these resources being spent on standardized testing, and my complicity in it, does, I must admit, keep me up some nights, and I imagine Ted Sizer, my education guru, turning in his grave.