Thursday, August 28, 2008

Day 1

About 20 minutes before the end of my first block, Y. called me over:
"Ms. L. do you like me?"
Me: "Yeah!"
Y: "Really?"

At least I know they're not afraid to ask questions or speak their minds.

(Block 2 (Geometry): Nobody threw a chair at the wall. Success.)

Sunday, August 24, 2008

A Room of One's Own

Here's a cute story:
Last year I came to visit the school where I'm working (the one with the bad interview, if anyone was wondering (it wasn't actually as bad as I made it out to be, but it made for a funnier story when it sounded that bad)), I was observing in an algebra classroom and talking to some of the kids. One boy asked if I was a teacher there and I told him no, but I hoped to be. He asked me if I'd seen all the construction they were doing, and suggested that maybe I could have one of those rooms. Awwww, see how sweet the kids are at my school?

Fast forward to last week; our department chair informed me that I would in fact be in one of the new rooms, F-4. Unfortunately, there was a small downside: they wouldn't be ready until Friday morning. That's Friday as in three days before the first day of school. That was fine, though, because I was busy with so much other training and orientation stuff. And then we actually were able to get in late Thursday afternoon.

My room was beautiful. Windows all along the back wall, cabinets and bookshelves lining another, and whiteboards covering the remaining two. Or at least there would be whiteboards at some point. There was even a place to hang a projector from the ceiling and plugs all over the floor. There was also a lot of STUFF. I got passed down all the stuff from a teacher who had left, and since he'd been in a portable with no built-in storage, I had three large cabinets, a decent-sized bookshelf, and about four filing cabinets along with all the tables, chairs, etc. I could barely walk around. Still, this was all okay because the school had hired movers to finish the furniture situations, so it would be removed. I started to separate the furniture I wanted from what I didn't, and discovered that none of the filing cabinets--or even some of the big storage cabinets had been cleaned out. As a result, I now have a hot dog cooker, a chess set, and some prayer candles in my backseat waiting for a trip to Goodwill. I learned a lot about this departed teacher that I had never been curious about. By the time I left on Friday, I had separated, unpacked, and stored pretty much everything I wanted to keep. The excess furniture was still in the room and there were no whiteboards or bulletin boards, but I went home, fell asleep, and was pumped to really get everything settled on Saturday.

I got to school, envisioning a classroom I could start arranging and mentally decorating the walls. As I was getting out of my car, my phone rang. "Hi, this is Sarah from the English department? So... I was in F-6, but since my journalism class needs to use the laptops everyday, I was actually supposed to be in the room with all the plugs. So we need to switch rooms." Luckily, my colleagues are all fantastic, and all the other teachers who were there pitched in to get the rooms switched. Four hours later, I was at the point where I'd been when I left on Friday. And I still had no bulletin boards, and somewhere in all of this I needed to do some curriculum planning with other people.

By the time I left school at 8pm on Sunday night, my room was to the place where students could come (thank god, since they were showing up in less than 12 hours), and I was ready as I'd ever be to start the year completely exhausted.

All my fun borders and posters will go up someday, I swear.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Let the Anxiety Begin

All summer long, my friends have been busy doing things like planning curriculum, shopping for their classrooms, and generally getting ready for the upcoming year. Me? Not so much. It worked out well for my procrastination that I didn't know what classes I was teaching or even if I'd have a classroom. However, it turns out there's a downside to shirking responsibility for two months. All the freaking out that my friends have been experiencing all summer long has been condensed for me into two short weeks (this is not to imply that all freak outs will cease as of August 25, but that the nature of said freak outs will change after my first day of teaching).

Last week was "Algebra Week," when my department spends five straight days tweaking the algebra 1 sequence. As soon as the department chair told me on Monday morning what I'd be teaching, the anxiety surged through me to the the point of psychosomatic reactions. At one point on Monday, I looked down at my hand to find it shaking uncontrollably.

On Wednesday, I met with the Geometry team and one thing the veteran teachers mentioned was to be explicit with the students that this will be a more intense course than algebra was, with a faster-paced curriculum that includes nightly homework. On Wednesday night, I had my first teaching dream of the new school year. It was the first day of school, near the end of my geometry class. I was trying really hard to use positive classroom management techniques (even though in real life they'd told me that classroom management would be much less of a concern in Geometry), but there were a few boy who were being obnoxious. I passed out the first homework assignment, and when I told the kids that about the increased homework load, one boy threw a chair at the wall. I snapped and yelled at him to get out, complete with a grand sweep of my arm and a finger pointing to the door. So much for positive classroom management.

In case that dream wasn't haunting enough, on Friday a conversation came up about when teachers had had to break up fights at school. One of my colleagues mentioned a teacher who had to break up a fight on the very first day of school--because a student threw a chair at the wall. Good lord. I do not like the precedent/premonition that this is setting.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Border Crossing

Bjorn and my plan was simple: there was a bus direct from San Jose to Managua that would leave early Wednesday morning. We'd get in around two or three, find a hostel, and bum around for the next few days. We had passports, credit cards, and a Lonely Planet, which long ago I decided is all you really need. Upon reflection, it's clear that this conclusion was made while traveling in a first-world nation.

We hit our first obstacle upon arrival at the TicaBus station where we informed that not only had we missed the bus we were planning on taking, but that all buses for the rest of the day were booked. No matter; we walked over to the TransNica station. There we were informed that all buses were booked until Saturday. Another bus station with had Nicaraguan flags and a sign that said "Managua" informed us that they only go to Panama. I wondered if we'd somehow ended up on a new reality TV combination of the Amazing Race and Candid Camera. Fortunately, it turned out we were right next door to the bus terminal for Penas Blancas, the Costa Rican town on the main Costa Rica-Nicaragua border crossing. If we couldn't get to Nicaragua, we'd at least get as close as we could.

