Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Pythagorean Leash

One of the most important things I think that I can train kids to do in geometry class is to draw pictures. Any time they come across a word problem, they need to be able to translate it into a picture because 90% of the time, word problems aren't that challenging if you can get the picture right. Furthermore, translating word situation into a mathematical model/equation is a skill that will be legitimately useful for them long after they've left school (just ask the history teacher who came to me the other day trying to figure out how many points his final exam should be worth).

I'm also a huge fan or word problems because I love writing ones that will elicit awesome drawings. I get a sad when I have to write ones like "Point A is the midpoint of BC and angle JKL is bisected by ray KM and WU is the perpendicular bisector of XY such that WU is the altitude of triangle WXY..." because those pictures just end up being shapes with a lot of letters on them. The good problems are ones like I put on a recent quiz. The gist is that Julian/Karla (obviously I always use student names and weirdly, the kids--even in high school--still LOVE it) is walking his/her pet spider/pig and I give dimensions about the height that Julian/Karla is holding the leash and how far the pet is in front of its owner. It's just a simple pythagorean theorem problem, but the pictures are the good part.

The pig in this first one looks so happy and carefree. Maybe because he is out for a lovely walk instead of taking a geometry quiz.


My favorite part of this one is that the pig is explaining all of the answer. I wonder whether the speech bubble was planned in advance or a last-minute add-on. Either way, brilliant.

Here, I can't figure out if this student named the pig because (1) she had too much time left and got bored, (2) she was killing time trying to figure out the problem, (3) she really needed to have a name for the pig in order to make the problem feel accessible, or (4) she knows more details about Karla's pets than the rest of us do (this student is one of Karla's good friends).

Not to judge students' artistic skills, but this is the least pig-like pig I saw on anyone's paper.

I think I have really gotten through to this student when I've stressed the importance of labeling everything you know about a picture. I'm so glad he labeled everything because I definitely would not have known which was the spider and which was Julian.

This is my favorite picture out of any of them. In case you can't tell (sorry, I took these with my camera phone as I was grading them), the spider-walker's t-shirt says, "Hi! I'm Julian."

And I'll conclude with a kid whose math skills are doing fine (he got the problem right, at least), but who could use a little work on his reading comprehension.
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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Math in the U. S. of A.

In an attempt to get kids focused on problem-solving strategies without getting caught up in the details of formulas and procedures, over the last two days I've given kids tricky area and perimeter problem with no numbers. Here's an example:

S., a student whose dry humor never fails to make me smile, was getting frustrated with one of the problems. In exasperation, he literally threw his hands up and asked, "Why can't we just use numbers--like Americans?"

Oh S., at age 14 you've already identified the key difference between American and other mathematics education systems. How did you figure it out so quickly when it's taken researchers years?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

2-3 of my Favourites

If I were to make a list of things that I love, included on that list would be New Zealand, Google, and--depending on the day--kids. So what happens when three of my favourite things come together?


So cute my heart almost stopped.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Finishing School

In my advisory last week we were did a lesson on the basics of college. I often forget how little ninth graders know about college beyond "It's more school after high school," so it was fun to hear things like their ideas about what a B.S. is. We got to talking about different degrees you can earn, which jobs require or indicate that you have what kind of degree, how long different degrees take, etc. For the most part I knew the answers (J.D. means Juris Doctor, right?) or was able to make up answers that sounded believable (med school is seven years, right?). But there was one question that left me stumped. Maybe you can help me out.

One student raised her hand and in complete earnest asked, "What kind of degree do you get if you go to finishing school?"

I tried to figure out exactly what she was asking. Was she asking if you get these degrees when you finish school? Was she talking about people who go on to get extra certifications after finishing their degree? Did she want to know if advanced degrees were different in Scandinavia? No, it seemed that she had heard of people going to "finishing school" for some type of legitimate education and she just wanted to know how that was different from, say, business school. Not wanting to embarrass her for trying to ask a genuine question about a quasi-educational institution designed to prepare women to play out subservient gender schema, I just pretended I didn't know what she was talking about and left it at that.

My question is what people this girl is hanging out with who talk about going to finishing school.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

The Awkward Triangle

In our recent area unit, we've talked a lot about how "every shape is a rectangle" and if they can just find the rectangle, they can find the area. For example, a triangle is half of a rectangle, so because we can find area of a rectangle by base x height, we can find the triangle by dividing the rectangle's area in half. On the test there was a question that showed an oblique triangle, noting that the triangle does not look like 1/2 a rectangle, so why does bh/2 work?

Here is the best description I've ever gotten as to why this kind of triangle is tricky:
"The triangle is more pointy so it's confusing. This works because no matter what kind of triangle it is it will still have another rectangle that fits its awkwardness."

I do love awkward triangles. Almost as much as I love the awkward things kids write on tests.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Appreciation Friday

Dear Mrs. L,
You are officially the best math teacher ive ever had! Everything you have taught was explained thurroly (don't know how to spell), which I am so thankful for.
Becaus I appreciate you so much I've put a sticker of a ninja on my letter! Keep up the good work.
Sincearly, N.L.


Dear Ms. L,
I am writing this letter because I appreciated when you helped me when I needed help. When I didn't get the formula (b1+b2)h/2=A you made it clear & now I got it. I didn't know where the 2 was coming from. So thank you Ms. L, I appreciate you lots lots lots.
<3, N.S.

PS. I also appreciate how you don't make us memorize formulas. We make our own formulas (that work).

Friday, October 30, 2009

Best/Worst Assessment Ever

My roommate came up with a pretty ingenious costume for me this year. See if you can guess what it is (sorry, I didn't take any pictures):
I wore an outfit that was all pastel (green plain bermuda shorts and a pink sweater vest), my hair in pigtails with ribbons, and freckles on my face. On the front of my sweater was a big sideways "V". On the back I had a sign that said "<90degrees".

Get it? I was a cute angle! Hahahaha. Okay, not that funny, but appropriate for a geometry teacher. Nowhere near as good at the statistics teacher who came as a Mean Girl (entry in her Burn Book: "Didn't find y-hat"). As expected, some kids thought my costume was funny and most rolled their eyes. However, there was one reaction--that many had--that I didn't expect.

Kid: "Ms. L, what are you?"
Me: "Guess"
Kid: "Ummmm... a little kid? A nerd?"
Me: "What's on my shirt?"
Kid: "Tape?"
Me: "Yeah, what shape is it?"
Kid: "A 7?"
Me (turns around): "See if this helps?"
Kid: "Ninety... Oh! You're a right angle!"
Me (turns back around): "Does this look like a right angle? I am an angle, but what kind?"
Kid: "I don't know. It says 90 degrees on your sign"
Me: "Look again. It doesn't just say 90 degrees"
Kid: "Yes it does. You're a right angle."
Me (to myself): "I'm not a right angle, but apparently I am the worst geometry teacher ever."

