Friday, January 26, 2007

The Bed List/The Dinner List


I cannot for the life of me figure out why it took so long for me to put this Wonder from Down Under as a Bed List choice. Probably because he's a default. Think about a hot man, and Keith comes to mind. He's an excellent guitar player, an interesting songwriter, and hugely talented. And hot. Did I mention hot? Oh, yeah.


Of course, John Cleese is far more multifaceted than this picture would suggest, but since the Minister of Silly Walks, in addition to the many, many characters he played on Monty Python's Flying Circus, is the way I was first introduced to this insanely fun and smart man, I had to choose it. Loved A Fish Called Wanda, love his transplanted Englishman sheriff in Silverado, love him in just about anything.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Books and Cooks: Fair and Tender Ladies



Fair and Tender Ladies is going on my keeper shelf. I've never read Lee Smith before--amazing, since I love Southern authors--but I'll be spending some quality time with her backlist after this read.

This one's an epistolary, a tricky form to carry off. (The Color Purple is the best-known modern example, and word lovers should jump on Mark Dunn's Ella Minnow Pea.) What's amazing is how fully-formed Ivy Rowe, the letters' author, comes across, despite being hampered by the first person POV required by the format.

I'll admit to some irritation with Ivy, especially during the Honey Breeding section, but she's like an old friend who's suddenly ticked you off. You get angry, but you can't stay mad for long. The Appalachian setting is nearly a character in itself, and the characters are so well-named: Revel Rowe, Silvaney, Oakley Fox. The names hint at character traits. I can't hear the name "Ivy" without hearing the old madrigal "The Holly and the Ivy" in my head, and madrigal music is so close to Appalachian music, the name is just perfect.

All in all, a terrific read.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Classroom Saviors

Lots to think about in this article from the New York Times, entitled "Classroom Distinctions." In it, author Tom Moore, who is himself a teacher in the Bronx, discusses Hollywood's take on teachers. According to Moore, the Hollywood version of good teaching encompasses three tasks:
  1. Assemble a rough, multicultural groups of misfits
  2. Assign said misfits one idealistic young teacher, usually white, often female
  3. Watch as inspiring teacher's alchemy turns misfits into scholars or some other mind-blowing young people
I'd laugh, but he's cutting a bit close to the bone with his summation, which he calls the Myth of the Great Teacher. The Great Teacher, the hero, saves the kids. The Great Teacher is willing to sacrifice time, money, status, marriages, and even sanity for the kids. The Great Teacher, by extension, looks nothing like me or most of my colleagues.

This doesn't mean we don't sacrifice time, money, and status--please, do you know any teachers who aren't stressed, broke, and demeaned by the pundits?--but it does mean that what popular culture defines as "great teaching" isn't what you're going to find in most classrooms. The reason we know about teachers like Erin Gruwell (Freedom Writers) and LouAnne Johnson (Dangerous Minds) and Ron Clark (The Essential 55) is because they are exceptional. Exceptional in that they are not part of the mainstream, not that they are the absolute best. Exceptional in that unlike most teachers, they don't stay teachers for long.

In fact, I'd hazard to say that many of the best are leading quiet lives, most likely right down the street from you and me. Some of us have had these teachers, the ones who change lives every year, year in and year out. Some of us are working to be these teachers. But you won't catch Hollywood making movies about any of us, now, will you?

Funny that a movie helped me recommit to teaching when I was at a crossroads. The movie? Mr. Holland's Opus. A man who didn't want to teach, who only started teaching as a way to pay bills while he did his "real" work, composing. A man who changed lives. That's the kind of teacher I want to be. And if they make a movie of my life, that's what it'll look like.

Friday, January 19, 2007

The Bed List/The Dinner List


Living proof that one can survive being the cute-but-dumb guy in TV fluff like Two Guys, a Girl, and a Pizza Place and go on to better things. I'm not talking about Van Wilder. I meant the six-pack. And he's Canadian, so he's a nice guy. Mmmm. Yummy.


Two things are guaranteed by a Pat Conroy book: A great read, and a hell of a cry at the end. The Prince of Tides--and I mean Conroy's book, not Barbra Streisand's love me, love me film; hello, Barbra, it's not about you!! (blech)--is one of my favorites ever. Southern authors are the best. I would love to keep this man up all night talking.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Treading Water

Time to face the music with the NaNo book. Actually, The Five Step Plan has some good bits! It also has some issues, like drive-by secondary characters, characters on green screen (all talk and action, no background and setting), motifs that drop in and out, and the usual "good God, please tell me I didn't write that tripe." Then again, I was coughing up as much as possible in one month, so I can be forgiven some of the tripe.

The problem now is how to pull all those threads together and make them coherent. That, and decide whether first or third person is the best voice. Reading a couple of romantic comedies back to back hasn't helped...hero's POV, secondary characters' POV, etc. etc. as opposed to one heroine, one viewpoint. I'm aiming for a lighthearted women's fiction tone--think Hissy Fit or another of the Mary Kay Andrews oeuvre--but how does that play with my voice?

