Saturday, April 30, 2005

A Garden in the Asphalt

Humans are a creature of habit and I'm no exception. Fridays we can leave as soon as the busses roll - our reward for suffering through faculty meetings till 4 or 4:30 on Wednesdays.

Lately, Friday afternoon is when the Salvation Army empties out multiple boxes of books and dumps them on tables. As soon as I see rear of the last yellow bus I'm in my car and on my way. I have found some real gems there, not to mention that I always need a steady infusion of newish books for my Amazon inventory.

Sometimes I make out like a bandit and and sometimes it's not worth the effort. Yesterday was one of those days ...well actually the entire day was one of THOSE days. The end of the year in an elementary school is NOT FUN. I digress .

A couple of weeks ago I went exploring in the area and found this little gem of a neighborhood a block of a busy city street. Yesterday I decided to see what was behind the Salvation Army.

Lost Grander Posted by Hello
I stumbled across an interesting mixture of urban decay

Urban Blight Posted by Hello

and little wooden houses that most likely aren't ever going to be renovated.

Renovate or Tear Down? Posted by Hello

And there is was, an urban garden created by some artists with a taste for urban living and a green thumb.

Container Gardening Posted by Hello

Urban Warehouse Living Posted by Hello

Note the Pink Flamingo! Posted by Hello

Adaptive reuse of old lockers! Posted by Hello

Recyled Iron Fences Posted by Hello
I love exploring a city on foot - you never know what you'll discover! I'll take gritty urban over pristine suburbs any day.

Good Luck Witch Posted by Hello

Tuesday, April 26, 2005


Education attracts an odd group of bed fellows. In a way you can divide them into three groups. There are some, like me who fell into the profession purely by chance. The second group choose an education major because it was "safe", "a good job for a woman" or had "good job prospects". And then there is the last group, that small minority who became teachers because they truly, truly love children and want to make a difference in someone's life. We need lots more of them.

One thing most teachers (esp. if they are from the middle group) don't like is change. They like their little boxes, with the corners all aligned and everything under control and neatly in its place. Which is odd, since you are dealing with children who are never neat, never aligned and very hard to control.

And with teacher turnover which is pretty much constant. We found out today our Assistant Principal (who is a member of the third group) was just promoted to Principal at another school.
She's the 6th Assistant Principal in my 15 year tenure at my school. We've a reputation as a incubation hive for future principals. They spend a couple of years with us, feeding on the royal jelly and then spread their wings and fly.

This one will fly high, by far she's the most gifted educator I've ever worked with (other than my principal). We are really going to miss her. I hope her replacement is half as good.

So next year will bring forth yet another new supervisor and another round of changes.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Of Teachers & PowerPoint

TAKS is over and we're on the down hill stretch. The pressure is off and teachers can introduce their kids to research and corresponding final products. The kids are relieved (other than the 5th graders who are wild) and teachers much more relaxed.

As a result the library is SRO and the wireless laptops are getting a workout. Education is addicted to acronym's so they are called COWS - computers on wheels. Except by me, who can't say that with a straight face. No matter what we call them, the kids love them.

Third graders are using the online databases to find simple facts about a planet and creating a PowerPoint. Simple thing, just 6 or 8 slides but they are having a ball. I taught a couple the "right click on the word" to get it spelled correctly trick and you'd of thought they won the lottery. At their age, the pysical mechanics of writing are often a struggle and the computer gives them wings. They do their text and then it's on to the fun stuff - the color, the transistions, the pictures and custom animation. Their teacher is learning right along with them, she's engaged, the kids are engaged and we're all having a great time.

They end up spending the entire day with me, it's raining, there is no recess and they don't care.
"Boy" says one of them with a happy sigh, "I sure had fun today, can we come back tomorrow".

It cancels out a comment made by another teacher I'm also working with: "Tomorrow is the last day to do research. If you haven't finished you'll get a 0 because you need to start on your PowerPoints."

My retort "If they haven't done any research they won't have any text to put into a PowerPoint. It's the text that is important, not the bells and whistles. "

"Oh", says the teacher with a befuddled look.

Guess I'm batting 500.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

The fig ivy vies with the jasmine and the ferns for space.

Wall of blooms Posted by Hello
The temperature this weekend has been in the 70s, with a breeze, sunshine and blue skies.
I understand it snowed in the Midwest - eat your heart out!
And feel sorry for us in July when it's 100 degrees plus and the air feels like a blast furnace.