So I learned that about half my kids do not know what an acute angle is and/or do not know how to read greater than/less than signs. This is a problem. I'm okay with them not getting the pun, but seriously, you think that's a right angle? Whatever it is that I think I'm teaching is clearly not sticking. Scariest Halloween ever. I will be forever haunted by the terror of our nation's poor math education.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

A Way with Words

First major writing assignment of the year: a "problem of the week" about angle relationships and a cheesy real-life context. The "problem" was that there's a billboard being built on the highway next to our school and given a diagram with a bunch of angles in it and limited information, they had to figure out if a certain angle was more or less than 30 degrees in order for the billboard to be "safe." I love writing assignments in math class because they provide a challenge for ALL students. Even those who are used to getting the right answer all easily are still challenged by actually writing about mathematics and giving a logical explanation backed up by mathematical viable reason.

Plus, I love reading the projects because of gems like these:

• “In order to know the answer you will need to be able to find all the angles. Also you will need to know how to find how many degrees are in a triangle. Other than that you should be fine.”
• "What I learned from this POW was how knowing how to find angles might be useful if I ditch my dreams of becoming an artist and become an architect."
• "I think I deserve to get somewhere between a B+-A- because I really busted my butt, staying up late to try and make sure my explanations made sense and more."
• This was one student's entire conclusion (I specified that the conclusion should be about one paragraph): "In conclusion, the answer is yes." Interestingly (or maybe unsurprisingly), he never stated a question anywhere in the project.
• "This problem shows how people actually have to do these things in everyday life. It opens my eyes and I can understand what certain people have to do to build buildings and homes. I appreciate these people a lot more because it is really hard to do and I am lucky to have been able to learn a bit of this."
• "If I were to do this problem again, I don't think I would have done this differently. I went about it logically and swiftly with the help of my mom."

I'm glad I'm not an English teacher.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Hopes & Fears

Okay, yes, this post is about six weeks late, but that should tell you how crazy this year has been that only now in October have I had the 10 minutes it took to transcribe this list onto my computer.

I wanted to kick off the school year by acknowledging for my ninth grade advisory the magnitude of the experience they were beginning. It's exciting, it's scary, it's overwhelming. And as a 14 year-old for whom image is everything, the last thing you want to do is publicly admit all these emotions. So on our second day of school, I had each student anonymously write down hopes and fears that they had for the new year (I contributed too) and then we read each other's aloud.

In general, the hopes and fears were about making new friends and getting good grades, but here are the ones that stood out to me the most:

I hope I can get rid of my stage fright
I hope when I’m a senior, I remember today (obviously, if I am still at this school in four years, this is going in the speech I make at graduation)
I hope I don’t hate this school (I didn't write this one, but it could have easily been mine)
I hope I leave next year
I hope that I pass in math class (this was interesting because it was the only hope or fear that referenced a specific class)

I fear that I will not graduate
I fear dying
I fear loneliness
I fear that my friends at another school will forget me
I’m fearful of messing up someone’s name
I fear I’m gonna like it here (another one that could have been mine)
I fear I could get in a fight with someone
I fear missing old friends or making new ones
I fear getting mounds of homework
I fear that I won’t make as close of friends as I did in middle school
I fear getting flunked (lots of kids had something like this one, but the stark-ness of the word "flunked" just broke my heart)
I fear that I’ll be made fun of because of how I dress

Pretty deep, huh?

I told them that we'd revisit these later in the year. I you have any ideas about a good structure for doing that, please let me know.

Monday, October 05, 2009


A: "Ms. L, you don't look like a math teacher today. You look like an English teacher."
Me: "Why? Because I'm wearing a scarf?"
A: "...yeah."

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Top 10

Helen would've been funnier, but I'll take what I can get.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Zero Tolerance

My new school basically has a "zero tolerance" policy for drugs, alcohol and weapons. It's not technically written into the school handbook, but historically students have been automatically expelled for possession of any such contraband. Two more recent incidents (within the past six months) have strayed from this expulsion policy, with students were put on a sort of probation and expected to meet certain requirements to keep from being expelled.

The most recent non-expulsion was apparently a strong source of contention among the board members as well as the faculty, so today we had a staff discussion about it. Maybe it's just due to my experiences at schools where expulsion was a serious last resort, I was extremely surprised to hear the strong support (at least from those who spoke up) for the zero tolerance policy. The main reason seemed to be the strong message that zero tolerance supposedly sends as a deterrent to such behavior. In theory, I get that. As a teacher, it is convenient to tell my students such a hard line. My "be good" speech before the camping trip was easier when I could say "If you bring drugs or alcohol, you will be expelled" than if I had merely said "If you bring drugs or alcohol, there will be serious consequences." There it is, done, black and white.

But the simplicity of it all is a huge reason why I'm uncomfortable with zero tolerance policies. If we are a school that purports to be strongly grounded in the community we've built, a school that prides itself on "revision and redemption," a school where we work on character just as much as academics, what kind of strong message are we sending when we say one strike and you're out? I agree, there should be times when a student does something so extreme that s/he should not be permitted to return to the school. I.e. when that student's continued presence creates a physically dangerous situation. Maybe my moral compass that determines levels of badness is askew, but I find it highly unlikely that a student with a bottle of liquor in his backpack is posing the kind of threat that can only be resolved by sending him to another school. More importantly, if we are as superior a school as we say we are, it's extremely unlikely that Mr. Underage Drinker will get the kind of support he needs at his new school to keep him from making the same mistake again. Wouldn't he be better off staying with us where yes, there can be serious consequences, but he'll follow through on those consequences surrounded by teachers who know and care about him and know him as more than Mr. Underage Drinker. I love the way we build community and how students see our school as a family. But I don't want to be a part of a family that kids out their teenager for one mistake. Wouldn't a better lesson to the community be that we take care of those who mess up and try to help them make better decisions?

Particularly as a charter school, it's not just our school community that we need to think about when making policy decisions, but also the greater community. We need to make an extra good impression to the community that proves that we're worth keeping around and continuing to fund. Because we are specifically not a magnet school, but rather a school that prides itself on being able to teach all students at a high level of rigor, it's important that we maintain a diverse population. Of course it's easy to say you educate all students when you only have one type of student; it's when you have a wide range that the "all students" part gets tough. But what if you kick out "all students" who don't fit in with your behavior expectations? More often than not, the kids who get caught bringing drugs and alcohol to school are also the ones with poor grades, low test scores, and negative behavioral histories. How convenient that they would get expelled. Not to say, of course, that this is what's actually happening, that the school is seeking ways to get rid of those students who bring down our image. But it does make it easier for opponents to point fingers when we have stricter guidelines for what is required to stay in school. Just saying.

