Thursday, August 23, 2007

She said WHAT?!

Is Mercury retrograde this month? Is there a new or a full moon? Is the Earth magnetic field reversing? Are dogs and cats laying together in harmony? Has the Wailing Wall fallen? I am not sure what is currently going on within my little world, or even within the cosmos, but I am completely speechless and shocked at the many attitudes, comments and energies which others are “putting out there”.

One of my colleagues mentioned how weird it can be when you are trying to do something nice for somebody and that somebody misinterprets your kindness as something completely different… not kindness, but something more imposing… more misconstrued and twisted. And it is so hard to walk in someone else’s shoes in order to see it from their point of view when you really truly believe that you are doing something nice for someone else. You have genuine intentions, but somewhere along the course of communication, there occurs this glitch of misinterpretation. We have all experienced this at one point or another.

And it is frustrating.

You go back over the scenario in your mind. Over and over again, trying to identify where the miscommunication occurred or where you screwed up. You begin to see and understand the opposite point of view, even if you have to laugh or even scoff at how someone could mistaken your generosity. I thought I had experienced this uncomfortable situation in its fullest extent this month, until I was told by my husband of a comment made today.

One of our friends had presented at a county school district welcome back event. She was absolutely amazing! I was so proud of her for being calm, confident and animated in front of hundreds of people in person with thousands of people watching on TV. She demonstrated not only her ability to utilize the technology our county has provided all teachers, but she demonstrated how teachers can use that technology in their classroom. I heard dozens of compliments on her performance by fellow teachers, counselors and administrators and ALL of the comments were positive ones.

All until the hum-dinger I heard today.

A former Phoenix teacher was offered a position at a high school in the county and she was asked by her new colleagues how she perceived the welcome back presentation. Actually, it wasn’t even stated that nicely. I believe the statement was: What did you think about that last speaker, the one that made you feel like you were such a slacker?

I will give you a moment to pick your jaw off of the floor.

My friend was the last presenter and her objective was definitely not intended to make other teachers feel like they were BAD teachers. I am 100% positive that her intentions were no where near those sentiments. But somewhere along the line, there were teachers who received her amazingly put together and phenomenal presentation as an opportunity to make them feel bad about themselves.

So I have to ask, are the teachers who feel this way actually bad teachers? Or are they overwhelmed with the expectation of completing a vast set of state standards before the state standardized test in the middle of the 3rd quarter? Do they feel like there isn’t enough time in the day to complete everything they are required to do? Are these individuals the examples of teacher burn out that we hear about through the grapevine?

And let’s not even begin to broach the topic of technology… Are there teachers out there who feel like there is too much technology to learn and not enough time for trainings or practice? Do these teachers feel competitive with the younger models of teachers who know how to use iTunes, wikis and blogs effectively (and efficiently) in the classroom?

I will admit, I was astounded by the comment that high school teacher made in regards to my friend’s presentation. I felt several emotions wash over my body as I began to digest the comment in its entirety. I was shocked, then angry, then confused, and then astounded again. I kept thinking, how could somebody actually mutter those words when referring to that well planned and flawless presentation? How could someone possibly say that about her? That's my friend you're talkin' about!

But then, I began to wonder, why did that teacher say that? Are they feeling self-doubt about their talents and abilities? Do they feel obsolete?

What can we do to help that particular teacher find his/her spark again? Is there something we can do to help these people rediscover their motivations for entering this noble profession in the first place?

Whatever the reasons, I feel like we have an obligation to help teachers like those find their purpose in this very demanding yet gratifying profession. We need to help them realize that there are many of us out there who feel overwhelmed with the hefty curriculum and the state mandated testing. There are several of us out there who need extra time to try new technology and practice it. We already have a teacher shortage in this country and many individuals stay in teaching for less than 3 years! We are becoming "endangered" and we need to be placed on a "preservation" list!

I used to hate it when people would tell me, "You can't save them all."

They're right, you know. You can't.

But that still doesn't mean you at least shouldn't try.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Here We Go!

