Sunday, February 26, 2006

The Backlash

….is beginning. Texas, especially Houston, Dallas and San Antonio opened up their cities, wallets and hearts to the residents of New Orleans. Many, many of them were flown and bussed to the Lone Star State and housed in shelters, hotel rooms and apartments. Donations of cash, food, clothing and furniture poured in. FEMA and the city of Houston provided housing vouchers, Medicare agreed to pick up the health care tab and FEMA provided money for living expenses. Schools waived records and birth certificate requirements and took in all students with no questions asked.

It has now been six months. Many of evacuees are still here; the majority former residents of the Lower Ninth Ward, which may never be rebuilt. These are the poorest, the least educated , the medically fragile and are ill equipped to cope with a series of disasters which would stagger the most well adjusted. These folks have lost their family support system and all that is familiar. Back in the Big Easy their safety net was tenuous at best and in Texas it is non existent.

All of New Orleans’s dirty laundry came with them. Gang wars, turf wars, drug dealers – career criminals who thumbed their nose at the Louisiana justice system. Our crime rate is soaring.

New Orleans schools were known to be inept, corrupt, and more interested in lining administrator’s pockets than educating children. The kids are low, low, low. They need counseling, they need remedial help, they need health care, they need parenting and they need manners. Fighting appears to be the problem solving method of choice. We are having problems and it is worse at the high schools. Schools are struggling and money that could be spent on education is going for additional security.

Texas never spent much on heath care for the indigent - we have some of the highest rates of uninsured in the nation. Our clinics were barely coping and now the Medicare wavers are running out and the emergency rooms are swamped.

FEMA took what little Section 8 housing Houston had and our own poor have nowhere to go. We had long, long waiting lists for public housing and they have suddenly become much, much longer.

Houston is a hard city to be poor. A car is almost a necessity, housing is expensive, social services inadequate and there is a long tradition of pulling yourself up by the bootstraps. Low skill jobs pay barely minimum wage and there is a large underground economy of illegal immigrants who will work for well below that wage.

The Mayor of New Orleans now says he does not want any one to come back who “won’t work”. Many of the folks now in Houston cannot work. They have never worked, they have no skills, they are ill or they have multiple small children. Welfare has supported them for at least 3 or 4 generations and the culture of getting up every day and going to work is alien to them. They are the very old and the very young – grandparents raising their grandchildren and great grandchildren. The parents? In jail, on the streets, in and out of drug rehab, and unable to raise their children.

So, they are all ours. Thousands of new residents needing millions of dollars in services that Texas taxpayers must pay for. The Federal Government seems to have billions to rebuild Iraq but very little for the Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida and other hurricane-affected areas.

The administration has taken NIMBY – Not in My Back Yard to a new level.

Other Duties as Requ

Other Duties as Required….

All school librarian jobs come with a list of “other duties as required” which is long and varied.   I know of one librarian who is responsible for all the laminating at her school.  Over 1000 pieces a month – she even keeps a count!  Librarians are frequently responsible for lunch or playground duty.  Sometimes the library is closed and the librarian becomes an emergency classroom teacher when a sub is a no show.

My own list is lengthy.  In my 15 years, I have:
  1. Chaperoned field trips

  2. Baked dozens and dozens of brownies to serve at reading celebrations

  3. Supervised kids in trouble when the Assistant Principal’s office is on overflow

  4. Housed a student when their teacher just “had to get him/her out of their sight”

  5. Provided jobs for teacher assistant subs that nobody wants

  6. Tutored

  7. Taught Gifted and Talented classes

  8. Set up computers, TV/VCR combos, DVDs.  Somehow; if it plugs in, then it’s my job

  9. Moved the library- twice

  10. Kept children who couldn’t go on field trips

  11. Provided extension cords, batteries, puppets, globes, tape, pencils, scissors, overhead lamps,  chocolate and hugs

  12. Rearranged furniture to accommodate  last minute speakers

  13. Served as the cafeteria when the cafeteria was needed for a program.

  14. Instructed teachers in Password  101

  15. Made coffee

  16. Cleaned tables

  17. Hosted showers and parties

However, last Tuesday, during the TAKS test I had the end all of be all  “other duties as required”.

