“Ms. Harris, what are we doing for writing today?”

“Reading to be able to explain the main idea and supporting details.”

Sucks teeth. “How am I ever going to be a rapper?”

I carefully avoid teaching writing. I instruct students how to respond to texts and write informative reports. I follow the curriculum, teach grammar and syntax and word choice and synonyms. I model how authors revise time and time again, and even require that students use proofreading marks. But teaching the careful balance of art and law that makes language – I just can’t. Luckily, I only have to satisfy 11-year-olds’ sophistication.

But thanks to Bootcamp, (and a relationship crisis) I’m trying to turn some of this potential into kinetic energy. Yes, I know I’m a geek. So for my students that means a little of this, a little of that, lots of projects and a poetry unit. 

I will read an occasional poem, and that’s where it stops. In class, we read a variety of poems, but writing their own is usually forbidden. I know, I’m the worst teacher ever. I just have to teach them a complete sentence first and sensible paragraphs, subject-verb agreement, etc… to meet standards that include writing well-developed pages on a topic; that’s all.

However, we did write poems after reading one of my favorite books, Inside Out and Back Again, as we were between persuasive and informational writing units (yay I’m not the worst teacher). The semi-autobiographical book tells the story of a girl feeling Vietnam in 1975, all through free verse. Students and I loved the simplicity and structure, combination of humor and heartache, and historical references the author used.

With their Wish poems, I was impressed by their skills and expression, and learned about what’s on my their minds. I’m looking forward to sharing more with them, and will develop more poetry lessons where we can learn about writing, together.



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March 7, 2013 · 1:00 am


Am I the only one confused on Sundays?

I usually avoid committing to any outings on Sundays, reserving the day for relaxing and preparing for the work week. My Sundays used to be: wake up late, eat, watch something sports-related or an action movie from the 90s while I chase ideas on the Internet, eat, school work/lesson plans,  Simpsons and Family Guy, read something, fall asleep. There was an occasional errand or early dinner out, but that was basically it.

Now when Sunday shows up, I’m flooded with stress and pressure. I panic about everything I didn’t accomplish the previous week, yet avoid the tasks I need to do for the upcoming week. I think about everything I need to do, and feel guilty if I relax. A follower on Twitter told me to chill. When I chill, I think about everything I need to do. I procrastinate, then remind myself about all the time I’m wasting.  I know I should maximize my “free” time and do something, but then I can’t do anything if I haven’t done what I need to do!

So lately, I wander around, texting and talking about nonsense, playing Scramble. I sulk in my indecision; convince myself I’m lost. Then I solve the problem: I have to spend money (paying bills doesn’t count, of course). Around 4, I run to the mall or rush a friend through a quick dinner. There, I bought a lavender skinny jeans. A feeling of productivity. But that feeling fades as soon as I wish I were relaxing, or remember the meeting I’m facilitating the next day.

While I’m out, I get stuck in heavy traffic or a behind a but-it-said-10%-off-woman at Macy’s – and don’t even bother with the suicide mission I call any Boston area grocery store – and wonder when Sunday became another hectic day of crossing things off a to-do list? Growing up, I hung out and finished any homework, played at the park, early trip to the zoo every now and then, or a church-related event until I strayed away from religion. My parents were never stuck at the computer or frantically running around, and everyone seemed amiable and laid back.

I guess now the go-go-go has replaced a slow Sunday. Maybe it’s a (another?) sign that I’m getting old that I need to plan to relax, or perhaps my indecisiveness is getting worse. Or is it football withdrawl? Lingering Pats Nation depression?

Either way, my Sundays end the same way they began: hazy.

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I’m back.

I’ve decided I need to do more with my life, whether it’s significant or silly. And what better place to write about some it, especially my travels, than the black hole of babblings.

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Travel Writer in Training

Might as well use this space and the next few weeks before school starts again to write about my journey to Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil. My words cannot capture the beauty, pain and lessons I experienced. I can, however, make endless top-10 lists! Top-10 things I learned, top-10 sights, top-10 smells, top-10 references to how I like dumb guys….

Writing is not an easy art-form.

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Color, Cut, Paste. Eat trash.

Some teachers say don’t throw your life away, this one says you better not throw your lunch away.

About 20 hyperactive and moody five- and six-year-olds are getting ready for lunch in Bridgeport, Conn., with a teacher who is approaching 70 years-old. It’s just after morning work time on Tuesday, but she’s wondering how she’s going to make it to the 3:00 p.m. bell on Friday.

“Ok boys and girls, throw away your trash from lunch… Not you, Billy; I’ve had enough of your behavior. This isn’t playtime! This isn’t daycare.”

Billy seems like he is physically unable to control himself. He laughs like a maniac and disturbs other students. He needs one-one-on attention just to focus write his name. Lunch time is unbearable, and he chooses to launch his food at the girl near him instead of placing it in his mouth. Moving his seat doesn’t work, sending him to office is a joke, and his parents don’t understand the problem. What’s worse, right after lunch during math, he usually throws a fit saying he’s hungry.

She’s had enough.

“That’s it. Get your nuggets out the trash – you’re gonna eat every last bite.”

That’s how I imagine kindergarten teacher Anne O’Donnell, 67, came to be arrested and charged with risk if injury to a minor on Tuesday at Park City Magnet School. She allegedly took the five-year-old boy’s chicken nuggets and banana out of a garbage can and forced him to eat them.

She was released but agreed to appear in court.

67 years-old!? In a kindergarten classroom?

My mom, who is in her early 50s and has been teaching kindergarten for about 15 years is stressed out, frustrated and nearly crazy. Even though she’s been a teacher for 30 years, she’ll have to continue working in education until she’s 68 to receive her full retirement benefits. If she’s stuck in kindergarten until then… Well let’s just say she won’t make it.