It has come to be that time of the year again, when we begin to meet with colleagues in hopes of planning a exciting year for our students, when we start hanging posters and bulletin boards in an organized fashion hoping to reduce the amount of distractions our kids might endure and begin to situate our desks to fit all of the files, pencils, pencil cups, pens, post-its, paperclips, framed photos, printers, paper, note cubes, trinkets, novels, magazines and DVD players.

School is about to begin.


Can’t you just smell the fresh pencils?

My husband made mention of this situation once, where he didn’t particularly like a very specific portion of this profession because most teachers can’t wait until summer break. Almost as if they are wishing their own lives would go faster just so they can have 2 months of rest and relaxation. Before you know it, your life has passed you by because you kept wishing for 2 months out of the whole year.

I like to look at it the other way. I get to have 10 months with some of the best people I could imagine spending my time with. I get to work with my best friends. I get to laugh and interact with awkward middle school students. And I get to come home to my husband and share the ups and downs of that particular day over an evening jog, a homemade pizza or with friends while out at Metro. Before you know it, the school year has flown by and you have only 2 months to prepare for the next year.

I love this time of year, with the exception of getting into my classroom. I don’t claim to be an administrator and I don’t ever intend on becoming one (because of ALL of the interesting situations they have to deal with on campus), but they must have some really good reasons to move people around the buildings, between teams and into different positions. I have to trust them to do what is best for kids – and I do. Unfortunately for us though, our team was one of the groups that had to move. I will be honest, I don’t think any of us went about it quietly, but we did move and we did pout around like 5 year olds for about a month after it was all said and done.

So we moved, and my friends got new carpeting and now have their rooms all put together while I wait for my tile floors to be stripped then waxed. Once that feat is finished, I can begin to set up my oasis. I don’t want my room to be too cluttered, because then there is no room for growth and no room to hang student work. I don’t want my room to be bare either, because I love color and motivational posters and framed pictures…. Ahhh, can you tell I am growing anxious?

After only 3 short years of teaching middle school, I have a feeling that this year is going to be better than the last.

This one's for you Simoni....


Saturday, August 4, 2007

Book Reiview No. 2: Survival of the Sickest

I saw this book while I was researching Natalie Angier's book, The Canon. Before I even read the insert, I was hooked - the title was enough for me. It is a quick read (only took me about 4 days) and very intriguing.

Dr. Sharon Moalem wrote this book based on a very interesting topic – why the human population needs disease. Before you begin to assume that this book is about disease being a method to eradicate the weak and thin out the herds of genetically inferior, please take a deep breath… because it has nothing to do with that. But he begs the question - why are there genes still being inherited that are painful and potentially deadly? His hypothesis: some of the diseases that effect humans (diabetes, high cholesterol and even sickle cell anemia) have actually evolved to help humans survive.

For example, there is new evidence that there was a very recent (in geological standards) Ice Age called the Younger Dryas, and it came about very rapidly. So rapid in fact that some animals froze to death while in the middle of enjoying dinner – so how did humans survive this deep freeze? Why, have you ever heard of ice wine? Or cryonics (biostasis), thanks to Ted Williams? When your blood or grapes freeze, the water inside your arteries expands and literally tears your blood vessels to shreds – therefore, cryogenics cannot possibly work just yet. With ice wine, grapes rid themselves of much of the water they carry, thereby increasing the sugar levels within the fruit, making it harder to freeze. Do you see where this is headed? Our ancestors who were diabetic were able to adapt to their extremely cold environments… here’s how:

When you live in a very cold environment, your body stores what is called brown fat. When your blood sugar is delivered to a brown fat cell, instead of being stored for future energy as it is in a regular fat cell, the brown fat cell converts it to hear right on the spot. The brown fat process creates heat without muscle movement; shivering is only good for a few hours and can cause you to become more exhausted. Brown fat can go on generating heat for as long as it is fed and it doesn’t need insulin to bring sugar to cells.