The TAKS test is an all day affair.  The students are allowed if they need to or wish to stay after school to finish it.  Tuesday’s test was a marathon in endurance.  The kids overflowed the library and this was despite some teachers opting to keep their kids in class.  Accommodating this many children gets tricky since the rules require that a trained in test administration, certified teacher be in attendance at all times.

One of  the 5th graders, who in charge of his only 1 year younger sister couldn’t find her anywhere.  We finally figured out she’d gone home on the bus and since he had the only key to their apartment, she was locked out.  Her apartment complex, which is Section 8 housing and  filled with Katrina evacuees via  FEMA vouchers is not the sort of place where a pretty little 10 year girl needs to be hanging about with no place to go.  Her family is from New Orleans too and they haven’t any friends here.   The girl has some issues and isn’t allowed to stay home alone.

The Principal dispatched me to go and get her and bring her back to school to wait for her brother to finish up.   I took the apartment key, got into my car and set off.

The apartment complex was grim, it is large and sprawling, the buildings painted the color of elephant poop (it helps keep the gang graffiti under control), the parking lot full of ruts and holes and the grass dry and battered into a matted pulp. It was swarming with children, running and out from the dented cars and the dumpsters, swinging on the spindly trees and climbing on the balconies and railings.  Leave It to Beaver or Maybury RFD is wasn’t.  

I found the girl sitting on the front stoop of her apartment.  Just sitting, not looking anxious, not wondering just sitting looking resigned.  I told her I needed to take her back to school and she said she couldn’t go till she walked the pit bulls.  One was chained to the railing by the front door, the other inside in a crate.  

So we opened up the door and there was indeed a dog in a crate.  The only other furniture was a new couch and chair that had a “rent to own” look about them and the largest big screen TV I’ve ever seen.  We walked the dogs, chained them up again and headed back to school.

I’ve had many, many “other duties as required” but this is the first time I’ve been asked to walk the Pit Bulls. .

Luckily they were friendly Pit Bulls..

Friday, February 24, 2006

More Bookselling

I'm a regular columnist with Bookthinker! I'm so excited - I've always loved to write. I recommend BookThink to all aspiring booksellers - it's so informative and the people who frequent it are always polite and civil. It's a very pleasant change from the E-Bay booksellers forum, where folks are downright snarly.

Here is this month's effort!

