Monday, December 29, 2008

Diversity Rocks! Reading Challenge

I love going in to the New Year with a plan. So I've signed up for the 2009 Diversity Rocks! Challenge.

I'm committing to reading 12 books by authors of color; at least six of these will be children's and young adult books, and the others will be adult selections. While I already read diverse authors (check out my bookshelf at the bottom of my blog) I welcome the challenge to read even more. I'm looking forward to seeking out diverse children's and YA authors in particular, as it will also benefit my students.

Thanks Ali, at Worducopia, for an exciting project for the New Year! Read On!

What I Learned in 2008 Part II - Technology Wreaks Havoc

So, this Christmas, my husband gave me a portable hard drive with 250 GB (I understand that is a lot!) so that I could move files over and free up space on my lap-top. My plan was to move all of my photos, music files, and school folders to the external drive, virtually "housekeeping" and barely lifting a finger.

It was supposed to be a piece of cake.

The fun started when I tried to liberate the 5" x 3" contraption from its heavy-duty plastic, cutting my hand in the process. Then, as the product indicated it was "plug and play" and no instructions were included, I proceeded to connect the USB to my laptop and started moving photos and then iTunes to the new drive. Pretty easy. Cool.

Then, I went to my iTunes player... and everything was GONE. I went to my new drive, and found the songs in all sorts of folders, and when I tried to play them, they would play in another player, not the iTunes player. Oh no. Then, I went to my documents, and discovered more pandemonium. Things had shifted from here to there, files had replicated themselves. Music and lesson plans and poems and tests and gadgets and journals were all mixed together. Stuff was NOT where it was supposed to be!

And while I was working hard at restoring files and returning things to where they should be, my computer froze up. I hit Ctrl+Alt+Del, returned to what I was doing, and then it happened again! I restarted, got back to work, and it happened AGAIN!

I discovered later there were some updates that had to install, and that there was a specific way to move certain types of files over to the external hard drive. I think everything is back in order now. I hope.

OK. So there is plenty more that I have to learn. But these tech-troubles really flustered me today. While technology has made me more productive and efficient, it's also caused me frustration.

What I Learned in 2008 Part I - Technology Rules

Many things about technology still befuddle me, although I have increased my tech-knowledge by leaps and bounds this past year.

Thanks to Larry Ferlazzo, who asks What did you learn in 2008?, I've been thinking about the past year in terms of my technological growth spurt.

1. I started a blog, and so began a series of new experiences. I've been posting, commenting, embedding, linking, adjusting templates, and checking stats. I've figured out how to make minor changes to Html in the layout of my blog. I also use RSS feeds and subscribe to several blogs through Google Reader.

2. I use a digital camera and my cell phone to take photos. I send or save photos to my computer, attach photos to email, embed them in my blog, and use them in lessons and presentations. I use my scanner to save old photos. I also use photo-making programs to crop, retouch, and "improve" my pictures.

3. I use my iPod daily. I download songs, rip and burn CDs, and create playlists for personal and classroom use. I also use other music sites, such as Pandora, so I have control over what I'm listening to, and for the opportunity to discover new artists.

4. I have abandoned trips to the mall; I shop on-line.

5. I visit certain websites regularly, examine new ones daily, and utilize many as resources in my classroom. A day doesn't go by without discovering one more site to add to my "tool-kit".

6. I'm also using my lap-top for news-following, bill-paying, symptom-checking, You-tubing, etc.

7. I use my computer daily for work, lesson plans, professional and personal writing.

Technology has moved me forward, and there is so much more to learn.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Rocking out with José

My dad took us out last night to see José Feliciano. What a show! José sang old and new hits, among them his awesome rendition of the Beatles’ In My Life, his own Porque te tengo que olvidar, his ever-popular Doors' hit Light My Fire, and the one that makes my heart ache, Chico and the Man. My husband got the chills when José sang Elvis’ Suspicious Minds.