Back then, food was probably limited, so dietary blood-sugar load would already be low, and brown fat would convert most of that to heat, so the ice age “diabetic” blow sugar, even with less insulin, might never reach dangerous levels. Modern-day diabetics, on the other hand, with little or no brown fat, and little or not exposure to constant cold, have no use therefore no outlet for the sugar that accumulates in their blood.

So today, diabetes is not a useful adaptation. But it was useful at one point in human history. Isn’t it odd that the Pima Indians of the southwestern U.S. and people of Northern European descent are more likely to have diabetes than the rest of the world?

In one word?


I truly enjoyed this book because I love studying evolution and the symbiotic relationships we foster with the rest of the living world. From plants to parasites to beneficial microbes, we are influencing and reacting to one another. Another interesting topic which Dr. Moalem touched upon was the subject of epigenetics – how there are literally genes upon our existing genes that can be turned on and off based on your environment as well as the choices your grandparents made. Weird, huh?

From cancer to hemochromatosis, Dr. Moalem writes with incredible insight and current research to bring forth a book that is both understandable and fascinating to anyone who reads it. He reveals a different and unique perspective on how we view disease and the human body. I strongly suggest this book to anyone – regardless of profession – who might be slightly interested in how human survival has adapted through time. This book will open your eyes to how the choices you make today will affect your grandchildren – before your own children are even born.

The Canon: A Book Review from a Science Teacher's Perspective

Ok, so my husband heard about this book from a podcast to which he is an avid and devoted listener. He immediately brought me up to speed on the author (Natalie Angier), the book (The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science), as well as the book’s purpose (do I really need to write it?). I will admit, it piqued my interests.

So he bought the book for me and it became a member of my summer reading list. Well, I finished it while vacationing in hot and humid Hilton Head Island, SC. Now, either Sarasota is having an exceptionally non-humid summer or Hilton Head is just having a really sweaty summer. I guess I didn’t remember it being THAT bad as a childhood vacation destination, but then again, I guess I was too much of a tomboy back then to really consider how the humidity would affect my hair. Needless to say, I read quite a bit on that trip – lounging by the pool, lying on the couch, lying in bed, you get the picture. And honestly, I wasn’t really “hooked” like I was when I read A Short History of Nearly Everything. Now, in Natalie Angier’s defense, Bill Bryson is a really tough author to follow. I mean, REALLY tough. And it probably doesn’t help that I consider him my favorite author. So the odds were already stacked against her before I even read the first paragraph. Besides, I am in no way, shape or form, admitting to being a fabulous book reviewer. I could really suck at it - so proceed with caution - what you are about to read could cause bodily harm (especially if you are reading this while sitting cross legged on the baggage claim belt at Sarasota Bradenton Airport).

But let’s forget about Bill Bryson for just a moment.

Natalie’s book, from a middle school science teacher’s point of view, would be a great book for adults. It is not suitable for middle school students, and I would honestly find it hard pressed to find too many high school kids that would thoroughly enjoy her witty analogies and sarcasti humor. When I picked up this book, I was hoping to find it to be a tool I could use in my classroom, just like A Short History, because (ALERT - Sarasota County buzz words ahead!) I am always looking to enhance literacy in my content area. Unfortunately, my kids would not understand a fraction of her humor or sarcasm because some of the jokes are before their time. With that being said, she is extremely witty (and I mean EXTREMELY), enormously eloquent and really quite passionate about science. I have a tremendous amount of respect for her in her effort to create an entertaining guide to the basics of science. Honestly, her writing is poetic.

It’s only 264 pages long, has a reference section and takes you through the major scientific disciplines: physics, chemistry, biology, geology and astronomy, in that order. It is exactly what the title says – it describes the basics of those major categories of science. Now, I am just a science teacher, and it was a good refresher for me before the school year begins here shortly, but I honestly can’t say that I learned anything new. But, for the average American who probably struggled with physics and failed chemistry and isn't necessarily in a scientific profession, this book will make sense. I could also see it having potential with college freshmen or even for college students who are interesting in becoming a science teacher.

Sorry, I just can't find another book to trump Bill Bryson.

Bill Bry the Science Guy! Bill! Bill! Bill! Bill!

Bill Bry the Science Guy!