Friday, July 15, 2005

Grim Reality

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: the real world is not the glorious, fun, and fantastic time that most kids think it is. I was reading the current post by Admin Worm, and something he said struck me:
"I want to believe—and at times have to believe—that some sort of ultimate judgment is coming."
In the best of all possible worlds, we hope that the universe will reward the good and punish the wicked. You want to believe, as Mr. Worm does, that
Josef Mengele was somehow punished for his heinous crimes, but what if he wasn't? What if he got away and lived out his life in luxury? Does mean that the wicked truly aren't punished?
What about the people killed or hurt in the California mudslides? If one of them turned out to be a child molester, would we be ok with his (or her) death?
Now, I am not really a religious person. I've said that many times. Organized religion, to me, has become twisted and evil. Imagine: you can be a Chrisitan, but now you have choose the right way to be a Christian. What if Jesus were still here and heard of this:
"Wait, wait, wait. The Mormons are telling me that only a few people get into Heaven, but the Catholics are telling me that Mary is more important than you, JC. And then there are those Snake Handlers who tell me that if you really like me, and I truly believe in you, then the snake won't kill me."
Look, if you believe in Chrisitanity, then you must understand that evil people and good people really won't be judged now. I have a friend who likes to tell me that because he prays and lives a good life, that God will help him through things and make sure his life is more comfortable than, say, a murderer. However, what if, for example, a few current politicians were involved with shady dealings? Imagine that Ted Kennedy was part of a conspiracy to kill his own brothers. Now, other than the fact that many members of his family are dead, has he really been punished very much? What about someone lesser known like Thad Cochran (R) from Mississippi? What if it were him? He's done quite well. The point is that his punishment wouldn't come now, but rather after he died. That's why it's so strange to me when people say things like, "why would God let that happen?" First of all, don't we have free will? Aren't we allowed to choose (much like Eve with the apple)? Secondly, if "the meek shall inherit the Earth," then why would me question God's motives. Again, I am not a religious person. I'm more of a Taoist at this point than anything. My theories about the universe deal with time and perception, not a man that looks like Sir Laurence Olivier and tells me he has a grand plan.
That same friend of mine always asks me why I don't care about Heaven and Hell. Well, first of all, have you ever been trapped in a non-air conditioned elevator on the 16th floor of a Manhattan building in the middle of a heat wave and all you can hear is someone murdering a tune on what sounds like a clarinet? That's Hell to me (and that happened). My beliefs about Death are not like my friends. I don't believe that God is testing us like they do. They believe you have to live life "right," or God won't let you into Heaven. I choose to believe that if there is an engineer to this train, that he or she or it wouldn't make all of this just a test. With so many things to experience and feel and learn, how can certain things just be plain wrong? That's why organized religion is so strange to me. If you live THIS way, it's ok, but stray and you're damned. What? You like Rock and/ or Roll? To Hell you go!
Now, back to my point. I believe the universe balances everything out. My mother is the smartest person I have ever known. She has an amazing insight into life, people, and more. Her IQ hovers over 180 (which makes me feel very stupid), and she has the ability to make someone feel better with just a few words. And yet, the universe has balanced out those abilities. She has a hard time with meeting new people. She's had to use her ability to make people feel better to deal with two dying sisters and the death of her own mother. She's had to take care of three children as well as nurse my father back from near death and a triple-bypass. She doesn't go to the doctor, so we have no way of knowing what her health is. I love my mother, make no mistake, but I wish she would take better care of herself.
The ultimate show of balance, however, is
Mr. Stephen Hawking. He could easily be the world's smartest person. He understands things that most people can't even pronounce, and yet his body has betrayed him. He has ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), or Lou Gehrig's Disease. His brain is like a Corvette, but his body is easily a Yugo. Again, balance.
Sometimes, however, we see things we don't understand. That's why we want that "ultimate judgement," to occur. "How can that man/woman/country/etc. get away with that?" we ask. "It's not fair." That's the key. What is fair? This will probably get me flamed, but I don't care. I'm trying to make a point. There were so many people killed in the Twin Towers when they fell. We mourned them, as we should. Even convicted rapists have families that mourn their deaths. No one is ever truly a "loner." What if I told you that half of the people who died were part of a group that was trying to screw you out of your money? Do you still feel sorry for them? What if 1/3 of the people who died beat their children? Are you still as angry? Am I saying that that's what those people were? No. Relax. But why is it that when something bad happens to a good person, we get so angry, but when something good happens to an already good person, we get jealous? Admit it. You see someone like the guy in West Virginia who won the Powerball. He was already a millionaire, and he won millions more. Were you angry? Were you secretly happy when his granddaughter died, or his car was stolen, or he was arrested? (See, balance.)
Death is inevitable. Pain is inevitable. Seeing things we don't understand is inevitable. We will always see trial outcomes, deaths, events, and wonder, "Come on God/Fate/Time/ Space/ Murray the man who lives in the Sun. What the hell?" Has anyone ever not thought, "Gee, why me?" We are curious beings. We want to put a face to God, and Heaven, and such, because we fear the unknown. We are afraid of what we don't know. That's why Ghost stories work so well, and that's why we try to understand right and wrong, good and bad. If Mengele got away and lived a good life, then all the people he killed were never avenged. Mengele murdered and never was punished (unless there really is a Heaven and Hell, and then he's burning). We don't want to wait for justice, we want it right now. After 9/11, when they said that it was Osama Bin Laden, a radical Muslim extremist, how many people went out to mosques and attempted to hurt Muslims?
When we talk about wanting justice, we're talking about the Old Testament. We want an eye for an eye. Look at Israel and Palestine. You bomb me, I shoot up a bus, and on and on the retaliations go. It's so unfortunate.
Sorry, I went off on multiple tangents, but the point is still, in my view, solid. Reality, true reality, not television or movies, doesn't always have a happy ending. The bad guy wins, the good guy dies, the towns folk lose their money, and on and on. We don't want it to be that way. We want, we NEED the good people to prosper, and the bad people to be destroyed. It just doesn't work that way all the time. Reality bites, folks, because the poor get poorer, the rich get richer, the world keeps spinning, and we keep getting older.
Still, don't ever stop living, because reality isn't what you thought it would be. And if you're a parent, don't lie to your kids. Tell them the truth about the world. If you shelter them, you're doing them and yourself a disservice. Don't hide the world from them. Instead show them the world so that they are prepared and maybe, just maybe, they can change things (and this from the world's gold medal winning cynic).