Posted by Hello
The Jasmine turns the back yard into a Martha Stewart setting (poor man's version)

Basil & Rosemary Posted by Hello

Herbs Posted by Hello

Once a year the Confederate Jasmine bursts into bloom. For 2 weeks we have a wall of white flowers and the sweet perfume wafts over the yard. Anyone for a Mint Julep?

Friday, April 22, 2005

Something odd...

I've written several critical posts about NCLB and today's emphasis on testing, testing and more testing. Whenever I do, I always get comments from teachers along the line of "yes!", "I agree" and "that's just what I think".

Which doesn't surprise me. I don't know of one teacher who feels the current climate of test, test and test again is in the best interests of children.

I get comments from parents who home school, mainly because they don't agree with the current emphasis on test scores, which is the direct result of NCLB. I must admit, that were my children younger, and if circumstance had allowed it, that I might be tempted to consider home schooling too.

And I get comments from people who think NCLB was way overdue and that it is the best thing to happen to education. Which doesn't surprise me except that everyone of these people who tells that, also tells me that they home school. If NCLB is such a good thing why aren't they enrolling their children in school so they can take advantage of it?

You Can Lead a Horse to Water....

....but you can't make him learn. NCLB holds teachers and schools accountable for a child's learning. Which is a good thing ...up to a point. Children are not chickens in a factory farm. You feed the chickens and they lay eggs. It's what chickens do.

When it comes to learning things are not quite so cut and dried. Not all children are willing, eager and motivated to learn. With some it's the result of their home life, there is so much going on that learning takes a back seat. It's impossible for a child to give serious thought to an upcoming test on the Founding Fathers when he's got a Dad in jail and a Mom in rehab and he's living with grandmother and the electricity just got turned off for non payment of bill.

With other children it's the result of their parents. These kids have never been held accountable for anything and in their parents eyes they can do no wrong. Everything, no matter how big, no matter how small is always the school and the teachers fault. Teacher demands child do their homework. Parents demand the child be moved to another class because the teacher is "mean". Child is failing and the school wants to retain him. Parents pick up and move to another school. Child steals from the class treasure box. Parents claim "he's just a child, he didn't know any better". Ginny, over at A Series of Inconsequential Events has an excellent example of this kind of parent.

But there are others, who have concerned parents who have tried everything, children are totally capable, decent IQ, no learning disability who just don't want to put forth the effort. They just plain don't care, have no pride in finished product and would rather do nothing. They have no inner drive to succeed or achieve and have no pride in their work or their finished product.

Look around your workplace. You've got the grown up versions of the kids who don't care. It's easy to spot them. I bet you can find someone who hides in their cubicle and plays solitaire on their computer all day. What about the woman who calls in sick one Friday per month? There is the guy down the hall who seems to have a excess number of dead relatives with funerals in far flung states. The young girl who takes 2 hour lunches several times a week. The colleague on the team who never seems to pull their weight. The guy who does just enough to get by and not one bit more.

How much you want to bet that they were the kids who just didn't care when they were in school? Their boss can't motivate them and I'm certain their teachers and parents couldn't either.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Dear Shrub Bush

You, in your infinite wisdom have unleashed No Child Left Behind upon the nation.
Girding your loins, you have ridden into battle with the cry of "Hold the Teachers Responsible", "Test Scores For All", "All Children Will Learn", and "Education Must be Accountable".

In Texas, your old stomping ground this week is TAKS Week. Also known Hell week, as "the week on which all depends" and "the week on which the world revolves". A new Pope takes second shift when it's TAKS week.

5th graders must pass Math and Reading or they can't be promoted. We tutored, we've conferenced, we've benchmark tested, we've used pullout programs, we've had after school tutorials, we've tutored in lieu of Heath Fitness (which means we have morbidly obese kids who can maybe add), assigned extra homework, used peer tutoring (smart kids never get to learn anything new because they are spending all their time tutoring the slow kids), we've done everything short of sawing a hole in the kids head and pouring the knowledge in. Major, major dollars have been spent on computer tutoring programs and the technology to run them.

Someone is getting very, very rich from NCLB and it's not the schools. And just how many donations to your campaign fund came from companies that sell testing materials? Now, that would make an interesting TAKS math problem!