What should happen to those kids who bring drugs and alcohol to school? What would I hope those "serious consequences" to be? Here's the point where I pass the buck and say that I don't have a good solution, but that's why I'm a teacher, not an administrator.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Cutest. Thing. Ever.

Every year, my school takes all ~400 students on an overnight camping trip to kick off the year. Although I've chaperoned a lot of high school trips in my day, 400 kids plus the dustiest place on Earth made for a whole new animal. I was not prepared for how chaotic it would be or for how long I would sleep afterward (6pm-8am; yes you read that right). In general, it was not my favorite way to spend 36 hours and is not something I'd say I'm looking forward to doing again.


There was one moment that pretty much saved the trip. The big activity on Friday was the "advisory olympics," something my advisees didn't really care that much about (and honestly, I couldn't blame them for it). The culminating event in the olympics was a face-painting competition. This is something that's done every year, so I figured that other advisories would have some pretty good ideas. My freshmen, on the other hand, I was a little worried about. But instead, they came up with what I think was one of the best face painting motifs in the school. They figured out that with 17 advisees plus me, they exactly fit with each having one letter from my last name (plus Ms. at the beginning). And they arranged it with more efficiency than I've ever seen from a group of 14-15 year olds. Y. grabbed a sheet of paper and started writing down who would get each letter, E. (who's a little bit reserved) jumped in to the actual painting. When everyone was done, M. made everyone line up and walk in together in order. Even S., who never wants to do anything (and who, on the first day of school, flat out refused to join our circle) chose a letter and stood in line.

My favorite part? (Besides having 17 cute kids with my name spelled out on their faces?) The thing that they were most proud of was that they had chosen something that everyone in the advisory was a part of and that they needed everyone to make it complete. Awwwww...

Monday, August 31, 2009

First Week Observations

One year and one week into my teaching career, there continue to be 10,000 new things that I notice everyday. Just as I want to work on my students' skills around what's important to "notice" in math, I continue to think about the ways that the things I'm noticing are actually serving to improve my practice.

Useful things I've noticed:
-Cooperative learning and inquiry thrives when the content is based in multiple representations (geometric, algebraic, verbal, graphical, situational, etc.). It gives every student an access point and a challenge and which is which varies by individual student rather than status. Now the challenge for me: where can I center instruction around multiple representations in mathematical situations where other representations aren't very meaningful?
-Kids on the Peninsula are different than kids in the East Bay. Can't yet put my finger on how they're different, but there's something happening.
-School-wide policies and support structures (that aren't crazy) mean a lot less work for the individual teacher. Read: I love mandatory study hall that I don't have to organize myself.

Happy, but maybe not super-useful things I've noticed:
-Second year teaching, even in a completely new school, is infinitely easier than first year. If things keep getting easier at the same rate, by Year 5 I'll be able to teach in my sleep.
-Kids are cute no matter where you go.
-I'm pretty into advisory. Maybe not so much for the purposes it was intended for, but because I think my kids are cute and I like hanging out with them.

Things I've noticed that really I already know but have trouble actually putting into practice:
-My summer bedtime and social habits are not conducive to a successful teaching lifestyle.
-Staying at school for 12+ hours a day (plus weekends) is also not conducive to a successful teaching lifestyle. Or any lifestyle, for that matter.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Quiet

I love the feel of a fresh school year and a fresh classroom. The tables are arranged and chairs are still pushed in. The signs I've taped at each seat have yet to be picked at and drawn on. The markers still draw bright bold strokes and they even all still have caps. Even the white board has been cleared of that residue from ink that wasn't erased soon enough. There's so much promise.

Especially with ninth graders, the students are still fresh and crisp as well. I've already met a lot of them through orientation, so they're still in that place where I know their faces and have seen them smile, but they've yet to divulge their sordid histories of mathematical, academic, and emotional wounds. The only thing I know about them is that each has the potential to be the greatest mathematical genius or the most supportive group member or generally the most awesome kid the world has ever known.

But soon everyone will reveal their true selves. I'll immediately recognize that my five-year old cousin would roll her eyes at D.'s immaturity. I'll agonize over how to ever get S. to do anything ever without first telling me "no." E. will subtly make it known that she thinks she's too smart for my class. I'll find my brand new rulers snapped in half. I'll finally kick a kid out of the room.

Yikes, it sounds like I'm approaching the school year with an all-down-hill-from-here attitude, but I keep reminding myself that the revealing of true selves is what actually makes me like the kids (not so much with the broken rulers, though). Like last year when I found out that L. had never been so proud of her math grade, or when A. would come visit me at lunch even though she'd moved on to Algebra II. The quiet, anxious, peaceful uncertainty of a new year can be so comforting in that there are no labels to place on anyone yet, but in many ways it's those labels that make the classroom complete.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Theme from Jaws

Remember that song? The way the creepy music gets faster and faster and scarier and scarier as you feel the deadly shark approaching? I would say that this pretty accurately represents my life's soundtrack right now. And that deadly worst nightmare creeping up on my with ever increasing speed is, of course, the impending school year.

Really, it's already started. It started on Tuesday (exactly two months after we finished in June--who says we get three months off?) with three days of "New Teacher Celebration" at my new school (because saying "New Teacher Orientation" isn't bright and sunny enough). Really it started a good three weeks ago when I first met with my geometry planning partner to map out our year. At first it wasn't too bad. Planning was actually kind of fun. I wouldn't call New Teacher Celebration "fun," but it was good to meet other people and get a lot of my questions answered.

Now the Jaws Theme is picking up speed and I've been hit smack in the face with the 10,000 thing I need to plan, create, sort, arrange, write, clean, set up, photocopy, revise, update, decide, and just do before kids come on the 17th. And it doesn't help that a not small part of me feels like I should take advantage of these last days of summer by doing things like lying out by the pool and BBQing. The music speeds up and the shark approaches.

Don't get me wrong--I love teaching and can't imagine a different career. Unless I could be a professional summer vacationer.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Lago de Atitlan

Apologies for the delay in actually posting pictures and anything interesting about my trip to Guatemala. Subsequent trips to Yosemite and now Philadelphia have led to a backlog of blog posts. For all of my five readers.

So here is the first weekend of my trip, a visit to Lago de Atitlan.

(If you click on the slideshow it will take you to the Picasa album so you can skip the boring pictures)
Lago de Atitlan is a good sized lake that's a prime destination for tourists. If you look at my pictures of the cute little towns and lush green volcanoes surrounding the lake, you might get an idea of why. Below is a panoramic of El Lago, courtesy of Katie, another teacher in my travel group.

My favorite part of the weekend was the trip to Santiago and my first taste of the blending between indigenous and colonial/Spanish Guatemalan cultures. The church in Santiago, like many churches in Guatemala, has prominent features reflecting the melding of cultures. First, what do those steps remind you of? If you answered "A Mayan Temple," you are correct.