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Goodbye, Brain!

Every once in a while, you have to let go and just, as Dr. Leary said, "Tune out." This is one of those nights. I watched my brain open my head, hop out onto the desk with his little hat and suitcase, wave goodbye, and run out the door, but not before slapping the cat for sniffing him.
Seriously, I'm just having one of those nights where my brain isn't making the connections. I tried to get some writing done on my final project for my Master's class, but I ended up just staring at the screen feeling like a kid who's just seen a plane for the first time: Mouth opened nice and wide, eyes glassy with amazement, and that feeling of, "holy cow, what the heck is that thing." The white space seemed to stretch well beyond the screen to above the ceiling and below the floor. No matter how hard I pushed my brain, it just wouldn't click.
Now, I believe everyone has to have one of these nights. Heck, I am a huge believer in MHDs (Mental Health Days). The body, the mind, and the soul can only take so much punishment before needing to recuperate. Even my wife, who believes that you can NEVER take a sick day, has the occasional day where she just sits at her desk and pretends to go through the motions. She'll deny this to the high heavens, but her co-workers have told me that there is the occasional day where she just doesn't seem to be there.
It's not just me either. I talked to a colleague who said he called his wife and just stammered. He couldn't remember why he called her, he couldn't remember what to say, and then the English language just left him. He told me that 25 seconds of silence passed by. That may not seem like a lot, but count it out sometime. It ends up feeling like a lifetime.