And I normally love to revise. This one's tough, though. Then again, I've never had to wrestle with a full draft before. I normally figure out a basic synopsis, then work through it chapter by chapter, revising chapter by chapter after I've finished the full. But those chapters are real chapters, not scattershot 3K words here, 800 words there. Yikes.

Time to call in the troops on this one. I need a reader to assure me that 1) It doesn't suck, and 2) I can do this. Any takers?

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Why We Love Jake

You gotta love a man who's comfortable enough to go on live TV in drag. If I hadn't already put Jake Gyllenhaal on the Bed List, this would have done it.

Friday, January 12, 2007

The Bed List/The Dinner List


Since the Sports Illustrated subscription at my house has my name on it, I have more than a passing acquaintance with sports types. Urban Meyer's just won himself a national championship. And he's cute. Did you watch the game? See all those trick plays, those unexpected maneuvers on the field? One would have to wonder if his X and O strategies make it to the bedroom, too.


Speaking of Gator's one of its most luminous alums. Emmitt Smith holds the all-time NFL rushing record. And he's the latest Dancing with the Stars champ, too. But that's not why he gets invited to dinner. He gets the invite because he's a gentleman. When it became clear he would break Walter Payton's NFL rushing record, he got in touch with Payton's widow, and she was one of the first people he called when he did it. And although he left Florida for the NFL before earning his degree, he promised his mama that he'd finish it. And he did. I was at my grandparents' house near Gainesville the day he got his diploma. Big NFL star, making millions, but he dressed up in a cap and gown so his mama would be proud of him. Now that's a real man.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Openin' a Can


There's something so satisfying about opening a can of whupass on loudmouths--loudmouth Midwestern football fans especially. Congratulations, Gators, on your National Championship! UF is now the only school in NCAA history to hold National Championship titles in football and basketball. Not a bad night's work, huh?

It was a
great game. I'm just so glad my usual big game jinx was taking the night off. Florida's D dominated. Leak and Tebow ran the table on the Buckeyes. Poor Troy Smith of OSU will have to take comfort in his Heisman Trophy, because he won't be taking much satisfaction home from Arizona with him.

I freakin' love college football.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Teaching to the Choir

Last night I picked up a copy of an interesting book, Teachers Have It Easy: The Big Sacrifices and Small Salaries of America's Teachers. Authors Daniel Moulthrop, Nínive Clements Calegari, and Dave Eggars build a case for educational improvement based on treating teachers like the professionals they are, starting with their pocketbooks.

Full disclosure: I am a teacher, and I do believe I am not compensated properly for what I do. "Proper" compensation, as it turns out, is quite the knotty problem. Since public school salaries are public information, here's some straight from the horse's mouth information for you.

I started teaching nearly twenty years ago in Florida. My initial salary was $18,000 and change. I have since earned a Master's degree, so my salary was boosted accordingly (an extra $2500 or so each year, as of this year. For all of the other years, it was only $2250). Nearly twenty years later, I am making $50,891. Not bad, but not much when you compare it to starting salaries in business, engineering, etc.

I work damn hard for that money. In addition to the contract hours during the day--during which I am required to stay in the classroom with my students, since I can't leave them unsupervised--I arrive about 45 minutes before school every day and stay about an hour afterward. When you're with the students, you can't plan, grade, schedule media center time, preview DVD clips for lesson enhancement, complete state-required paperwork, analyze any data (the current high holy grail of the teaching profession, thanks to NCLB), or do any research. All that happens on what is supposedly "my" time. And there is no such thing as a summer off when you're a teacher. Our school year lasts longer and starts earlier than the students'. Most of us spend the summer going to workshops we can't squeeze into the school year, planning for next year, taking classes, and working second jobs to pay the grocery bill, since the paychecks stop when the school bell does and don't start up again until after you've been back at school for three weeks.

And that's what makes the teaching profession different from every other. If I were a PR professional, like my sister, or worked in an accounting department, like my other sister, I could use the restroom whenever I needed to. I would have discretion to eat a sandwich at my desk or go out for Chinese at lunchtime. I'd get paid every two weeks all year long, which makes budgeting much easier, and I could eat other things besides beans and ramen noodles for most of the month of August. I could negotiate with my boss for my vacation days and not worry quite as much about my work if I had to stay home sick. You don't have to provide lesson plans that may or may not get done for spreadsheets and press releases. My attendance record is a legal document. I could be subpoena'd at any time to testify based on whether I marked a kid here, absent, or tardy. A stack of legislation as tall as I am governs how I do my job. Every year, the stack gets higher thanks to legislators who have never set foot in a classroom since they graduated, but who think they know better than I what my students need.

I know what my students need. I've been at my school a long time. I've taught whole sibling groups. I have young men and women who call and email me from college to let me know how they're doing. They come by with new babies and wedding photos and NFL jerseys with their names on the back to show off. If you go by the ones who call me "mom," I have a LOT of children.

