Friday, December 28, 2007

Who Am I, Anyway?

I got a response to my last post that made me think I should clear some stuff up:

Tamara Eden wrote:

Hi there,

I'm updating my blogroll and can't figure out if you should go in my Teacher list or my Jewish list.

Which do you think your blog best fits?

Also, I'm so confused on your blog. Are you a public or a Jewish school teacher? Are you frum? Just curious. I'm sort of one of those lurkers who doesn't comment enough (blushing).

Hi Tamara!

As far as where my blog best fits, I think "Jewish" is probably better than "Teacher", although I do blog about both. Maybe there could be a Jewish Teacher category? Dunno. Do as you see fit.

Now, as for where the heck I teach: I teach at a public charter high school in Richmond, California. Last year I taught at a Catholic school in Oakland. The reason you're confused, I think, is because I assign all the students and staff I write about pseudonyms that are almost always Hebrew names. My students are primarily African American and/or Latino, and nearly all Christian or culturally Christian. (They would point out here that many of them are CATHOLIC, which they do not see as a Christian faith. Sigh.) In real life they have names that reflect their ethnicity and faith, and the names that were popular fifteen years ago.

I just refer to them as Yochanan, Merav, Chaim, Mushkie, Imma Shalom, Meir, etc., because I want to protect their identities, and I'm having fun. I used to call my students things like Kid X, and Nice Korean Kid #2, but last year I referred to a boy as Dovidl (an indirect play on the nice Arabic name his mother gave him), and then it seemed natural to call the girl he blamed for getting him in trouble Brachi, and the next thing I knew, they all had Hebrew names. I admit that this is more complicated than the RenReb's policy of simply calling everyone Phil, but it is sort of fun. The names are assigned haphazardly, on an as-needed basis, and sometimes change if I think of a better one. Mostly they allude to the sound or meaning of the original name.

Am I frum? No, or at least, adayin lo. My gentile husband thinks I'm a religious extremist. My Jewish friends know better. I buy kosher meat, eat veggie out, light for the holidays, daven once in a while, and dream of doing better. I was raised Reform, and am tending to drift back that way, after a time in the Conservative movement, simply because Reform is coming right-ward to meet me. I'm just serious about being Jewish, in my own eclectic way.

My father is Irish Catholic, and my husband is a non-practicing cultural Protestant, so my Yiddishkeit is, let's say, culturally complicated. And I'm from San Francisco, so everything about me, actually, is culturally complicated.

Hope this is helpful, although I can actually see how it might be even more confusing. Are you on winter break as well?

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Nollaig Shona Dhuit

We had a super Christmas Eve at the Bluejeans-Fella residence. I made dinner--artichokes for me, ham for him, yams and corn for everyone--and we opened presents and watched some of his present (first season of NCIS), and I had champagne, and we stayed up late, well, late for me. Very nice. Today we meet my parents for an early dinner. I missed the Christmas pageant at my father's church, though, which is always adorable. (Small children in sheep masks. "And they went to Bethlehem, the city of King David. King David. KING DAVID!" (kid in crown is finally shoved forward by assertive altar girl.))

I wonder what it will be like in future years. I suppose I should admit this--I want to start a family in 2008. Just saying that terrifies me, and it will terrify the husband worse. (My father, however, will be awfully cheery.)Scares me to death. My work situation is better than in years past, but still wacked. I still don't know how to drive. The husband is a full-time college student. The house is messy.

We're still better off than an awful lot of first-time parents. I am slowly paying off my credit cards. Babies can ride in little backpacks. (They can even attend college classes with their fathers. I did.)

And every time I get to a holiday now, I think of what it will be like to share it with a little Bluejeans-Fella. I look at little kid menorahs. I imagine being one of the moms at shul. I listen to the parents I work with for clues as to how you handle homework and spats with friends.

Diagnosis: broody.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Vacation Is Good

I got up late, fixed coffee, and when the husband rolled out of bed, made him bacon, eggs, and toast.

I have a lot to do, but I have two weeks to do it in.

My parents got us a new microwave for Christmas--something we put on the wedding presents list, but didn't get. At some point, the old microwave will be hauled to Goodwill--there's still some use in it, maybe for a student apartment.

Last night I made it into SF for dinner with my parents for the first time in a couple weeks. We went to Tommy's, the best Guatamalan restaurant outside of Guatemala--even if you don't drink designer tequila--and they brought us flan.

Vacation even tastes good.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Have Myself a Merry Little Christmas

Well, I got all my OUT OF STATE Christmas shopping done this morning. Can I just comment that:

1. My husband should have done this a week or two ago, and is going to be gently kicked in the ankle.
2. My sister-in-law needs to put up some items on her Amazon wish list.
3. Next year I'm doing this in October.
4. My coworkers rock--I got two bottles of wine from coworkers yesterday.
5. Secret Santas are exhausting. Not so much the shopping, but the creeping around, and putting things on chairs.
6. The disdvantage to being a Jew in an intermarried family (daughter of and wife in), is that you end up making turkey, mailing packages, stressing out, and at the end of it all, you don't even have a Savior.
7. But to be fair, my in-laws sent me an adorable Chanukah music box, so we're all in this together...