We all have off days, but this is more like a "not even show up day." It's tough on the old brain, which is why he left town with twenty bucks and my first edition of The Dark Tower.
I wish I could be funnier or have more to say, but I don't. The whole brain leaving thing puts me at a disadvantage. Maybe tomorrow I'll have more to say.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Ramblings for the Evening (7/12/05)

A couple quick notes before I try to sleep:

Usual Suspects 2? Rumor has it that Bryan Singer and Kevin Spacey want to do a sequel to the brilliant (I know it's debateable) 1995 film. My question: WHY!? Don't do it. We were left with a great ending to the story. Why would you bring him back? This is one of those films that will get made and then everyone will see it and say, "You should have stopped." Think about Godfather 3, Terminator 3, Beverly Hills Cop III, Die Hard 2 AND 3, and even The Matrix series. You will build up the hopes of the people who loved that film, and then we'll all be pissed about where this one goes. Don't do it, please.
Feet Haters. There are a lot of you out there. Students, faculty, random people, and fellow bloggers that in the last month have told me why they hate their feet, or that they just hate feet. The lovely
Meridita took a self portrait of her feet and then complained that she hates them. One student of mine panics if feet come anywhere near her. She can't even look at her own feet. It's very odd. Sure, there are people with fetishes out there for feet, but I had never really met anyone who HATED feet. Then, all of sudden, bam! Here are at least 15 people in 30 days complaining.
Cat Haters. I have said before: I have 3 cats. I love them very much and have raised them since they were tiny kittens. It pisses me off when people tell me that all cats are evil and should be killed. We associate dogs with happy, cool people, and cats with selfish people. I read this article in
New York Dog (such a freaking odd magazine) about how cat people are liars and selfish, and dog people are trustworthy and great. Drives me nuts. What if you own both? Are you wishy-washy?
Ok, that's it. I'm out. I don't want to rant tonight.

Fear and Loathing in 217

Wow, I knew the power of words, but I never realized that I would scare someone so badly. One of my newest readers, Mr. Admin Worm, read my little rant from yesterday, and it apparently scared him out of teaching...maybe.
If you haven't read my rage-induced post, scroll on down to July 11 (or the next post). I admit it: I was very angry when I wrote that post. However, I want to make this very clear to anyone that reads ole I.T. here: I love teaching. I love it. I love the challenge of making the students understand something that before they either didn't know or didn't get. However, teaching is a great deal of work. Most people get the idea that teaching consists of handing out tests, correcting those tests, and just stepping up in front of a class and talking. You could do that, sure, but you might not really be a good teacher then. The key to being an educator is not really in the practice, but in the preparation of the lessons, quizzes, and etc. That's right: the awesome power of the teacher comes in how well you can organize and stay ahead of your students. Does personality help? Sure. I sometimes think that the students who "liked" me (and I use quotes because the key to being a teacher is to be likeable, not liked) is that I was able to talk to them. I was organized and made sure I understood what they were talking to me about at the time.
You must also have infinite patience. Why? Half of the lessons you prepare won't go the way you envisioned. Students will ignore you, or go faster or slower than you thought they could. It's about rolling with the punches.
Every day of teaching is completely different. Any teacher will agree with me. There is absolutely no way that the class you teach on Monday will act exactly the same the next day. How do I know? Well, take the kids I was ranting about yesterday. Today, they were much better. They worked on the stories, and they were respectful in talking to my E.A.
The other key to teaching is that you can't ever give up. There will be days where you just feel like nothing you say is getting through and that every single one of the kids you work with is destined to use the phrase: "Do you want fries with that?" However, they just might surprise you.
So if you're thinking about becoming a teacher, think about the following:
1. It's more than a job, it's a lifestyle. Most teachers live, breathe, eat, crap, etc. their jobs. You will take work home, so be prepared. The best teachers still have to take the occasional paper home to read. You'll find yourself working the occasional weekend to catch up. Does it suck? Yeah, but the reward is worth it.
2. Not all students are created equal. For every student you get that wants to learn, there may be 1 or 2 or even 5 that just don't care. You can and should do everything you can to get them into it, but they just may not care. One student I had (we'll call her Emma) liked to say that she didn't care, but she did the work, she was attentive most of the time, and she tried (though she wanted me to believe she didn't). What started out badly ended with her being one of my favorite students. (It also led to her causing me to be made fun of by faculty members even into this summer with people who barely know me. More on that later.) They say you can't judge a book by its cover. That's the best way to think of the students.
3. Preparation, preparation, preparation (and improvisation). You must be organized, prepared, and able to work the crowd. Things will come up, lessons will change. If you can't handle a student sending the room off on a tangent, then teaching will be very hard for you. I worked with a Theatre IB class. We were talking about African Theatre and ended up having to go back and explain what happened to Nelson Mandela, what the colonial history of most of Africa is, and then finally, almost an hour later, tie it back to theatre. If you can't go with the flow, but learn how to steer it at the same time, then teaching is not for you.
4. Be in shape. I laughed when one of my teachers told me that you must be able to run five miles everyday in order to teach. I thought, "Huh? You're standing there most of the time, and you never really move, so why the heck do you need to be in shape. Besides most of the teachers I know are fat." Well, this is why: You may not physcially go five miles over the day, but mentally it will feel like it. You have to watch between 35 to 52 people in a small room. Keep in mind what you want them to get through while also making sure they're attentive. Your mind races to keep everything together. You're also constantly thinking about the future of the class. Where are we going next? Your brain will hurt, but it will heal. That's why we have summer...usually.
And finally,
5. Say goodbye to normal. With all of the different personalities you'll be working with, there will be quirks and eccentricities. It's inevitable. You will see kids or fellow faculty members saying things or looking ways that you can't believe. One fellow student in my program told me all about how his supervising teacher had specific instructions about how to close the room when school was over. If those instructions weren't met, then the student teacher had to clean the entire room. That's what happens sometimes. Students will also have quirks. You just learn to deal with it.
I hope this helps anyone thinking about becoming a teacher. It's just like any other job. You'll have great days were amazing feats take place. You'll also have terrible days where you believe that you've been cursed by fate, or time, or God, or whatever rules your version of the universe. And some days...well...they'll just go by with nothing good or bad happening. See, it's just like any other job. The only difference? If you screw up really badly at this job, then you could be damaging alot of people. This should hopefully clear up any confusions, and if you're reading this, Admin Worm, then hopefully you're not scared anymore of teaching. If you (or anyone, for that matter) think you have what it takes to teach, then by all means: go for it! Working with students like Emma, or Greta, or Charlie, or Julie, or any of the students is totally worth it. They have keen insights to life, and you learn from them as they learn from you.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Ignorance Is (Dangerous) Bliss