The Career Romance Novel
By Guusje Moore

Last month’s column dealt with Malt Shop novels – teenage girl gets the boy of her dreams – all written and set in the 1950s and early 1960s. So where did these girls go after high school graduation? Why, they reappear in the Career Romance Novels, also published during the same time period.
CRNs were written during an era when many middle to upper middle class families sent their daughters as well as their sons to college. After all, a college education would equip her to be a better wife and mother. In addition, she would more likely meet a white collar husband within the ivy halls. If by chance she was not engaged her senior year, she could at least support herself until Mr. Right came along. Of course, this was all pre Betty Freidan and The Feminine Mystique.
CRN heroines are not the saucy, sexy Cosmo Girls of the swinging sixties; these are "good girls" who wear hats and gloves to work and might give up a chaste kiss on the final page. Oddly, Career Romances were virginal precursor of the highly successful Chick Lit genre. As an aside, Chick Lits, which are easily spotted in their hot pink covers, do well in lots if you can get the books cheaply on FOL bag day.
Most titles followed one of two rigid formats. Either the name of the main character appeared first followed by her career choice (e.g., Beth Hilton, Model, Sue Barton, Senior Nurse, Nancy Runs the Bookmobile) or there was simply an allusion or the actual job title (e.g., The Girl in the White Coat, Flight Nurse, Miss Library Lady). You will note that there are not many doctors, lawyers or engineers in these series. The jobs dramatized are very traditional and typically female dominated – e.g., teachers, decorators or secretaries. You might run across an occasional dancer or actress, but most of these books are about realistic career aspirations.
Nurse CRNs books almost deserve a column unto themselves. There are hundreds of them. When listing a nurse book, be sure to put "nurse" in your title if doesnÂ’t appear in the book title. There are lots of nurse memorabilia collectors, and this will drive them to your auctions. Most nurse CRNs are stand-alone titles, but there are series as well. Two queens of the genre are Cherry Ames and Sue Barton. Cherry even has her own website, which also has information on other nurse books:
The Tiny Pineapple is another good resource:
A friend once described Cherry Ames as "The Nurse with ADD" since Cherry changes jobs with more frequency than a two-year-old throws tantrums. There are 27 books in the series, and several were recently reprinted. As with most any series, the last appearing books are the most valuable - in this case, Jungle Nurse and Ski Nurse can net $200 and up on eBay. The earliest books are the most common but are still well worth grouping into lots. Research what you find and plan your auctions accordingly.
Sue Barton, a spirited redhead, was created by Helen Dore Boylston. The series follows her career from student nurse through her marriage and the birth of her children. Some of her struggles with career and motherhood still ring true today. The Sue Bartons with full color dust jackets showing head and shoulders pictures of the heroine command the best prices. Individual copies often sell for $50 more, even in an ex-library state. Non ex-libs with dust jackets can go for well over $100. However, since sheÂ’s not been reprinted, any Sue Barton book sells, even the paperback or British versions. (See the Cherry Ames website for more information.)
Helen Dore Boylston also wrote a four-book series based on an actress - Carol Page. Titles include Carol Goes Backstage, Carol Goes on Tour, Carol Plays Summer Stock and Carol Goes on Stage. These are one of my holy grails. I have never read one, let along owned one. They sell for a pretty penny, but were I to find them, I think I would add them to my personal collection. An interesting piece of kiddie lit trivia is that Helen Dore Boyston is reputed to have been the lover of Rose Wilder Lane, only child of Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the Little House Books (more on her in a future column). And there is a theory that Lane did more than edit her mother’s books – she actually wrote them.
As I mentioned, most career books are single titles written by a variety of authors, though Betty Baxter Anderson wrote quite a few of them. It is not as important to memorize authors names in this sub-genre because they are more commonly collected by job description or publisher runs. CRN publishers attempted to cover as many careers as reasonably plausible. Keep an eye out for Dodd Mead’s "Career Books" and J. Messner’s "Career Romances for Young Moderns" – two of the more prolific publishers. Most collectors try to complete full runs by publisher, though some specialize in specific careers. Besides nurses, there seem to a large number of teacher and librarian novels out there.
As with the nurse books, always list the career in your title, and, if you have room for the phrase "career romance" or "career girl," include it also.
Once our career girl met Mr. Right, the wedding was the next event on the agenda. Actually, there are not very many wedding or marriage books, perhaps because these books were written for teenage girls whose imagination went no further than a misty veil and a handsome groom waiting at the altar.
There are, however a few to look for. Prices have dropped sharply since most have been recently reprinted, but ex-library copies still appeal to nostalgia buffs. Rosamund Du Jardin wrote two – Double Wedding and Wedding in the Family, both of which start with an engagement ring and end with tossing rice. Maud Hart Lovelace (another author who deserves an article) ended her very popular Betsy-Tacy series with Betsy’s Wedding. Lenora Mattingly Weber married off Beany Malone in Something Borrowed, Something Blue. She then added one more to the series – Come Back Where Ever You Are, which detailed Beany’s experiences as young wife and mother. It was one of the few books that dealt with married life. The only other one I can think of is Anne Emery’s Married on Wednesday.
Most of the time you will only find ex-library copies of these books. Hardback with a dust jacket under mylar is most preferable, but library bindings with pictorial covers are also saleable. Since these are young adult novels, you may find them in a teen fiction group at library sales.
So, keep your eyes peeled for Brenda Becomes a Buyer, Jet Stewardess, Jinny Williams: Library Assistant or Sue Barton, Staff Nurse. Grab the covers showing a dewy eyed bride in a trailing white dress, and youÂ’ll be smiling right along with the wedding guests.

Monday, February 20, 2006

T minus One and Counting

It’s tomorrow. The day of decision. The day of destiny. The day of reckoning. D-Day. The Last Judgement. The bump at the end of the road. The last supper.

Tomorrow is the TAKS test. The all important, all things hinge on , oh no we don’t teach the test, we teach the curriculum (yeah right!) TAKS test.

It’s a killer day – 8 year old children are expected sit still, and focus on all day reading test. Those who fail get pulled for yet even more intensive tutoring so they can re-take it in May. Those who fail it then end up in summer school so that they can have one more try at it in late June. It’s three strikes and you’re out – or 3 strikes and you repeat the grade. The same goes for the 5th graders.

