Wednesday, October 31, 2007

You're Damn Right I'm A Puritan

George C. Moonbat is attempting to have a Halloween dance. This would be going better, except that many of the kids are in a full-scale sulk because we posted a dance policy. This includes things like: No freak dancing. Dancers must keep at least a few inches between each other. Girl's skirts must reach mid-thigh. No alcohol.

Way too many rules, say the kids. No fair. No way. Who's gonna go to a bootsy stupid dance like that? No other high school has rules like that.

Are you wondering, maybe, what freak dancing is? So was I, when first asked by a student leader to express my opinion on it. She described it as 'spinning on your head and stuff'. Like break dancing, I thought. I suggested that it sounded dangerous in a crowded auditorium.

No. It's

As a lady I used to work with likes to say, "Heckfire and dangnation." Of course, she was also the teacher who at the Catholic middle school, would gently shove dancing couples away from each other, muttering "Room for the Holy Spirit. Leave room for the Holy Spirit."

One of my kids in homeroom was insisting that he used to be allowed to freak dance at his old Catholic school, and no one cared.


Sunday, October 28, 2007

Goin' Another Round With The Yetzer of Clutter

My house is a mess. My house is now such a mess that I have realized that the mess is actively preventing me from doing mitzvot. To wit:

1. On Friday, I wanted to light for Shabbos, but I didn't, because there wasn't a clear surface it seemed safe to do so on.

2. On Saturday, I wanted to go to shul, but I got distracted by how bad the clutter was, and didn't go.

3. I know I have things in my house that could usefully be given to various charitable organizations, but I don't know where the heck they are.

4. I am not paying my debts on time because I lose bills.

5. I am not able to organize my finances so that I could donate to tzedaka in a useful way because I lose bills.

6. I am feeding myself and my husband junk because cooking is hard when the kitchen is such a dive.

The list keeps going.

So, OK. The Balabusta has gotta take a stand here. I believe that somewhere under the chaotic terrain of my house is a nice, tidy Jewish home, with gleaming candlesticks and the smell of homemade paprikash and noodles, and the laughter of small children--OK, that last one will take longer to get to, but you get the idea.

Today, I'm at work, dealing with the chaos here (taking advantage of the quiet and calm to do a level ton of grading). But I'm also trying to figure out how I'm going to make this happen.

Time. Energy. And love for the finished product as it slowly emerges.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Sometimes a tichel is only a tichel

So, girls on campus in Toronto are doing the 'wear a hijab for a day' thing. And naturally, Little Green Footballs is going berserk.

Of course, the wingnutters at LGF are convinced to the core that all expressions of Muslim cultural pride, or even Muslim college-kid whininess, are the immediate forerunner to a jihadi takeover of the Western world, so I'm not surprised that they're going bonkersola. But this does raise for me the same questions that I always have when The Hijab Issue arises:

1. Religious Jewish and Christian women of various backgrounds cover their hair. Mennonites and frum Jews come to mind. Why did no one in college ever feel that it was a great idea to put us all in tichels or prayer caps for the day?

2. How does LGF feel about Mennonites and frum Jews? Are women allowed to 'oppress themselves' if LGFers don't think they're plotting to take over the world?

3. Why don't they ever have 'wear a Muslim head covering day' for men? Seriously. I have NEVER seen an appeal for dudes to cover their heads for one of these things.

Just askin'. I know the answer to the first one, I'm just being snarky. (After all, the entire Women's Studies department was in Fiddler on the Roof in high school, so they already got into the whole Jewish thing.) The second one I have more curiousity about. The third is just snarky frosting.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

It would be easier to schecht a cow myself

Of course, if I had to schecht the cow myself I wouldn't, which leads to all sorts of other ethical questions, but the point is, I need some stew beef. Gosh darn it.

Religious obligations are peculiar things. I was once in a class about teaching English language learners, where the teacher was talking about a class where she had a lot of Muslim students, I imagine Afghanis given the area. A lot of kids were out for some holiday--one of the Eids, I think--where you sacrifice a goat. The next day, a kid comes into class and, during journal write, starts talking to one of his friends. "Dude, you out of school yesterday?"

"No, my folks made me come."

"Well, did they kill a goat?"


"Dude! Why not?"

"Do you realize," the other boy says, "that you can't buy a live goat with food stamps in this country?"

"Dude." (With deep understanding. Both kids go back to work. Teacher has to go out in hall and suffocate hysterical laughter.)