Sincerely Yours,
A Concerned Educator

My New Look

Like my new look? I do! I picked the original blogger template because it was classic and understated - which pretty much describes my style of dress.

However, after surfing many blogs I came to the conclusion that it was a bit drab and not especially eye catching. Eye catching is a necessity with the blog surfing sites. Good writing will keep folks coming back, but you need to stand out from the herd to hook them in for that first read. Julie of Bookworm had the same template and after she got bored with it she completely redesigned her blog. And then she redid mine. And did a fabulous job. I see a new career path in her future!

Saturday, April 16, 2005

This was fun, let's do it again! Posted by Hello

First Came the Platypus and then......

Nature, in her infinite wisdom must of being having an off day when she dreamed up the female reproductive system. She had so much fun creating the Platypus that she decided to see if she could outdo herself. And she did.

Perhaps she thought that since most women died in childbirth it wasn't necessary to spend much time on their later years. I do wish she'd put a bit more foresight into the process.

This waking up in the middle of night feeling like you've been kissed by flame thrower is the pits.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Gabriel Stirs the Melting Pot

Instead of a shrill blast of the alarm I was awakened this morning by "hack, cough, hack, choke" and other disgusting cat noises. Gabriel's early morning present to us was a honking big hairball right on the middle of the comforter.

Comforter won't fit in the washing machine. Ponder other alternatives. Wash it in the bathtub? Nope, to heavy to handle when wet. Hang it over the fence and spray it clean with the hose? Nope, that won't get the stain out. Fill a garbage can with water and create a giant laundry pot? Nope, don't have an oar to stir it with.

Leave it for the clean house fairies. Yes! That's the ticket.

Return home from work to find the clean house fairies are on strike. Comforter is still disgusting. Stuff it in car and head to the new neighborhood Laundromat and wash n' fold.

Right inside the door is a glassed in office. Diploma on wall from the University of Houston, lucky Bamboo on the desk, Buddha and alter with oranges & incense on a small shelf. Given the name on the diploma it's a safe assumption the owner is Vietnamese.

Find the attendant who is Hispanic and speaks no English. A quick look around shows that much of the clientele is in the same boat. Attendant finds the manager whose English isn't much better. They insist the comforter isn't washable. I find the tag, which is bi-lingual. They still look perplexed, so I in my best bad Spanish read it to them. Ah, the light dawns, it can be washed. Now on to the price. "Quense dolares", I mentally count from uno to quense in my head and agree. We discuss when I can pick it up - "dos horas".

I always thought I use my college Spanish for exciting trips to Spain,to laze on the beach in Cancun and to travel the Andes not to for a mundane trip to the Laundromat.

I nod, smile and leave. And wonder, just how do the owner and manager manage to communicate?

Just another day in Houston, the International City.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Time Stood Still

Houston conjures up images of the Astrodome, freeways, tall office buildings, traffic jams, malls, sprawling suburbs and strip malls. And yes, that is indeed Houston. Sometimes, however the city will surprise even a long term resident.

Went to the Salvation Army after school today to check out the books. It's on Washington Ave, another near downtown area undergoing revitalization. The sun was shining, the sky an Austin Texas blue so I decided to take a walk and do a bit of on foot exploring.

Cottage Posted by Hello

Turned the corner and found myself in back in the early 1900s. The Old 6th Ward isn't an area of grand Victorian homes, it was a middle class, working man's neighborhood.

Shotgun Shacks Posted by Hello

Shotgun shacks and modest wooden homes with gingerbread adornment. A surprising number had Historical Markers -a couple of the homes date back to the 1860s. In Houston that's the equivalent of a Mayflower era dwelling.

1860 Home Posted by Hello

Like all close in Houston neighborhoods there is a mix of the meticulously restored and the in need of a some serious loving care. It's easy to tell them apart - the former are painted in bright colors with tidy little yards, the latter are a shabby dingy white with a car up on blocks in the front yard. There are some tin homes built by artists and a smattering of new homes. Not to many, the 6th Ward is on the Register of Historic Places which gives it some protection. Houston has no zoning and normally what the developer wants, the developer gets.

The local elementary school dates back to 1912 and was once a focal point of the neighborhood. It's been turned into a local community center, which runs on a shoestring. The building still had traces of it's former grander but the rusty window air conditioners and askew window blinds gave it a shabby, down at the heels look.