From Guatemala - Panajachel Lago de Atitlan

A feature unique to Santiago is that it is supposed to be the place where the Mayan gods came down to Earth to give humans the gift of knowledge. Naturally, this is showcased in the town's Catholic church. Here's a picture of the altar with a beautiful carving of a quetzal handing a book over to Man. (If you want a closer-up view, click on the picture and then zoom in. It'll be blurry, but you'll get the idea)

From Guatemala - Panajachel Lago de Atitlan

Coming soon: more cultural blending with Maximon AKA San Simon AKA Who is this Effigy?

Friday, July 10, 2009

Soy Gringa?

My Guatemalan home, Queztaltenango (AKA Xelaju or just Xela to mot everyone), is second only to Antigua in its number of Spanish language schools. As such, it's easy to find--and in fact difficult to avoid--other foreigners. During the day I see teacher-student pairs wandering the streets on field trips to museums or local markets. In the evenings the gringos flock to the bars and restaurants that promise vegan delights, relatively cheap local beer, and where even the "comdia tipica" is too expensive for the average Quetzalteco.

As per usual when traveling outside the US (or inside the US for that matter), there's something amiss about my inclusion in this grigo subculture. In my mind I'm just as foreign as the rest (if not more so due to my dismal Spanish) but my dark hair and skin raise eyebrows and questions. When I pass white people on the street, they look me up and down, unsure whether it's appropriate to say "hello" or "hola." My clothes scream "America" (today I'm wearing hiking boots and North Face pants and carrying a Nalgene), but something--i.e. my melanin--is off.

The Guatemalans themselves seem to err on the side of "foreigner," perhaps because of my clothing or perhaps because their more well trained eyes know that my dark features are hardly Mayan and unlikely to be Central American. Still, I have been stopped twice on the street for directions (fortunately, my Spanish teacher was with me and stepped in to relieve my deer-in-the-headlights state). At my Spanish school a teacher noted that there is a student here with a Latino last name and inquired if I am her. Americans and Guatemalans alike want to know "Donde eres?" but are unsatisfied with the idea that San Francisco could be the ultimate answer (explaining my Michigan childhood is also insufficient).

Of course this is all a blatant reflection of what it means to be American, and of course this is not new information. At times I sometimes feel lucky that I can theoretically blend in more than your average white girl, that I can theoretically engage more fully in my immersion experience. A woman from Arkansas shared with me her jealously that I can probably walk the streets more safely because "they" are wouldn't see me as a foreign target for crime. (Don't worry, parents. Even if I did agree with her, I'd see that as no reason to let down my guard. I mentally placed her thoughts in the same category as the frequent comment that I'm so lucky I don't have to go tanning). There may be advantages that come from traveling with brown skin in brown-skinned countries, but then someone is disappointed when I can't understand Spanish and can't dance salsa and it's just another reminder that once again I don't fit in in the way it's expected.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Comida Guatemalteca

Obviously there is much else to write about Guatemala, but since most topics of interest necessitate accompanying pictures, I'll wait until I get home to blog about that.

People have been asking what the comida tipica is here, and I'm not sure I've actually gotten a good handle on that. My host family has been hosting students for 15+ years, so they definitely serve me food that is a little more kind to American tastes and digestive preferences. For breakfast, there are corn flakes and then some sort of toast (regular toast, French toast) and a fresh banana. The best part, however, is the daily freshly squeezed jugo de naranja. I am pretty sure my host mother gets up at least an hour and a half before the rest of us to cook it all.

Lunch is the main meal of the day, so it usually includes meat. For my host family, that has meant everything from delicious chicken to not-so-delicious hot dogs. There´s usually rice and some sort of sauce, and always tortillas. Dinner is smaller and at my house it usually involves some combination of eggs, beans, and tortillas. We have hot drinks (tea or instant coffee) with breakfast and dinner and a cold drink (horchata or some kool-aid-ish drink) at lunch. By the end of the day, I'm stuffed. Other American students I've talked to seem to have somewhat different meals. Others have more eggs and beans and rice, although the common thread is always tortillas.

Although I love having three meals a day cooked for me, it means I haven't had much of an opportunity to explore food on my own. Everyday I walk through the market area of town where I can smell fresh tortillas, frying platanos, and all kinds of delicious sauces. I'm not scared to try street food (the only time it has ever done me wrong was when I chipped my tooth on Kenyan peanut brittle), but I'm usually too full from all the delicious food my host family serves.

Coming up when I can post pictures: a chocolate-making extravaganza in which our heroine samples, pounds and dries her own drinking chocolate bars.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Spanish: Improving

I am now on my fifth day in Guatemala. There's much to report and remark on, but my main focus (and cause of exhaustion) thus far has been learning and attempting to speak in Spanish.

It should be noted that the last time I had any sort of formal education in Spanish was elementary school, and I'm not sure I can really count that. My more recent education has been from listening to my students, the two weeks last summer in Costa Rica and Nicaragua (where I was sheltered by traveling with three Spanish teachers who did pretty much all the talking), and the many times that random people have mistaken me as Latina and started speaking to me in Spanish. Which is all to say, I can understand a decent amount (including a lot of curse words), but can speak approximately nothing.

The first place that this has caused a problem is with my host family. They are incredibly nice and welcoming and all of that, but I can't really say much in response to their questions. Most of the time I can understand what they're asking, but my responses are all one or two words: "Gracias!" "Esta bien" "Soy maestra de matimaticos" (which I quickly learned should be "de las matimaticas." Oops). I know they don't expect me to be fluent, but I just feel rude that I'm not really talking to them. It's not that I don't want to; I just don't have the words to say what I want. Smiling, nodding, and making exaggerated gestures gets me somewhere (like they stop bringing me tortillas eventually), but it doesn't work when they ask me what I've done that day.

The good news is that my Spanish classes are kind of amazing. Every morning I spend 4.5 hours with one other American (a special ed teacher from Minnesota) and our teacher. With only two people in the class, it's impossible to hide. So far, I have probably learned at least 200 new words as well as regular (and some irregular) verb conjugations in the present, past and future tenses. I swear that I have already been taught an entire Spanish I course in the past three days, if not more. Whether or not I have learned an entire Spanish I course is debatable. But I do see a noticeable improvement in not feeling like a complete idiot.

My primary goal in being here is to be able to speak to my students' parents, so once I learn some more words/phrases like "throwing" and "never does homework" I think I'll actually be okay.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Little Red Schoolhouse Update

Remember this adventure that I had back in March? Good thing I snapped those pictures when I could as I pretty much got in at the last opportunity.