But who cares? I'm on vacation! For two weeks!

And it's needed. This last week took the cake, the cake plate, the serving knife, and the tablecloth underneath it all.

One of my coworkers had not been happy with the school from the beginning. Like the gal who left five weeks into the year, she was having personality conflicts with the directors, and in general, I think, had a vision for the school that she could not get the rest of us signed on to, which she took badly. I missed most of the worst of the craziness, having no authority to help or harm, but it was apparently bad.

So she decided that at the end of the semester she would leave the school, which seemed reasonable enough. The end of the semester is around MLKs birthday--about three weeks after we get back from break.

Unfortunately, however, early this week she got into a fight with the directors about misinformation she was feeding the kids, and quit on the spot.

It's been an interesting week. The most lasting legacy she seems to have given us (which is a pity, she was a good teacher), is that she told all the kids that they were not earning enough credits at our school to transfer out, or graduate on time. This is not the heck true, but a lot of the kids were, justifiably, pretty worried.

Yochanan has FINALLY decided to change schools, and is just being poisonous right now. He and another kid are just convinced we have the worst school in all the world, and they are not mincing words. I try to be cool about this, but after a while it gets truly abrasive.

I need a vacation. Even though a lot of it is going to be spent getting ready for school again.

It's hard out here for a Yid

Over at Westbankmama, she's linking to a blog on a recent news story about some young Jewish guys who got jumped on a train in NYC after they yelled "Happy Hanukkah!" to some guys who were shouting "Merry Christmas".

West Bank Mama writes: "Any new immigrants to Israel having some second thoughts? Here is a reminder of at least one of the reasons you are here..."

Interesting, how Israelis blogging on this incident see it. Jameel is fascinated that the bystander who came to the Jews' aid was a Muslim.

As an American Jew, here's my take: As far as a a certain diverse and unpleasantly well-armed chunk of the world population is concerned, I got a target on my back. And as far as a certain diverse and unpleasantly self-righteous chunk of the world population is concerned, I should be understanding about this, and feel rachmones for people who want to kill me. In the wonderful, extremely graphic comic strip Hothead Paisan, a character named Sharquee, identifies herself as female, black, a lesbian and a prostitute, and comments, "I turn up dead all day long".

Is this a reason to make aliyah? Heck, no. The United States is not, relatively speaking, an unsafe place to be a Jew. (There are no absolutely safe places to be a Jew.) If you go from the States to Israel, go for a better reason (and there are lots) than that there are no drunk anti-Semites on the subway. (I don't know if there are even any subways. But the anti-Semites are often literally rather than figuratively explosive in the Middle East. Reality check. This isn't about physical safety.) And anti-Semites do not stop hating you just because you're living in Ramat Gan.

I'm not at all opposed to people making aliyah, I think it's wonderful, and would encourage anyone who wishes to do so to make it happen for themselves. Me, I just hope to visit one of these days, and maybe then I'll see why I need to live in Israel. But I have an odd knee-jerk reflex to some of the reasons offered me to make the move. It's hard to be a Jew. For all kinds of reasons. But I am not going to let a pack of morons on the subway become some kind of lasting stain on the glory that New York City has been for the Jewish people.

We rock. They do not.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Don't Do Me Any Favors!

How's things at Moonbat? Glad you asked. Let's see:

Shirah was jumped by a bunch of gang-affiliated BLEEEEPs while she was minding her own business at a friend's house.

Elisheva can't go home for reasons that are not clear to me right now, and is living with her aunt.

Karmelit was banned from the computer by her father until her grades improve.

Meir's father has blown a fuse about his grades, and is making him do homework until nine o'clock each evening.

Lior did in fact leave. Don't know if Yochanan is coming back.

Shmueli is off his meds, and bouncing off the walls.

Ari's grandmother is annoyed with us.

New kid, who I shall call Yiskah, started today.

Anyway, I have been afflicted with support from the administration. I am trying not to feel overly annoyed by the support, but who am I fooling?

Basically, right now I am teaching three sections of English, one section of history, and a sort of floating section of ESL, plus an independent study in history, and a section of "Activity and Exercise Time". Following a history activity that went poorly, the ed director decided to get me some help. Said help consists of, for two weeks, a woman who does AMAZING things in history teaching from his old school.

Can she teach me how to teach tenth grade history in two hours a week? (I mean, I have two hours a week to teach the kids.) Not clear. But she has met with me to give me a refresher course in how to teach. (Consistency. Bellringer activities. Establishing classroom expectations.)

I wanted to scream and throw things, but I've had BAAAAD luck with questioning experts from outside in the past, so I smiled, and wrote **** down, and was polite while she explained how to ask them to take their Ipods out.

Why not ask for something different? Frankly, too scared. Bad history. So I sat there and felt ridiculous as she suggested vocabulary activities.