Dow Elementary School Posted by Hello

Rounded another corner and discovered a brick street. It was narrow - barely room for one car, lined with small homes. The end of the street afforded me a stunning view of the downtown highrises, all shiny glass and Philip Johnson architecture.

Who'd thunk it?

Tuesday, April 05, 2005


Our mobility at school is steadily climbing. This is not a good thing. A sample of recent enrollees

1. Child who was enrolled in another school in our district for the first 3 months of the school year. Child then moved to Mexico and has now returned. Whether or not he attended school in Mexico is questionable. We are also not asking what his mode of travel and route was when he returned to the US. Since he was in our district on "snapshot" day he has to take the state mandated TAKS test. In math, which is a subject heavily dependent on prior knowledge. Of which he has none.

2. Very large, very tall 5th grade - a double retainnee at least. The birth certificate appears to be missing. Has missed between 1- 2 months of school. His mother withdrew him from a district in a northern suburb in February. She can't give a straight answer as to why he's not been in school. Once a student withdraws there is nothing the school can do to ensure the student enrolls at a new school in a timely manner. Especially if the parent withdraws with no notice and doesn't tell anyone where they are going (AKA running from child protective services). He's got to take TAKS too. At least his scores will revert back to his old school, which isn't fair to them but gets us off the hook.

3. New family of 4. One of the boys amuses himself by rolling around the hall and crawling under the furniture while his mother fills out the paperwork. This might be tolerable if he was four. He's not, he's twelve - and in the 5th grade. Can you imagine what an asset he'll be to the classroom?

4. New first grader. Can't tell you the name of the last school he attended. We are his fifth school so far. Says he'll be moving "soon" so the final school count by year end will be at least six. If not seven. Needless to say he doesn't know his address or phone number either!

WWGD? What would George do? His wife Laura, was once a teacher. Do you think she can can make sure kids like this aren't left behind?

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Pho! Posted by Hello

Sing Ho for the Taste of Pho

I've become addicted to Pho, which is Vietnamese beef noodle soup. Lucky for me, Houston abounds in Vietnamese restaurants, from the upscale to the hole in the wall so it's easy to get a Pho fix. There are even Pho shops, serving nothing but Pho.

After enjoying the robust beef broth with crunchy beans sprouts, tender cooked beef and a hint of fish sauce the standard American Chinese Won-Ton soups tastes like lukewarm dishwater.

Sing Ho for the Taste of Pho!

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Book MeMe

The Book Meme which I inherited from Karen is now going onward to some other folks.

You are stuck inside Fahrenheit 451, which book do you want to be? I haven't read Fahrenheit 451 (try though I might I just cotton to fantasy and science fiction)so I have no clue what the proper response to this question is. So, I'll opt for my favorite books of all time - the Betsy Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace. I'll pick Betsy and the Great World. Choose this particular one because Betsy goes to Europe. One of my favorite books and my favorite continent, what a combination!

Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character? Rhett and Scarlett from Gone With the Wind (the former prior to coming out, the latter afterwards) . Current crush object is Kay Scarpetta, Patricia Cornwell's fictional character. Strong, capable and great cook. Yowser!

Last book(s) you read: An Uncommon Woman - The Empress Frederick: Daughter of Queen Victoria, Wife of the Crown Prince of Prussia, Mother of Kaiser Wilhelm

What are you currently reading? I can never read just one book. Currently rereading The Windsor Story, a biography on the Duke and Duchess of Windsor (royalty biographies are my weakness). Reading for the first time Booked to Die by John Dunning an author I discovered via

Assorted Magazines - mostly news or cooking oriented.

Blogs - lately I've been reading more blogs than books!

Five books you would take to a desert island?
The Foxfire books - so I wouldn't starve and could build a shelter.
Katherine by Anya Seton, because I can read it again and again and again and it never bores me.
Gone with the Wind - another book I can read over and over and over again. Besides it's the source of my crush objects.
Red Cross First Aid Manual - just in case!
Boat Building for Dummies!

Who are you going to pass this stick to and why?
Not sure yet - guess I'd better ask a few folks if they don't mind participating! Let's see, I'll toss the stick to Julie of Bookworm, punt another toward The Other Mother who I know likes to read and the last one gets hurled in the direction Barb who is a great writer and I miss her posts. Maybe this will jumpstart her creative juices!

And that's it, I am out of the MeMe business - at least for awhile!