Farewell, Little Red Schoolhouse. Now that we've gotten that monstrosity out of the way, I can think of another monstrosity that we could stand to change. Any guesses?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Summer Update

Today I accomplished something crucial that I would like to add to yesterday's list of things I've done so far this summer:
-Took a nap in the sun by the pool

Stay tuned for further updates. There are still a lot of napping places on my to-do list.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


I'm all about breaking down teacher stereotypes, like the ones that teaching is easy, that we're not very smart, that we only work until 3pm and live for summer vacation. But after Day 3 of summer vacation (Day 5 if you count the weekend), I have to say that summer vacation might be the greatest invention since breathing. Here are some things I have done so far:
-Gone to bed early
-Gone to bed late
-Woken up and gone back to sleep
-Slept until noon
-Not set an alarm
-Taken a mid-afternoon nap
-Taken a late-afternoon nap
-Gone shopping for things I actually want instead of just for things I need
-Come home from shopping and taken a nap
-Napped on the couch
-Napped in a bed
-Fallen asleep while watching a movie at night
-Fallen asleep while watching TV during the day

The best thing I've gotten to do since school ended? Not feel guilty.
All of the above are things I've done at some point during the school year, but they always take place with that horrible sense of guilt. Going to bed early means I'm skipping out on some grading/planning/saving the world I should be doing; going to bed late means I've already ruined tomorrow. But now there's nothing I should be doing and nothing happening tomorrow that could possibly ruined.

I know that year-round schooling is way better for kids and all that, but...

Thursday, June 11, 2009

And So It Goes

This was it. This was my last day of teaching for this school year. There are so many ways to summarize, reflect, analyze, consider, but right now my feelings are not the elated, accomplished exhaustion I'd expected upon completion of what's supposed to be the most difficult year of my teaching career. Right now it's just bittersweet. The sweetness of all the things my students have actually learned this year, of all the new things that they can do because they were in my math class. Every student who gave me a hug goodbye and told me they would miss me. The notes I got thanking for me for things I didn't even know I'd done. The teachers who check in with me like the first year teacher I am, but value my input as if I have years of experience. The passion in their voices and their actions for the school they love, and that I've come to love so much as well.

Maybe if the kids weren't so nice and if the other teachers weren't so brilliant, I wouldn't be so bitter. As little as I believe in fate or destiny, everything seemed like it fell into place with this school. It's a legendary place, a Mecca of math teaching. Back in the fall of grad school, I remember people from home asking if I planned to stay in California. I said no, not likely--unless I could somehow get a job this one school... A few months later when I visited some classes, a student asked if I was a teacher there. I said no, but that I hoped to be. He pointed to the construction going on outside and told me that he hoped I'd get the job and maybe teach in one of the new classrooms. In September I was handed the keys to one of those classrooms.

So if all the stars aligned with the right job opening at the right time and connections with the right people, why did those stars fall out of place so quickly? I am bitter as all hell that I've been forced from this school by a board and district administration that says there's no other way to save money. I am even more infinitely bitter that the "reduction in force" hit 15-20 other teachers and that those who are "lucky" enough to stay behind have been hit from all directions with mandates and dicta forcing into pedagogical corners. I'm bitter for every one of my students who felt like they had to say goodbye because there is no see you later or have a good summer. I'm bitter for the posters that students brought to their self-organized protest yesterday that pictured a favorite teacher and bore the words "I wouldn't be walking across the stage if it weren't for her." I'm bitter that it seems to be more heavily hitting our school than the one that is literally on the right side of the train tracks.

So my first year teaching was all I'd dreamed it would be. It was difficult and challenging and exhausting and ridiculous and just plain hard. It was exciting and supportive and fun and hilarious. It provided an even clearer realization of just how high the learning curve is in this career. And my first year teaching was not all I'd dreamed it would be. It was union meetings and layoff notices and blackboard configurations and unresponsive administrators and heartbreakingly unrealistic optimism from my colleagues, my students, and myself that everything would turn out okay.

It did turn out okay. I had unlimited access to teachers who appear in videos and studies around the world as ideals of what good teaching looks like. I learned a curriculum that's built on the ideas and structures I believe in most. I made professional and personal connections that have already opened doors in my career. I spent every day with the nicest kids I've ever met, laughing with them, watching them grow, and screaming at them in fits of rage. And I have a job next year at a completely different kind of school, an experiment in education where I will still meet amazing kids, still get to work with a great staff and will actually feel respected by the administration.

I expected to start my second year of teaching back in a room that was filled with my stuff, at a school where kids I used to teach would say hi to me, where I didn't have to learn where my mailbox is and how to take attendance and where to find paper. But for all the expectations that were stretched out of whack this year, who's to say what year two will bring?

Sunday, May 24, 2009

To Answer your Question

I am so ready to be done with this school year. My students are driving me absolutely crazy. And from the looks of it, I'm driving them crazy too. The freshmen are especially displeased that unlike their past nine years of schooling, this one will not conclude the year with parties and field trips, but with exams. Welcome to high school! I think we all agree that summer is long overdue and are unsure how to get through the next three weeks (seriously, there are THREE more weeks?!) without killing each other.

My personal coping strategies revolve around revised classroom management strategies. After about 32 weeks of resisting temptation, I finally sprayed a girl with my overhead projector spray bottle when she wouldn't stop talking. When kids say something obnoxious or stupid (yes, there are stupid questions and stupid answers) I've been responding with complete and full-on sarcasm. Did you miss anything when you were absent? Nope; we canceled class when we realized you were gone. Oh, you don't like it when you have to graph? Well I don't like it when you whine, so I guess neither of us gets what we want today.

Then I realized that I might be slipping away from funny-sarcastic to just-plain-mean-sarcastic. I had to think of a new way to let kids know how ridiculous their complaining is, but in a less abrasive way. And what is the least abrasive thing I can tell them? How much I love them. So that is my new response to everything.

"Why do we have homework?" "Because I love you."
"Why are you giving us hard problems?" "It's because I love you."
"Can we just do nothing today?" "I love you too much to let that happen."
"I hate math." "That's too bad because math loves you."

They're not giving me a lot of reasons to love them these days, so I have to take every possible opportunity to remind them--and myself--that the love is still there.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Living Well

What would happen if you took a whole bunch of factors that I don't care about and used those factors to rank the top towns/cities in the United States? Well, according to Forbes magazine, you would find that my current location comes in at #10.

Turns out Sarah and I made a good decision to move here if we want to "live well." Indeed I thank my lucky stars on a daily basis that Visa International and Sony Computer Entertainment America are right in our backyard (or at least I will begin to be thankful for this now that I actually know about it). And now I know that the reason I always feel so inventive when I'm home is that Foster City is in the top five for patents per capita. Score! Unfortunately, I don't quite meet the Foster City "live well" criteria that put us on the list in the first place, given that I don't even make half of the median income. Maybe because I haven't come up with that patent yet.