Warning: The following is a passion-filled rant. Expletives may be used by the author. You've been warned, so if you feel your eyes may be fragile, stop reading. Also, the following conversations are true. Shocking, but true.

I must admit: I am worried about the future. Normally I honestly don't care. I see some of the students that I worked with over the year, and I realize that they will go on to great things. Emma will one day run a company. Greta will probably become the most lucrative aeronautic engineer in the history of Airbus or Boeing. Charlie will end up being the Robin Williams character in Dead Poets Society. I could go on and on.
Unfortunately, my second period reading class this summer has me very worried. Out of 22 kids, I'm starting to feel that maybe 3 have what it takes to pass the test and continue on. There are so many factors that frustrate me about this class:
1. They don't work. Look, I know it's summer school, but they are there for a reason. I have made this class almost painless with the amount of work that needs to be done. All I ask is that you listen, you try, and you do not judge your fellow classmates. Unfortunately, they do not prescribe to my way of thinking. Student one is reading aloud and makes a mistake? Let's all laugh as loud as we can and make him feel stupid. I have to read a paragraph and answer three questions? "That's not fair," or, "That's TOO much work!" Again, I understand they don't want to be there, but if they do nothing, they are not helping their chances to pass the Basic Standards Test. You MUST pass the test in order to graduate. Some of these kids have failed the test more than once. Shouldn't they at least try to figure out where they went wrong so they don't fail again?
2. They don't care. Honestly, they don't care about anything. The ignorance they showed me today was awe-inspiring in its hatred. Where to start? I've been called a Cracker by one of the students. Fine, not the proper use as I am not southern (I would be a Honky), but the problem is that they feel it's ok for them to call me a Cracker, but not ok if I respond in kind.
I got a whole speech about how only white people (like myself) can be racist, because we "invented racism," but then these students of color turn around and say things like, "Chinese people and Japanese people are the same thing." Or, my personal favorite, "All white people are alike, and all black people are black people. There's no difference among them." Now, trying to use logic, I asked the student:
"So a person from Namibia is the same as a person from Chicago is the same as a person from St. Lucia?"
The response? "Wait....What's Namibia?"
"It's a country in Africa."
"It is? I've never heard of it."
"What countries in Africa do you know?"
"Uh, Is South Africa in Africa?"
"Yes. Any others?"