I’m used to singing out loud and dancing through concerts, but last night the crowd was made up of older, low-key folks, in other words viejitos. People stayed put in their seats. But I felt myself chair-dancing, I couldn’t help it. Especially when José played his version of Clapton’s Lay Down Sally, and Sergio Mendez’ signature song Mais que nada. I was totally feeling the music. I wanted to get up and DANCE!

My son was mesmerized by the effortless way José’s fingers traveled up and down the guitar, creating the most soul-filled melodies. The artist told jokes and shared short stories between songs, about growing up in New York, about friends and family, and memories of his teachers. Even at this time in his life, when he has enjoyed success and basks in the love of his fans around the world, José spoke of his teachers. That meant the world to me.

Toward the end of the evening, José played a deeply-felt Drummer Boy… reminding me (the doubter, the questioner) about humility. It’s etched in my mind, nudging me to adjust my attitude. I wish you could have heard it.

José closed the show with Feliz Navidad, one of the most popular holiday songs in the United States, and the #1 downloaded Latino song on iTunes. Everyone in the house was clapping and singing along in Spanish, and for me, the world was just about perfect.

Gracias papi – por el hermoso regalo.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Waiting by the window

The snow day was not meant to be. When I gathered the students in the morning, I asked "So, which one of you forgot to wear their pajamas inside out?"

Someone forgot to, I'm sure.

The storm didn't start until around 10 or so, when we were in the middle of math. The class was figuring out how to outfit 89 elves with new hats, coats, belts, pants, and boots, a multiplication and working-with-a-budget lesson. I looked up, and being a big kid myself, I announced "Hey! It's snowing!" and succeeded in distracting everyone for the rest of the lesson. It was my fault.

But we all went to the windows and looked out. It was beautiful. The kids were quiet, peaceful, taking in the view. I stood back, and took in the scene of my kids marveling at nature.

The school then took on a different feel, as it does during the holidays or when it snows. Parents started to stream in to pick up their children, phones began to ring, lessons were brought to closure a little sooner, with the promise of an arts & crafts activity. Some holiday music in the background, a handful of pretzels on every child's desk, glue and glitter... everyone was content.

It snowed all day, quite heavy at times, and we all went home at 3:00.

So, I love my kids and what I do every day. Teaching is my life. But I still want to know one thing:

What's the forecast for next week?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!

I'm wearing my pajamas inside out tonight.

By the end of the school day, my colleagues and I had checked the weather reports often enough, that we had to discuss snow closings with the children "just in case". We explained three different scenarios: the delayed opening, the early dismissal, and the glorious snow day, my favorite of the three. Listen to the radio, watch the local television station, don't call the school.

My kids were so psyched. I told them about the American custom of wearing your inside-out pjs to bed. They laughed at the idea. They thought it even funnier when I confided in them that, when I get that 6 am call, I plan to jump right back in to bed.

"Why would you do that?"

So my 4th graders are in their beds tonight, hoping for the excitement of playing in the snow tomorrow, an event they may have only lived once or twice before. A snow day is a most magical event in a newcomer's experience.

It is also a most treasured and well-deserved break for an exhausted teacher.

What do you do in anticipation of a snow day? Please share, so I can tell my kids about it next week. Not tomorrow. Tomorrow will be a snow day.

No more Entrecard

Droppers... thank you and farewell.

I've discovered many interesting blogs through Entrecard, and I follow several regularly. I just can't find the time to reciprocate the drops. So, I'll be closing my account.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Boy Finds Algebra

I've reached you kid!
you've been all over the place
your paragraphs long, breathless strings of disconnected
your homework wrinkled, empty pages of incomplete
your desk a black hole from which books and pencils never return
but I knew
one of my tricks would work
so today I wrote
W+S=25, and S-W=19
asked the class to solve for W and S
your eyes became large
your smile widened
the unknowns interested you
I watched you attack paper
scratching with a mission
until discovery lit up your face.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Upstairs at Douglass

I’m correcting my students’ homework at a small table for two, my husband sitting across from me reading a book of poems. He shares the ones he knows I’ll like. He leaves me for a moment, and brings back a bag of peanuts, a diet soda, a bag of cookies, and a steaming coffee from a machine. He forgets I am easily disgusted by hot drink dispensers, and I remind him so. But I take the cookies, no problem.