I do have to take issue with Forbes' assessment that the City "offers few restaurants or cultural institutions." If Rickshaw Corner, the "Chinese" place down the street doesn't fit both those criteria, I don't know what does. Take that, Boulder.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Singing a New Tune

I happened to have observers in my classroom today as we were doing a review activity for our quadratics unit and one asked me whether I'd taught them a quadratic formula song. Obviously that was the only way I know how to teach it (this year my 4th block was even treated to an R&B remix courtesy of another math teacher).

Then the observer had a brilliant suggestion. He noticed the Michigan shirt I was wearing and asked if I'd taught the QF to the tune of the Michigan fight song. How did I not think of that earlier? Indoctrinate my students into math AND blind athletic fanaticism at the same time? This is definitely happening next year.

X equals opposite b (Hail to the victors valiant!)
Then plus or minus square root (Hail to the conquering heroes!)
B squared (Hail!) minus (Hail!) four A-C (to Michigan)
Allll over two (the champions of) A (the west!)

On the other hand, I actually do want to raise little wolverine fans, so I'm not sure I want them to associate something so completely un-fun as the quadratic formula with something so awesome as U of M. I can only imagine some poor student attending a Umich sporting event--or enrolling in school there--and spending the entire time with the quadratic formula running through her head. It would ruin football season in a way that I don't want to be held responsible for.

Monday, April 27, 2009

On the Bright Side

Things lately have been, shall we say, less than ideal. Yeah my new car is fun, but not as much fun as if it had been purchased out of necessity. Finding a new job is also fun (okay, that's not true at all), but once again the whole necessity thing adds a damper.

(As a side note, California residents would be doing me and the children of our fair state a personal favor if you were to vote "yes" on all propositions in the May 19th special election. I'm just saying.)

So mostly out of fear and avoidance of the real, pressing issues, I've decided to dedicate this post to one of the good things going on. Namely, that I have found evidence on my whiteboard that there are at least three students who don't hate me.


I think that R., the author of the comment above, likes me because I let her come in my room during passing period when it's cold outside and she has once again dressed for the weather she wants instead of the weather we have.


I.'s message implies that she's something other than the kind, smart, funny, interesting girl I've known since September. Is there something I should know about that would make me think otherwise?


Initially I would have taken this as a weird, purposeful spelling mistake from N., but after last week's out-of-nowhere tirade about not doing homework "and you can't make me," I suspect that really she just wanted to let me know about her affinity for shrubs.


Then there's this, another one from R., which is so amazing that I can't even think of anything facetious to say about it. Fortunately, some of my other students did not have their hearts warmed to quite the same degree, so they took charge and erased some key words. While it's undeniably true, I'm just not as moved by the statement that "Ms. L. is the teacher I've had."

Friday, April 17, 2009

Knight Rider

I know that there are a lot of things to look for when purchasing a new car. How reliable is it? What kind of gas mileage does it get? Is it safe? After growing up with a safety engineer father, I definitely made sure I paid extra for the anti-lock brakes. The dealers, of course, took one look at the fact that I'm female and tried to sell me on the more superficial aspects. "Can you see yourself in the red one?" "What kind of interior do you think you want?" "Once you get a moonroof, you'll never be able to drive another car without one."

It happens that the new Focus I bought comes with something called "SYNC," a fancy little system that connects my phone and music to the car. This was definitely not as important as the anti-lock brakes or manual transmission, but it happened to come with the one car that fit the more important specifications. But now I'm finding out just how awesome it is. Everything is voice activated and turns on when I turn the car on, so I just say "Phone. Call Mom & Dad" and it calls them. No more headset; I just talk into the air. I can also say "USB. Play Artist Kanye West" and it will start playing the Kanye songs on my iPod.

So it's pretty exciting that I can talk to my car (would've come in handy on the long drive when I moved out to California), but it turns out that it will talk to me too. It will tell me things like when my car needs service and it'll read text messages to me. Hopefully someone will start texting me phrases that KITT, the car from Knight Rider, would say. If this car lets me feel like I'm David Hasselhoff, it was worth every penny.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Teacher Cologne

A: "Ms. L, you smell like my math teacher from last year."
Me: [raises eyebrows questioningly]
A: "I mean... I don't know, I can't describe it. You just have the same smell as my old math teacher."
Me: "It's the math teacher cologne. They give it to us when we get our teaching certificates."
Y: "That's not true, is it?"
Me: "Oh yeah, when I went to that math conference a few weeks ago I got a new bottle."

Friday, March 27, 2009

Little Red Schoolhouse

I'm in Washington, DC right now (obviously), so yesterday I took a little time to do some sightseeing. I was planning a full on Oppressed People's Day (National Museum of the American Indian followed by the Holocaust Museum), but on the way to my first destination I stumbled across a necessary pitstop.

What, you may ask, is the bright red thing in the middle of all the depressing drab and bureaucracy? Is it a bright spot in our otherwise bleak American education system? Um, sure, it's something like that.

Seriously, whose idea was this? Dear Margaret Spellings: just because John Ashcroft had to change his office building to cover up the Justice statue doesn't mean you had to do something stupid and tax-wasting with yours.

On the other hand, the poetic justice of it all is pretty phenomenal. Notice that the NCLB schoolhouse is empty. Even better, those doors to the office building behind it are locked.

I stuck around for a few minutes hoping for a good Arne Duncan celeb sighting, but no luck. So I moved on away from the schooling system and on to the pre-planned oppressive/depressive parts of my itinerary. All in all a good day.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

That's Not Funny

Last night I went to the movies for the first time in what may be almost a year. "I Love You, Man" turned out to be worth the exorbitant $10.75; in general it was sweet, smart, full of quotables but still funny the first time. But there was one minor character whose presence was like sticking a knife in my stomach and turning it slowly. This is of course no offense to Ethan Smith or Nelson Franklin or whichever actor played this guy (thanks for the unclear credits, IMDB).

He first appears in a scene where a group of male friends has spent a Sunday afternoon together and one, Sidney, is trying to get the others to stick around for dinner. One guy can't stay because he has plans with his in-laws. Another guy promised to take his kids out to dinner. The third? He has to leave because Sunday night is for grading papers. As soon as this line came out, my friend who I saw the movie with--who is also a teacher--gave me a look and we both sank down in our seats with that painful horror of empathy.

Then there's another scene where again Sidney is trying to get his friends to go out with him. We see him on the phone saying things like, "You're taking your kids to dinner again?" As he calls the third friend, Sidney says "I know that's not what education is about. Can't you just give them all B-plusses?" Again there were glances of shared anguish and further sinking into seats.

I get it. The truth is funny. Ha ha. Hilarious. Except when it's not funny at all because it's your life and things that you and your friends actually say, pretty much word-for-word.