The bus ride itself was fairly painless and involved fewer chickens than we'd expected. Lonely Planet promised that the border crossing would be easy as well and that we might even be able to take a golf cart from one side to the other. I fell asleep for most of the ride, so I was only half awake when we stopped at a cement building surrounded by lines of people and were told to get off the bus. Welcome to the border.

There were no signs indicating what any of the lines were for, but there were hordes of "coyotes" carrying wads of cash and promising they could help us across the border. Being cheap, poor teachers, we politely declined by pretending we didn't speak Spanish (not so much pretending for me) and got in a line that some other people from our bus had joined. I don't know what the other lines were for, but eventually we ended up with stamped passports and found ourselves back outside the building.

Now what? Where were these golf carts that would take us to the Nicaraguan side? Where were the buses we could catch from here to Managua? Partly because we were being bombarded by coyotes and partly because we didn't know what else to do, Bjorn and I walked the 1km through the weird DMZ-ish area to Nicaragua.

I like to consider myself at least a somewhat seasoned traveler and feel like I know what to expect at passport control, customs, etc. Again, this is a conclusion that I clearly came to under more posh conditions. The only other time I have entered a country not by air is going into Canada, so I would now like to make a list of things that the Canadian border has the the Nicaraguan border does not:
1. Friendly Canucks
2. Any semblance of order.

On the other hand, Nicaragua did have many things that Canada does not: a small group of unmarked cement buildings, a lot of children begging for money, and a creepily persistent cab driver who was clearly excited about the prospect of swindling some Americans. Despite his creepiness (or perhaps in service of it), he gave us the immigration forms and took us to the cement building where we paid US$5 for a passport stamp. There were no customs whatsoever; if only I had known ahead of time so I could have smuggled something in.

In an attempt to get away the persistent cabbie, Bjorn went in search of a less creepy cabbie and found a very nice one who said he would take us and a Dutch family to Granada for only $40 total. Seemed like a good deal, he swore that he could fit us all into his car, and he had a limp so I figured we could take him if he tried to kidnap us. Outside what I guess would be considered passport control, some people told us we had to pay another $2 in exchange for a "tourist card" to keep with our passports. It definitely didn't look legit (another small concrete building) but it also didn't look any less legit than the people who had stamped our passports. Two dollars seemed a small price to pay for avoiding a hassle and getting a bonus piece of paper for my scrapbook.

Our non-scary cabbie loaded Bjorn, me, the Dutch couple, and their nine-year old son into his car. As he peered through the view-impairing crack in the windshield and rubbed two wires together to start the car, we headed off into the sunset. Our Nicaraguan adventure could finally begin.

My Favorite Part of Costa Rica

Bjorn: "You wanna go to Nicaragua tomorrow?"
Me: "Sure."

"Canopy Tour"

When you envision a "tour" of the rainforest canopy, what comes to mind? Hanging bridges? A helicopter ride? Careening from tree to tree on a long metal cable?

I am pleased to add ziplining to my growing list of adventure/stupid activities that I've braved.

Catarata de La Fortuna

Well, the waterfall in La Fortuna kind of deserves its own post. While there wasn't any brilliant story to accompany the trip (except maybe the torrential downpour that showed up just as we got there, left while we swam, and returned just as we were leaving), there was a beautiful waterfall that I took a zillion pictures of.

Costa Rica: Muy Bonita

Oh yeah, I went to Costa Rica for two weeks in July.

Honestly, I don't have time to recount the entire trip, so you can check out the pictures yourself. You probably aren't going to check out all 500+ anyway, so now you can scroll through at your leisure. The captions explain some stuff.


As was mentioned in one of the comments on a previous post, I seem to have left cookies out of my list of things I've cooked this summer. It's not so much that I am any good at baking cookies, but more that it's a specialty of the house where I've been living. Bill, who is generously letting Mark and me house-sit, is a often known as "The Cookie Guy"--and with good reason. We learned very early on in our supervisory group that he will never go anywhere without little ziploc baggies of freshly baked cookies. They are the most delicious and memorable calling card ever. He brought them for everyone in our supervisory not just at weekly meetings, but whenever he would come out to Mission to observe, and pretty much whenever he would stop by Stanford (it was not unusual to find a bag in my mailbox). Other recipients include the guy who runs classes at the Mac store, the mail carrier, and a waitress at one of their favorite restaurants.

It should be noted that these aren't just something off the back of some Tollhouse chocolate chips (not that those aren't delicious). No, this recipe took six years to prefect and makes about 90 cookies per batch. Of course the specifics are too special to post here, but let's just say that the base calls for semi-sweet chocolate, white chocolate, and toffee chips. Additional ingredient combinations are numerous and continue to be experimented with.

So when I got the keys to the house, I also got a copy of the recipe and the metaphoric keys to the KitchenAid mixer and the "cookie cabinet," an entire section of the kitchen literally overflowing with every kind of cookie filling your mind can fathom. The recipe wasn't so much permission to bake these cookies, but a mandate to keep the kitchen smelling delicious all summer.

I've even taken to carrying around cookies with me when go to friends' houses or other places. One of my favorite memories from this summer was when I got home from Costa Rica, and Mark asked me--on the car ride from the airport--"Will you bake cookies when we get home? I haven't had any in two weeks because you've been gone..." I might be turning into Bill. But there could be worse things.