Those things are wonderful, and they are emotional compensation for what I have chosen as my profession. But they will not pay for my personal childrens' college tuition. They won't pay my mortgage. I can't hand a picture of my first period class to the power company and make them happy.

Not only that, but every year I choose to stay at my school, my job gets harder. You see, I teach at a "failing" school. By choice. My students start life behind the 8-ball, and many never see any other view. My job is to get them around the 8-ball, over it, under it, or beyond by any means necessary. Sometimes, I have great success. Sometimes not. It's hard to teach a kid who's absent 75% of the year.

But that missing 3/4-of-the-time kid is charged against my account. So is the one who never comes. And so my percentage of growth goes down, and apparently, so does my effectiveness. These days, spreadsheet numbers are the only way folks in the know (read: legislators and pundits) determine whether I'm a success at my job. And their rules get weirder and weirder. In Florida, for example, they want all high school teachers who teach a class labeled "Reading" to complete a reading endorsement. The endorsement consists of six competencies, all of which must be completed on a teacher's own time. The classes are free, but there is no compensation for taking them. There will also not be any additional pay offered to the teacher who completes the endorsement process. They'll be able to put the endorsement on their certificates and teach reading, but nothing will show up on payday. Sounds great so far, right?

It gets better. The endorsement process guarantees that the only people teaching reading will be the folks with the endorsement. Sounds completely logical until you consider this case. A colleague of mine had the highest success rate in the school with reluctant readers. He got more of his kids to grow in their reading success than anyone else in the school, including a couple of folks who have Master's degrees in reading. He has not taken a single endorsement class because he lacks the time (he has two kids and community commitments on top of his demanding job), and there's no incentive to do so because nothing about the process will reward him in any way except an attaboy on his certificate. So he hasn't taken any endorsement classes. And so the State of Florida, in its infinite wisdom, will not permit him to teach reading to our high-risk, high-need kids, success be damned.

Could you imagine telling a business professional the same thing? "In order to work on mergers, you must complete a 300-hour merger endorsement on your days off. You won't get paid for the professional development, and we won't raise your salary, but you'll have the satisfaction of knowing that when we talk mergers, you can participate in the process because you'll be merger-endorsed." They'd laugh your crazy ass out of the boardroom.

But that's the kind of logic you have running school systems these days. This is Florida, now, an admittedly screwed-up example. But it shows just how far we have to go to make our profession act like a profession and not a dead-end. How far we must go to keep the best ones. And how far we need to reimagine things so that the quality people are paid what they deserve and the dead weight find other places to be dead weight.

Pay me what I'm worth, yes. But far more than that, treat me like a professional instead of a puppet. You may picture me and my colleagues as somehow less intelligent than you, but you'd be wrong. Most of us could do your jobs with a class or two of specialized training. Most of you would crash and burn in a classroom within a week. Don't believe me? Ask my kids. They'll tell you the worth of a teacher.

Moulthrop, Calegari, and Eggars have a point. I bought the book, and I'm convinced. But
the problem is this: I'm a teacher. I'm not the one who needs convincing.

Time to write that letter to Gov. Crist I've been threatening.

Friday, January 05, 2007

The Bed List/The Dinner List


I love me some TV cops. Especially TV cops who look as good as Adam Rodriguez, better known as Eric Delko on CSI: Miami. I can't stand David Caruso (he has all the appeal of a wooden plank with a voice synthesizer), but Delko makes the mess worth watching.


I have to admit that those eyes are gorgeous. Ben's a cutie, but he just doesn't do it for me in the back of the house (I've probably watched Dodgeball too many times). He's funny, charming, and easy to look at. Perfect for dinner.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Back to the Salt Mines

Okay, fun's over. Time to write.

Seriously, though, I took the month of December off to rest after NaNoWriMo. Now that the New Year is upon us, it's time to pull out The Five Step Plan and see whether it can be revised into a salable manuscript.

I emailed Paige after the win and told her I had three options:
  • Spell check and do a quick revise on the whole mess, and send it to her raw for a scan to see if this idea is worth saving in the first place.
  • Write up a blurb and send that first.
  • Complete a proposal and send that.
Of course, she chose option 3, so now I have a synopsis to write and some major surgery to do on the manuscript pages. I managed to kick out just over 50k during NaNo, so that means I need another 50k for a full-length ms. Since right now most of the book is puppet characters talking in front of a green screen, that means plenty of sensory detail. Plus fixing all the "Oh, yeah, that's not gonna work" concerns that popped up during the initial writing frenzy.

This will be a completely different style of revision for me. Usually, I have whole chapters that need tweaking and moving, not a glob of book that needs to be dealt with as a whole in addition to the usual tweaking and moving. But if the process works, it could be the process I need to become a productive author.

Time to crank up the laser. Thank God I have all that scrap paper to burn. This could get ugly.

Monday, January 01, 2007


Happy New Year!

The staff at chez mimi (okay, that would be just me) wishes you a happy and healthy 2007! Here's to good friends, hope, happiness, and success!

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