I will give the movie credit for one thing (besides being a generally excellent movie). Although the teacher appeared for maybe a total of 60 seconds and had only one line, this was one of the most realistic portrayals of a teacher I've ever seen. To begin with, he's absent from his friendships and barely makes time for one social event. Furthermore, the writers' grouping of the teacher with the married/parenting friends demonstrates a clear understanding that being a teacher is tantamount in responsibility and busy-ness to having a new wife or a new baby. Except nobody writes movies where the happy ending entails taking a teaching job.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Language Clean-Up

***Please excuse the profanity in this post. If you are offended by the use of profanity, you may want to pass on this one. And you should probably never visit my classroom.

Student (in conversation with other students): "That's hella fucking stupid!"
Me: "Come on, you can think of a better way to say that."
Student: "I'm sorry! I mean, that's hecka fucking stupid."

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Didn't See that Coming

As I may or may not have mentioned, my school is on a 4x4 semester schedule, which means that kids have four 90-minute classes each semester, but each class covers a year's worth of material because of the doubled amount of time. It also means that at the semester change in January, I got a whole new set of students. Toward the end of the first week of the new semester, I got a message from a counselor about one of my new geometry students. Her mother had just passed away unexpectedly from a heart attack. Wow, what a way to start the new semester. This student wasn't close to her mother, she said, and only lives with her father, but it still hit her hard. Naturally, she spent most of the next week out of class, attending the funeral and wake, talking with her counselor, etc.

One of the downsides of the 4x4 block schedule is that missing a week of class is in many ways like missing two weeks of class under a regular schedule. By the time this student was back in class on a regular basis, we were pretty much done with our first unit and she ended up bombing our first test. So her counselor and I began to work with her about how she could catch up in my class. I cut a deal with her that I would let her retake the test and excuse her from most of that work in the first unit if she would come after school and work with me until she felt comfortable with the material. She came in a coupe days over the next few weeks and I felt like we were making progress and that she'd be ready to retake the test this week (now the fifth week of the semester) or next.

Up until now, this is just a tragic story that makes me feel like wow, life can be unfair. Here's this poor girl, who just transferred here partway through the first semester and could have used the new semester as a fresh start, but it gets interrupted from the get-go by a completely unfair tragedy. So here's where the story takes a new turn:

On Thursday, this student's English teacher called home and mentioned to her father about how we really want to support her through this difficult time. The father was confused--what difficult time? It turns out that this student's mother did not die of a heart attack at the beginning of the semester, and in fact is not dead at all. Everything was made up. Unbelievable. Absolutely unbelievable. I mean, it's one thing to come up with a lie that your grandmother or aunt or something died, but your mother? How did she think that nobody was going to find out? How did she create such an intricate lie that she missed school for the "funeral" and everything?

Updates to follow on what happens with this situation. There is definitely going to be a meeting with the student, her father, and all of the teachers next week. I'm not really sure how one assigns consequences for a lie like this. There's clearly something going on that this girl needs help with, but I am clueless as to how to get that help to her.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Algebra Kids are Funny Too

Our most recent project was a "Problem of the Day" where teams were given two ropes of different length and thickness and they had to figure out how many knots they'd have to tie in each rope so that the ropes had the same amount of knots and were also the same length.

I haven't actually read their write-ups yet but part of me feels ready to give out the grades right now.

Monday, February 16, 2009

If It Walks Like a Duck...

In geometry we work a lot on helping students draw pictures from word problems. Here's an example from the very beginning of the course: "Draw a rectangle DUCK with sides UC=5 and CK=6. (Hint: Drawing the picture is the hard part. The rest is easy). (a) Find the area of DUCK. (b) Find the perimeter of DUCK."

And here is why I love my new group of geometry kids:

If It Walks Like a Kumara...

About a year and a half ago, you may remember I found a magical surprise at one of the local markets: golden kiwifruit. For that treat I had to make an exception in my attempt to at locivore-ism. Also in that post, I made a list of other food products that I would gladly give up some food miles to taste once again. Amazingly, I've actually been able to find some of those food items. I found Tim Tams at Cost Plus and then Target carried them for awhile (although only in limited flavors not including my beloved dark chocolate or latte). I also discovered that they sell Spy Valley sauvingnon blanc just down the street at BevMo and that a restaurant in SF run by "Two Aussies & a Kiwi" has Monteith's available now and then. For some more challenging items, I received a lovely holiday care package from the cousins containing Vegemite (um, thanks?) and some delicious feijoa lollies (actually thanks!).

Most of the foods on my list are processed, so they're not that difficult to get if I really put my mind to it. However, there is one elusive vegetable that I figured I'd just have to wait on until I can make it back South. Then by some miracle I noticed something out of the ordinary at the Asian grocery store where we get our produce. There it was, kind of reddish skin with the lumpy shape.

And a sign that said "Japanese sweet yam." Obviously I have no idea what a Japanese sweet yam is, but of course I bought one. Upon cutting and roasting, I don't think I can 100% say for sure that it's a kumara, but it definitely tasted delicious and kumara-like. The only answer is to continue buying them and using my Edmond's cookbook to make sure I'm eating real Kiwi fare.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009


Student: "Ms. L., have you ever read Of Mice and Men?" [the freshmen English classes just started it]
Me: "Yeah, I read it when I was in ninth grade too."
Student: "Really? When you were in ninth grade?"
Me: "Yup"
Student: "Wow, that book is really old."

(Note: I used the moniker "student" in this exchange because it played out approximately three times today, all with different students.)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Inauguration with Freshmen

I guess my school district didn't know when they made this year's calendar that the inauguration would be as important and phenomenal as it turned out to be, but man they made some poor scheduling choices. Yesterday was, yes, the inauguration, but it was also the last day of class before final exams. Fortunately, the 12pm EST oath-ing time translates to 9am here, which means that it's still during first block, AKA my prep period. So I got to choose how and where I watched (not exactly--I would have chosen to watch it live in DC, but that was definitely not an option).

I went to our department chair's classroom where she does have a first block, but our is also of the belief that everyone should see this. She gave the kids a review packet with the option to work on it or watch history. Most of the kids were unimpressed with the history option. On one hand, this apathy might be yet another reason for my faith in the youth of America to continue declining. But we have to remember that the last time these kids had the opportunity to see an inauguration, they were in fifth grade. And the last time a new president was inaugurated, they were six. So yeah, I can see why inaugurations in general don't mean too much. Beyond that, this is a class of English Language Learners, with the vast majority having moved to America only within the past few years or in some cases, the past few months. Of course they don't have the same sense of national pride and interest in this kind of change.