"I don't know. Is India in Africa?"
"Then that's all I know."
Now, beyond the ignorance of not knowing what countries are where, which I believe most of us learned when we were in third grade, the other problem I have is the idea that this student, though not white, believes that he is not a racist, but says that a Chinese person is the same as a Japanese person. I have a friend named John. He's Korean, and he gets mistaken for Japanese and Chinese all the time. How does he feel about it? Does he say, "That's ok, we all look alike"? Hell no! He gets pissed.
Look, I'm not a Liberal, and I'm not a Conservative. I fall somewhere in the middle. I believe that complete labeling is wrong, but that we have to respect people's cultures and languages. Don't EVER accuse me of being a racist and then say that your thoughts aren't racist, because you can't be. That's bullshit.
Upon further correction, the student (and friends) said that they don't care. They also explained that the cop in St. Cloud who was dragged by the car, "got what he deserved," and that, "No one cares about some Jews that were killed." Yup, we were reading a story about the Holocaust, and the students felt that the story had no relevance. As the son of a German Jew who escaped the Holocaust, I tend to disagree, but I'm also biased. One other student told me that his parents explained to him that the Holocaust, "never happened." Are you kidding me? It never happened? Tell that to my family members that were killed! It's stuff like this that has me worried. What's next? All Muslim's should be killed just in case they are terrorists? Come on, people.
When later pressed about the fact that my family probably owned slaves, I turned it on them.
"So all black people are the same?"
"Egypt is in Africa, right?"
"So do black people live there?"
"Yeah, we OWNED that fucking place!"
"So it was the black people of Egypt who enslaved my people."
"Yeah! Wait, what?"
"Well, the Jews were enslaved by the Egyptians. If the Egyptians were black, then black people owned slaves. Therefore, you all, in here, (because all black people are alike, right?) owe me an apology and restitution."
"Well, that was different. Those people were white, not black. Yeah."
Anyone not see the problem yet?
As for college, well, only three out of them want to go. The rest believe that their skills or something else will make them rich without needing anymore education. Look, yeah there are a few people who made it big without a degree, but for everyone one of them, 9 didn't make it. Maybe it's more. Maybe it's 99, but still, that's alot of people. Go to college. Learn about the real world, not what 50 Cent or Ludacris or your parents tell you about it. See it for yourself.
3. They are disrespectful. I don't care if they try to disrespect me. I don't take crap from them, so if they try, I call them on it. However, the EA (Educational Assistant) in my classroom is an older woman who has earned her respect over the years. You do not refer to her as, "that fucking lady." Hell no! You do not refer to her as, "that white bitch." I don't think so. You want to know why you were kicked out today? She asked you to do something and you called her, "a cunt." That's not ok with me. That's why you're standing in the halls holding your arms out with books in them and you're not allowed to move. You cross the line, I will bury you.
And another thing: Stay out of my bag! Why is over by the desk and closed? So that you leave it alone. When you take something out of my bag without asking, that's stealing. Does that mean I can come to your home and take stuff? What's that? No. Then get away from my stuff.
4. They don't know. In this case, I do feel bad for them. I hear alot about how this kid's dad never works, how this kid's girlfriend is pregnant (at 12), or how this kid's sister was killed by a guy on drugs. Life is tough. I freely admit that. That's why I am trying to help them. I want them to go on to bigger and better things, to get away and then return to those neighborhoods to help.
I refuse to give up on these kids, but they do test my patience. Most of them will not pass this class. They don't do the work, they refuse to try, and they don't care. Out of 22, about 10 will return for 8.5 (not quite 9th grade, not really 8th grade). Do they care? No. One kid told me he wants to stay in school until he's 21. Why? Most people want out, not stay. What possible reason would you have to stay for that long?
Maybe they will surprise me. As one wise student told me, "No one wants to be there. You don't, they don't, so good luck."
They say ignorance is bliss. You're happy, because you don't know what's really going on or what's wrong. The problem with that is it creates situations that can really hurt you. I'm trying to help these kids, but they are holding on to that ignorance so strongly.