She's a totally nice woman. No one is trying to get me. But still, this is NOT what I need. Another person to answer to. And another person IN MY CLASSROOM, which makes me crazy.

Next time I'm asking for a pony.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Where to Spread the Gelt?

Check out Thanks to Jameel for this one.

Also, the addictive FreeRice, where you can show off your vocabulary skills and donate rice to the hungry. Simply delightful.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

World's Longest Week is Over

I lit for Chanike and Shabbos last night with a real sense of accomplishment. The week in which we had two nights of parent-teacher conferences, plus a board meeting, ie twelve hours work days, is over.

Some highlights:

Merav is gone from the school. Her mother pulled her out of Moonbat after a series of arguments with teachers, hurt feelings about student body politics, and apparently, repeated racial slurs from Yochanan. Which were never discussed with the teachers. Because, per Merav, we wouldn't have done anything. I think this is a lousy decision. First, we should have gotten Yochanan on all those slurs. Secondly, because of the way the semesters are set up, Merav is going to transfer out with no credits from this fall. This, frankly, strikes me as stupid.

Meanwhile, Yochanan was suspended, and may not be returning to the school, on account of those racial slurs, which were finally reported to a teacher by Orit, who apparently took some offense at being called what Don Imus called a well-known ladies' basketball team. Yochanan is mad at us because we searched his bag last week, and, well, generally not too happy with Moonbat. I don't know if he will come back. I like him personally, but would rather have Merav as a student.

Baruch is in big trouble with his mother for failing classes. When pressured to get his grades up by our principal, he claimed racial harassment. (His mother nearly screamed at this point. She is pretty fed up.) I commented, later, that we would be a greater and mightier nation if only racism had traditionally taken the form of trying to force young black men do their homework so they could get into a good college.

Chaim's father may be taking him out of the school to get him away from Mushka. The kids are in love, such love as no one over the age of eighteen has ever been in, and Chaim's father is not too happy about this for various reasons.

And apparently, Lior's mom is also taking him out, for no reason that I can fathom. And Ayelet's mom is moving out of the area and taking the kid with her. (This nearly led to a scene at the board meeting; I told Umm Ayelet that she could move to a safer neighborhood if she had to, but the kid was staying here, and could sleep on my couch if necessary. I will miss Ayelet.)

Meanwhile, I have been trying to explain to the kids that there is a very good reason to get off your duff and try to pass my class: if you do not pass, you will get no credits, and either have to take summer school, or, if this is not possible, you may have to take the entire class all over again. Next fall. With me. (I have no idea if I will really be returning, but in class there is no doubt.)

They don't quite believe it. Many of the kids at Moonbat are currently obsessed with the idea of escaping Moonbat for Gangbanger City High School, or Up-In-The-Hills Somewhere High School. At these establishments, they believe, their lack of credits because they failed everything this semester will not matter. They will get much less work. There will be better, nicer teachers who teach stuff right. They will not have to read the great classics in English class. THey will get to take 'real' classes. They will be allowed to talk in class and make out with their honeys on the playground, unhindered by teachers who are 'tryna do too much'. No one will call their parents. (This is true. They may call the police, though.)

Gangbanger City High = Great Rock Candy Mountain. I kind of want to go there myself. Except I've talked to people who've taught there, and apparently it's not so great as all that.

Anyway. I have good coffee, and am unwinding now.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

An Attitude of Gratitude

This has been a really amazingly bad week in some ways. The Byzantine politics at school are getting sillier and less funny. On Thursday a kid told me that he didn't care if he went to jail or not, as long as he lived to twenty.

And yesterday, Giora told Miryam that her mother should be more tsniudik in her choice of makeup because she was causing involuntary arousal in him, and putting him in danger of hotza'at zera levatala--except that, not being a yeshiva bocher, he didn't put it like that, he put it in terms so crude that his father had to call the school to find out what was said, because his son was too ashamed to repeat it to his father.

Anyway. I got paid, so I went grocery shopping on Thursday night, and I went berserk. I filled a cart at Trader Joe's, and then filled another one at Lucky. I bought meat and canned goods (and some canned goods for the canned food drive at school--my homeroom is SO winning, thanks to Savta Temimah, grandma of Ari, who cleared out her pantry of extras), and pasta and polenta and lots of frozen things, and basically got three weeks to a month's worth of food if I buy a little extra produce and milk and such here and there.

I got hit with gratitude. I am so incredibly lucky to be able to go into a grocery store with money in the bank and buy food like this. To live in a place where you can get good, clean food, plenty of it, on a teacher's salary. To be food-secure in America. I am so damn lucky.

(I am not totally sure that my husband, who got to help me drag the cans up the stairs was quite as grateful.)

Anyway. I'm putting my gratitude on the record, with the usual official rider to Her Who I'm Grateful To that I have unanswered concerns about why everyone doesn't get to have this...

My stand-up freezer is jam-packed. It's awesome.