Anyway, me, I just can't buy kosher stew beef for ready money. Trader Joe's does not carry it. And also, when I made my long journey to Oakland Kosher this weekend, they didn't have it either. Chicken sausages--check. Wissotsky tea--check. Kosher cup-o-noodles, check. But no stew beef. (If you were in the store, I was the woman in the blue jeans muttering about stew beef.)

New plan--go into San Francisco on Sunday. Have lunch with parents. Go down Clement to Israel's. Buy like ten pounds of stew beef in individually wrapped pound containers. Lug back to El Cerrito. Make stew. Wish briefly that we had transporter technology like in Star Trek, so I could go and grocery shop in Crown Heights. Mutter a lot.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Totally random anecdote

A couple weeks ago, I wander into the living room, and discover my husband in his armchair watching TV. As I enter, he looks up. "A Japanese reporter was shot by the Army at a protest in Miramar," he reports.

I stop dead in the center of the room. "WHAT?"

He repeats it.

I clutch my head, and try to work out exactly what on earth could have happened, envisioning weeks of nightmarish diplomatic maneuvering. "Is he dead?"

"Oh yeah."

OK. Take this slowly. "A Japanese reporter. Was shot dead. By the US Army. While covering a protest at MIRAMAR? Our Miramar? In California?"

The husband looks at me as though I am deranged. "BURMA," he clarifies.

Oh. Myanmar.

Well, not exactly good news, since the reporter is still dead, but I headed into the kitchen feeling a lot less hysterical.

Geography is a strange, strange thing.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Today's Goals

1. Finish coffee.

2. Go into Berkeley, to used book store. Buy about six copies of Of Mice and Men.

3. Go to school. Work for three or four hours.

4. Return home. Do laundry. Make food. Clean up. Prep workout clothes to start working out tomorrow morning.

5. Don't panic.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

And on the Seventh Day She Blogged

And also played computer games, bought underwear online, and made really good coffee, not the Nescafe she gets on weekday mornings.

The one thing I am absolutely refusing to do, though, is work stuff. I go in almost every Sunday, and I have determined that if I do not take Shabbos off, I will be a wreck.

I wonder if this is gradually going to lead me in a shomer-shabbosdik direction. We'll see.

Meanwhile, a kid in my class--not a jerk kid by any means--asked me if I didn't feel bad that my people killed Jesus--and actually did not believe me when I said my people WERE Jesus--or rather, that he was part of them. I suggested she consult her pastor on this one.


This is not the first time this has come up. It's not constant, by any means, but I have heard a handful of remarks since I started teaching. I wonder if there are any online resources for dealing with this kind of thing in your classroom.

Thursday, October 11, 2007


One of the teachers at the school I work at left recently, a month and change into the school year. It is a small start-up school, so losing a teacher out of our tiny staff was something of a blow.

The kids were distraught, and wailed that she was the best teacher, and now she was leaving. At the time I assumed they were just sad she was going, but now it's starting to seem slightly more worrisome than that.

At least twice, kids have said that "Ex-coworker was the only teacher who stood up for the students at meetings." Not at all true, but more importantly, how do they know that? Well, I am starting to be pretty sure that E.C. told them that.

She also told at least one of my students that if I wanted to I could make my English class 'more funner', which was thrown in my face today when I tried to explain that we can't just reread "The Outsiders" for the hundred and tenth time, they do have to read great literature that everyone else studies in the ninth grade, no matter how boring they are convinced it must be.

But whatever--it was today that I lost patience, when a truly lovely and caring woman on our staff tried to take over E.C.'s homeroom, so they would be able to stay together and not be farmed out to the rest of us. They almost reduced her to tears. They told her that E.C. let them do whatever they wanted, and refused to even listen to her. They threw a fit when she didn't have the art supplies they wanted (E.C. took 'em with her, but that was not her fault, obviously.) At one point a girl yelled that E.C. wouldn't let them be pushed around like this, and threatened to call her, because she'd said to call if they needed anything.

I am really annoyed. The kids are very entitled and whiny anyway--some of it is age, and some of it is other things--but this we did not need. Setting yourself up as the kids' real friend and protector, especially when you are planning to walk away from them, is just obnoxious.


Saturday, October 06, 2007

Cheese-Eating Surrender Fallacy

OK, wanted to share.

First, I love "Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader". Like Harry Potter, it's teacher porn for me. (Teacher porn: media that enacts a teacher's teaching fantasies: what teaching would be like in an ideal world.) I watch, answer the questions, and imagine having a classroom full of those cute, smart little kids. Anyway.

Last show, there was a young woman (very young, just out of high school), competing on the show. Valedictorian, student of the year, Honor Society, etc. The question that was her downfall? Who did England fight in the Hundred Years War?