So much rides on this test – my Principal’s job, our school’s reputation, a teacher’s future class assignment, a child’s future & the neighborhood real estate prices.

Yet so much of it is totally out of our control. We ask the parents to ensure their kids have a good dinner, an early bedtime, a calm morning and a good breakfast. However, we can’t be sure this is going to happen and for some of our kids we know it won’t. Many of our parents have the most tenuous of childcare arrangements and by this time of the month, the cupboards are bare.

There are many things wrong with No Child Left Behind and the emphasis on tests, tests and more tests. The worst thing, in my opinion is that while we only have the kids 8 hours a day, we are still held responsible for what happens to them the other 16. Not to mention what happened to them the first 4 years of their life and the 9 months they spent in utereo.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

On the Road to Nowhere

My school has a high mobility rate (worse since Hurricane Katrina) - students come and students go. It’s not uncommon for some of our kids to attend 2 or 3 different schools over the course of the school year.

Last August one of the new students really stood out – after all most 5th graders don’t come accompanied by their own parole officer. He was very tall, already a year and half-older than most of our other 5th graders (ah, the joys of double retainees). Well spoken, well mannered when he wanted to be, very intelligent, read way above grade level and wrote with a maturity far beyond most 5th graders.

He also had attitude with a capital A, a chip on his shoulder, street smarts and no work ethic whatsoever. He argued with everyone and anyone, instigated fights, and quickly became a frequent guest of the Assistant Principal.

Our principal, well aware that African American Males are an endangered species, gave him chance, after chance, after chance. She mentored him , had parent conferences, sent him to counseling, moved him to a different classroom, even approved a transfer when his mother moved out of the attendance zone.

Everyone thought he was turning over a new leaf till a couple of "never been trouble, always well behaved" girls tentatively approached their teacher and spilled out a sordid tale of sexual comments, harassment, verbal threats and what in the workplace would be considered “a hostile work environment”.

Once they broke the ice the stories came tumbling out. He would follow kids home and jump them once they off school grounds, he sat in the very back of the bus and talked trash well aware that the bus driver could not hear him. He had issued threats of what he would do if anyone dared report him. In short, he had pretty much terrorized the class.
Since he was extremely intelligent he had a genius for saying just the right thing when confronted and knowing just what he could away with when the teacher’s back was turned.

His behavior gave the principal no choice but to revoke his transfer. He’s going from our school, which while we may be 85 % free lunch and everything that goes with it, is still a very good school. We care about the kids, we nurture them, our kids learn and our test scores are excellent. He would have had a chance with us; in fact, we were most likley his last chance

Come Monday he will be attending school in a neighboring district, in an area of town noted for its high crime and low performing schools. Next year he’ll be at middle school with an even worse reputation, and the high school, should he manage to stay in school long enough to get there is even worse.

It is all so very sad, here is a young man who has so much potential yet at age 11 his life script is already written. By the time, he is 21 he will be either in a wooden box or in an iron cell.

Even though we are supposed to leave no child behind some cannot be salvaged.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

MeMe of Three

This MeMe is making the rounds of the blogsphere and it is also making the rounds of the Betsy-Tacy listserv. Which makes perfect sense since it’s a list of women who read and love the Betsy Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace. Those of us on the list are compulsive readers who will read the ads while riding the subway, the back of the cereal box or a tattered magazine in the doctors office so it’s not surprising we are also passionate about children’s literature.

I don’t like to resort to MeMe’s - include to many in your blog and it starts to read like you’ve joined the Stratemeyer Syndicate, but I’ve got a cold and I’m feeling brain dead. This one is short and rather fun.

What are your three favorite children's series?
1. The Betsy-Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace.
2. The Shoe Series by Noel Streatfeidl.
3. The Beany Malone / Katie Rose and Stacy series by Lenora Mattingly Weber

What are your three favorite non-series children's books?
1. A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett.
2. Miss Happiness and Miss Flower by Rumer Godden
3. An Old Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott

What are your three favorite children's book characters?
1. Ramona from the Henry Huggins / Ramona books by Beverly Cleary. She still makes me laugh
2. Emily Webster from Emily of Deep Valley by Maud Hart Lovelace. I was so like Emily when I was in High School
3. Jane Ellison in the Jane / F-H series by Anne Emery. Unlike many teenage heroines, Jane wasn’t perfect, in fact she fumbled and bumbled as much as I did as a teenager. It was nice to know I wasn’t alone.