We’re waiting at the college student center for our son. It’s exactly 20 years since we sat in a place exactly like this. Back then, our book-bags were laden with heavy textbooks and notebooks filled with incomplete jottings and poorly thought-out rough drafts. We wore the collegiate uniform of the late ‘80s – sweats and sneakers – and our hair was teased with mousse. We were two bright, young kids from vastly different places. We were the same in that oldest-child kind of way.

The student center was home between classes. We wrote papers there, and colored our textbooks with yellow highlighters. We ate chips and candy, diet sodas. We napped on rough, orange burlap couches, our coats serving as blankets. And we talked. We studied and learned each other, just as we did the material on our syllabuses. During those exchanges, we imagined our futures and how we would live.

On this wicked, cold day, we’re home again. The tables, clustered chairs, flyers taped to walls announcing concerts and cancelled courses, the whirring and clunk of the snack machines, the milling about of all kinds of people – all of these feel the same. This time, though, the work in our bags is different, and we’re waiting for a boy – the one we dreamed about in the student center.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

How to Remove a Splinter

My splinter-removing implements are arranged in a row
tweezers, cotton-balls, alcohol, safety pins, Neosporin
you’ve managed to get a huge one stuck up in your heel
and you trust me to remove it
This is love
Please lay face down, hon, diagonal on the bed
so I can work on you here by the light
poor foot
calloused skin
I’ll have to rough you up a bit
but I promise it’ll come out
just hold on, scream in to the pillow if you need to

Several attempts, scraping, piercing, poking, tearing
pulling at an almost microscopic shard
gripping your heel to steady it
I’m hurting you as I’ve done so many times
and you are not angry at me
You wince, your eyes water,
your mouth remains closed

I once thought I’d enjoy making you suffer
(just a little bit)
but now, I want this small evil to be gone.
I feel it when you cringe.
The small wooden needle slides away finally –
no trace left behind.
I’ve fixed you.

Friday, December 5, 2008

I Wear an "S"

Friday evening and I'm feeling fine.

A week of intense lessons, two days of parent teacher conferences, after school programs, loads of paperwork, lesson plans, supervising my own child's homework, taking turns preparing dinner with "el jefe", and fighting the never-ending-sink-full-of-dishes... all of these and the incessant fatigue I try to outsmart and disguise...

I've made it through another week.

On my post "A Superhero Contemplates 40", the wonderful Nardeeisms commented "Cassy, you ARE Superwoman!" MIL GRACIAS for the encouragement, and for sharing a song about how it is.

Click and listen to Alicia Keys singing about women like us, here:

Monday, December 1, 2008

Latina Book Giveaway!

I’ve just read Houston, We Have a Problema by Gwendolyn Zepeda. This novel was a light-hearted look in to the life of a sassy, young Latina who makes her way through family, work, and love dilemmas. Sprinkled into the story are matters of identity, expectations, culture, and stereotypes, all of which seem to affect the main character’s ability to make sound decisions for herself.

This chick lit book is apparently Zepeda’s first novel. It moved quickly and was a fun read. The main character, Jessica Luna, is a girly-girl who embraces her curves and is proud of who she is. It was entertaining to join Jess during her frequent visits to her psychic, Madame Hortensia. Equally amusing and encouraging are Jess' constant efforts to get what she wants.

Thanks to Literanista, for inviting me to read this book. Be sure to visit her site!

Now, I’ve been given the opportunity to offer a free book giveaway to my readers. Five copies of Houston, We Have a Problema are available, courtesy of Hachette Book Group USA. Please leave a comment to this post by Wednesday, December 10. The first five folks to do so win a book! In your post, tell me you'd like a copy of the book AND share your thoughts (if any) on the terms Hispanic and Latina.

You must live in the United States or Canada. No P.O. boxes, please.
So, who wants a copy?