Now I am a history buff, especially Western Europe, especially the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, so I am not saying that everyone should have known that. (Well, I am, but whatever.)But what made me groan was her reasoning. She focused on Spain (not irrational, just wrong century), but discounted France, on the grounds that 'they're not very good at wars, and I don't think they would have lasted a hundred years'.

This is what all this mockery of the French has done for us. I mean, I can't say that I like the French much, but this hoopla fantasy that they're the biggest losers of military history is now making high school valedictorians flunk out on 'Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader?'.

Freedom fries indeed.

Roller Coaster Friday

To quote the estimable Shel Silverstein:

Oh what a day, oh what a day,
My baby brother ran away,
And now my tuba will not play.
I'm eight years old, and turning gray,
Oh what a day, oh what a day.

In the illustration that accompanies the poem, the baby brother is hiding in the tuba. You may or may not need that information to appreciate the world-weariness expressed in the verse.

Anyway, yesterday. First, I had a vivid dream that I had discovered that Atara, one of the worst of the difficult kids, was actually my little sister by a previously undiscovered affair of Mr. Bluejeans Sr. In the dream, Atara, my parents and I were all at Denny's, having lunch together. Atara kept stealing my French fries, and poking me, and whispering mean things. My parents kept telling me that I had to be nice to her, and understanding, because she was littler than I, and new to the family. (I am thirty-four. Atara is fifteen. She looks nothing like me or my father. I think that I am getting too emotionally invested in this job.)

Then I arrived at school, and discovered that one of the teachers (we have four full-time) is leaving to spend more time with her family. This was her last day. Whammo.

Then we had a knock-down, drag-out emotional trainwreck in the staff lounge about the field trip, which ended with my leaving school with twenty-seven kids, plus parent drivers, plus Yehuda the Special Ed Teacher who, thank God, decided he'd come along for the ride and run interference for me.

Then we had a field trip, which went great, more or less. We were going to see another charter school, in business for the past decade, and on which we are slightly modeled. It was cool. My kids thought their kids were very white (they are), and also didn't have very nice manners, but they liked the cool equipment and technology they had, and some of my boys now want to start a grantwriting club to see if we can also have an electronic music lab and a greenroom. I managed to borrow some books from the English department. All cool.

Anyway, we are down to three full-time staff, and will probably not be hiring a full-time replacement for the departing co-worker. This job is about to get very, very intense. Our ed director is looking very tired.

There's a lot I'm leaving out of these posts about the school, in the interest of not creating a situation if anyone connected to the situation should read them. On the one hand, that seems totally unlikely. No one connected to the school is involved in the Jewish commmunity in any way that I know of. The odds of them reading this and recognizing the situation seem astronomically small. So I could probably say everything I'm not saying.

At the same time, I worry. Eh. Maybe I say too much.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

I'm Tired, Not Frum

This is why I'm skipping Simchat Torah at Temple Sinai, and thinking I'll try to get to Netivot Shalom tomorrow night.

And now, that said, a prayer for the holiday: If I raise sons, may God, my parents, my friends and my husband all work with me to teach them never to confuse courage with combativeness, masculinity with vulgarity, or manhood with being six feet tall and able to pull 'bitches'. May I be able to raise boys who speak respectfully to women, elders, and girls their own age. May they be able to envision bright futures for themselves and achieve them. And may I be able to do a little in my professional life for boys who got none of this from their own upbringing--one in particular. Omeyn v'omeyn.

Last year at this time I was sick as a dog. My lungs had more or less given out. Knock wood, this is the fifth week of school, and I'm not yet sick. This is good news. My immune system may gradually be getting revved up to teaching.

It feels like fall in El Cerrito today. I bought some Little Debbie pumpkin cookies. And I'm in a good mood.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007


One of the girls in my homeroom class, Imma Shalom, has a t-shirt that read "Handle Your Scandal". Good advice, although I pronounce it like the old Russian ladies in the home neighborhood did, scahn-dahhhllll. And nobody does it like teenagers.

We have an entire Tolstoy epic (except cruder), of love, passion, betrayal, and trash-talking going on here, and two kids have been suspended. I don't even dare give the details. For one thing, they are too stupid, and for another, God forbid anyone should recognize themselves, although I doubt anyone from George C. Moonbat reads the Judeoblogosphere.


Monday, October 01, 2007


My principal told me today that I had his permission to kick as many kids out of the class as needed until morale improved.

I've never had an administrator approve such a plan before.

We shall see.