This list is from the books I read growing up as child and still read and reread. I’ve found few contemporary children’s novelists whom I adore with the same passion, though I have many, many favorite picture books that I use over and over again in my lessons.

And of course I had to leave out many, many books – the Melendy Family series by Elizabeth Enright, Hitty Her First 100 Years, the books by Rosamund Du Jardin, the old, non PC Bobbsey Twins, the original Mary Poppins & Winnie the Pooh books (not the Disney versions), many other books by Rumer Godden and Frances Hodgson Burnett, Black Beauty, the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, the Moffat books by Eleanor Estes…the list goes on and on and on.

I’m not going to pass this MeMe on to anyone in particular. If it sends you down memory lane, then take it and run with it!

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Comma Comma And

The TAKS writing test is just around the bend and our 4th graders are busy, busy, busy with “Writing Camp”. Think Boot Camp for budding writers and you get the picture. The main difference between the Marines and us is that our recruits don’t enlist, they are conscripted.

I took another teacher’s after school tutoring session and after taking one look at the TAKS packet (there is nothing more soul destroying than a TAKS packet) I tossed it aside and opted for “quick writes” instead.

We are blessed with some amazing on-line resources, including United Streaming, which I’ve renamed “The Cyber Blockbuster”. Its forte is streaming video but the site also has a section of teacher tools, including illustrated writing prompts.

I put one up and we started brainstorming. Our students have a tendency to make a long list of traits when they are writing description so I’ve been teaching the concept of “comma, comma, and”. Think 3, as in The 3 Bears, The 3 Pigs or The Holy Trinity. We seem to be inatly programmed to look for patterns of three. Using “comma, comma, and” really does help a passage “flow”.

After 20 minutes we’d came up with a pithy paragraph describing the night flight of an owl. I used a laptop and projector and typed their suggestions in MSWord. The kids found the programs ability to do automatic spelling and grammar checks most intriguing. They have to use paper and pencil so not only do they have to worry about content; they also have to sweat the mechanics. That is a tall order for a 9 year old, especially for one for whom English is not their first language.

They then choose another prompt and we all sat down and started to write. I joined them and all of a sudden, I noticed I could no longer hear their pencils scratching on the paper. I looked up and they were all staring at me - I’d scratched out a sentence. A teacher admitting to a mistake? Unheard off! Aren’t teachers supposed to be perfect?

This teacher isn’t, at least not when it comes to writing!

When we finished one of the kids looked up at me and said “This was fun”.

Ah, there is nothing sweeter to a teachers ear than knowing a lesson hit home!

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Superbowl Thoughts

  • Mick Jagger looks damm good for a man in his late 50s. Especially considering he's not exactly lead a snow white life. And for sure he has no arthritis in his hips and knees! How'd he get lucky? I do think he's got a couple of socks stuffed in his crotch though. He did however keep his pants zipped up so we'll never know for sure.

  • So far I've not seen any particular memorable commercials, other than one sponsored by the NFL where they admitted that some folks (raising hand in agreement) really do watch the game for the commercials.

  • I've got a potentially high dollar book on E-bay, auction ending tonight and stupid me didn't snap that it's ending in the middle of Superbowl Sunday. I have fingers crossed that there are 2 bidders out there with high proxies and a good sniping program.

  • The game is really boring. Not much is happening - players run up the field, they run down the field. They fall down. They challenge the official's calls. It's all defense and on offense. This game is always more hype than substance.

  • I guess I could go to the grocery store. I bet there aren't many people shopping . But the couch is so comfortable.

  • I've seen many promos for shows I don't want to see and movies I don't want to spend money on. When it comes to me, many, many advertising dollars are being wasted.

  • Oh, the Disney World ads are spot on. I rather like the NFL photo montages of players holding the trophy too. What happened to Frito Lay and the beer companies? I've not seen a mention of their products. I bet Superbowl Sunday is their equivalent of Black Friday.

  • Oops, Pittsburgh just ran for a touchdown on the 2nd half kick off. I think they are going to win. I'd like that. My Dad was always a Pittsburgh fan.

Did you multi-task during the game? What was your activity of choice?