This is not to say that the kids worked diligently on their review packets and ignored the TV. I actually DID lose faith in this generation when M. asked who Aretha Franklin is. Most kids got the message that this is a big deal. Probably becase the four math teachers in the room harshly shushed them during Obama's speech (ooh, now I can say President Obama!). M. was of course still not without comment. Amid the applause at the speech's conclusion, M. turned to me with only this to say: "Man, he talks a LOT." Fair enough. So do you M., so maybe you'll be president one day.

Monday, January 19, 2009

NY Times, You're Brilliant

I think we already know my affection for Wordles (or word clouds, as they are sometimes called in non-name brand parlance), and many people might be familiar with my penchant for US presidential history and trivia. So when I opened up this morning, I almost choked on my huevos rancheros (Sarah and I make delicious breakfasts on weekends).

Here it is, an interactive feature that appears to have been designed just for me.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Welcome to the F.C.

Don't worry, the moving disaster was not all for naught. The apartment is now fully furnished, almost unpacked, and a little bit decorated. More importantly, we live in the most ridiculous/awesome city in the country (save Celebration, Florida, of course). Dear readers, I present to you Foster City, California.

View Larger Map

As you can see, something about this map looks a little different from most other cities. That's because it is. Our fair community was quite literally built from nothing. I encourage you to read this awesome official history, but to make a long story short the city was built in the 1970's on land reclaimed from the Bay. So we are a 100% planned community.

Now you may be thinking (1) that sounds creepy and unnatural, (2) we'll be the first to go when the ice caps are done melting and (3) this doesn't sound like a very rollicking place for two twentysomething women. And you're completely correct on all accounts. But there's still something about the suburban cheesiness of it all that I kind of love.

This is an interactive blog post, so go do some exploring on the Google Map. Have you found the fish neighborhood yet? The constellation district? The island streets that are not on islands? Come on, don't you kind of wish you lived on Shooting Star Isle or Polynesia Circle? That you could frolic in Sea Cloud Park? Wouldn't you love it if your city hall and library were on Shell Boulevard? Aren't you daydreaming about taking your boat from Flying Mist Isle over to visit your friends on Lido Lane?

If you really want to turn green with envy, I can mention the dog park (right next to one of at least three Starbucks (not counting the ones inside Safeway and Target)) and the light-up sign I drive past ever day that advertises things like "Adult Social Dance" and "Congratulation boys U-10 soccer team!" It's pretty much darling. Then there's the FCTV and my personal favorite, the Penninsula Jewish Community Center. Why do I love the PJCC so much? Because where else could I take my favorite little cousin to "Latkepalooza"? (more on that when I post about how we spent our holidays)

Then there are the less cheesy things, like having green space and parks every few blocks and grocery stores within walking distance. I especially love the waterways. I love that I cross 1-2 bridges every time I go anywhere (we live in the sailboat district, by the way, and whenever we go to Ranch 99 I wonder what a ketch and a yawl are). I love that we can walk to waterfront restaurants. I love that this is a regular sight for me:

As for the rollicking good time for twentysomethings, there's always the two FC hotspots: Chevy's and the Clubhouse Bistro inside the Crowne Plaza. It's pretty much like living in San Francisco.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Apartment

Okay, so this is something I should have posted approximately four months ago, but too bad. Why four months ago? Because that's when I moved into a residence where, for the first time since high school, I plan to live for more than two years. And honestly, based on the nightmarish moving experience we had I'd be okay if I lived here for the rest of my life just so I never have to bother packing and unpacking ever again.

Luckily my roommate Sarah and I had some overlap in living situations so we could move a little bit at a time, but we decided to spend one day renting a moving van and getting the big stuff out of the way. Even better, our friend Danny offered to split it with us so he could move his stuff up to San Francisco.

But then there was The Couch. It was a beautiful couch. We found it on Craigslist from a guy who also sold us his beautiful TV cabinet. The Couch was up in San Francisco too, so we figured it would be easy to drop off Danny's stuff at his new apartment, swing by to get the couch, and then finish the moving day back at our apartment. In the end, this is pretty much what happened, but only if you leave out the miserable details.

Moving in general took much longer than we expected, so we didn't end up getting to the apartment to pick up the couch until about 11pm. When we arrived our van was still packed with Danny's stuff because we hadn't had time to unload it at his apartment yet. The couch seller said his neighbors were sensitive to noise and it would obviously be a challenge to silently move a couch and cabinet down four flights of stairs. We tried to be as quiet as possible, but the banging into walls was inevitable. Soon there was an angry British man in a short bathrobe out in the stairwell asking if we knew what time it was. While I understand that he was probably sleepy and annoyed, I had to wonder if he thought we had made this decision to move at midnight for our sheer enjoyment. Did we look like we were having fun? Because I was sweaty and disgusting and pretty sure that my muscles were going to give out at any moment. But that's how I like to spend my free time, so yes, Sir British Man, I am doing this just to annoy you. And no, I didn't know I was making any noise.

By the time we got everything outside Sarah and I practically had to gag Danny to keep him from yelling, "Wait, who won the Revolutionary War?" at random windows. Fortunately we distracted him by trying to figure out what we should do with these giant pieces of furniture when we already had a full moving truck. This was the best solution we could come up with:

And so we left our fantastic Craigslist finds with crossed fingers and a plan to move Danny's stuff into his apartment at light speed. Naturally, this plan was thwarted when his bed frame wouldn't fit in the front door. So we tried the back door, which involves hopping a fence and braving a fire escape, and of course it didn't fit there either. Next thing I knew, it was 2am and I was sitting in an unlit backyard using the wrong kind of wrench to unscrew a headboard.

But wait, there's more. With a finally empty moving van we drove back to pick up the couch and cabinet from the alleyway where we'd tried to "hide" them. I wasn't too worried--we'd been gone for maybe an hour and a half and anyway, who's trolling for free furniture at 2am? Apparently someone is because as we pulled up to the apartment we say a shadowy figure sprint away from where our couch was, hop in a car (that already had its lights on), and speed away. Seriously?!

Fast forward a 45 minute drive back to Foster City and we were ready to get the furniture into its new home. We'd discovered when moving the couch out that the only way to get it through doorways was to stand it on it's end and push the bottom through the door. So we got it into the hallway of our apartment building, started to flip it on its end, and then it stopped. Tall couch + low ceiling = physical impossibility. At 3am with no mental or physical energy left, we were at a loss. The only other door to our apartment is the door to the patio, which happens to be surrounded by an eight-foot fence. At 3am, after about 18 straight hours of moving, we agreed that it was worth it to keep the moving van for another day and leave the couch until we could figure something out.

Don't worry, there's a happy ending. The moral of this story is that eight-foot fences cannot be conquered by three weak, exhausted movers in the wee hours of the morning. But they can be conquered by four kind, generous, wonderful friends who have nothing better to do than drive to Foster City and help out their fellow teachers.

Welcome home.