I don’t know anymore more details about this teacher, and I am by no means defending her action. Such punishment is obviously endangering the child, not to mention humiliating and animalistic.

I do not defend her, but perhaps it should bring attention to what teachers need. My guess is she’s stuck in that classroom, without much support, just working a few more years so she can receive her well-earned retirement. She feels defeated and trapped, and maybe even worse because she knows the kids need her patience.

If she doesn’t torture herself, along with the kids allegedly, for just a few more years, she’ll have a rough retirement, maybe have to move-in with her jerk of a son, crazy and condescending daughter -in-law, 3 young kids that are wilder than the ones she escaped and spend her ‘golden years’ as a charity case in their basement. Who knows.

Back to the point: Instead of just handing out pink slips randomly or to low-performing teachers, hopefully Obama’s education team will spend their millions restructuring the staffing system. O’Donnell could be out of her kindergarten class, using her years of experience to lead new teachers or implementing new programs. More pay caps would ensure her retirement as well as a fresher teacher to take on the classroom, and there are a bunch of nonessential positions that can be eliminated. There’s dance teachers making $45 an hour who do nothing but stretch with the kids in their classroom for a short time.

I hope people see bigger implications from this incident: 1. Until some kind of restructuring in each district happens, both students and teachers will continue to be slighted, and even in danger.

2. Only get nuggets from McDonald’s. Nobody can throw those away.


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Maybe I’ll get a dog…

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‘Trouble the Water’

When you watch the Oscars this year, pay attention to Best Documentary. I saw Trouble the Water last year at a special screening, and it was one of the most touching and thought provoking movies I have ever seen. Everybody should see this film. It explores race, poverty, government, family and love, media – everything – from the eyes of Katrina survivors.

Literally, from their eyes. Most of it is first-hand footage. Watch it.

And am I the ony one who was far from impressed by Benjamin Button? Aside from Taraji, I was thoroughly disappointed. Batman should replace the Best Pic nomination, but hopefully Slumdog wins anyway.


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More Chicago shootings…

February. At least 25 CPS students killed. Last Friday, 13 year-old Johnny Edwards was gunned down. In September, 10 year-old Nequiel Fowler was killed in crossfire while tying her blind sister’s shoes.

And I’m not even keeping track.

When are the police going to do something more than hand out fliers? We need cops that are looking for the killers, extra patrols on the streets and working to confiscate and keep guns from kids, not Jehovah’s witnesses.

Last summer, they realized things were finally out of control and mobilized more officers, heavy duty weapons and vehicles after 26 students and many others had already lost their lives. Arguments can be made saying it helped or was pointless, but something needs to be done now.

Kids and young adults are killing kids, and nobody cares. If there were 25 children shot down in Lake Zurich, it would have the nation’s attention, but the disadvantaged Latinos and blacks on the South and West sides doesn’t even interest the city.

Are people just too accustomed to hearing about the killings to care? Are people hopeless? No matter what the reason, if we can put a black man in the oval office, we can put a black boy back in a classroom.

The NAACP needs to work in communities where they are really needed to change the racial and socioeconomic imbalance in our country instead of  picking losing fights with the NY Post.

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“Any idiot can teach.”‘


With a lot of states restructuring their school systems, reorganizing schools and making budget cutbacks I keep hearing about “such and such school with bad teachers” or “low performance schools” with most of the blame placed on the teachers.

When I was substitute teaching, I landed a long-term spot and loved every minute of it – even when a five-year-old threw up all over me – and didn’t understand why it was a generally frowned upon profession. Most of the teachers at my school were caring professionals doing their best.

Now as I struggle to be a paid journalist, I’m thinking about getting back into a classroom. Almost everyone, including my teacher-for-25-years mother is telling me not to do it, take some time and give myself a chance. As if teaching would be throwing my life away.

A good teacher must be a secretary, nurse, actor, arbiter, event coordinator, therapist, social worker, and sometimes a police officer depending on where and what age you’re instructing. Their jobs are endless, and those performing their job correctly know that the day doesn’t end when the students file out.

As cliché as it sounds, teachers are in charge of our tomorrow. Every graduate has at least one teacher that they will always remember and appreciate. If I were that person, would I be throwing my life away?

Teachers need more support. Are there lazy, uncaring ones teaching our kids, yes, but there are more men and women who are really trying. About 70 percent of new teachers leave the classroom within five years, so it’s safe to say that newer teachers who outlast the statistics definitely have the heart. Maybe we should give them more teacher development courses for free or at affordable prices, equal resources and more community involvement.

With Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Duncan is in charge of distributing more than $100 billion for education funding and college grants, but only a small portion is intended for teacher quality investments; none for raises.

I think the average teacher’s total compensation is great (I’d be off to better start than I would as a journalist and have nice long vacations), but it is not designed to ensure effectiveness.

In most states, teachers earn more as they take approved classes. So a new teacher may earn $43,000 to begin with, and increases to $46,000 once they have completed enough credits. With this system, there are teachers concentrating on their pay scale more than their class. There’s a computer teacher in Boston making $85,000 teaching just five classes, and the kids don’t even know what Microsoft Word is.

I hope this money being poured into school districts will save most of the 600,000 education positions Washington estimated will be cut, but more so I hope there is more support for our current educators and reform in the schools. That computer teacher would be doing a much better job if there was someone pushing her or the student’s work determined her paycheck.

Teachers deserve a higher place in our social caste; I know it’s not frowned upon like a used car salesman, but in terms of prestige and respect it seems lower than it should be. True, we equate them as morally decent people, or at least used to before Letourneau and other such incidents, but the positions aren’t really esteemed.

As cliché as it sounds, teachers are shaping our future. It takes certain kind of hardworking, patient person to teach well and we should applaud those that are doing it right.

If I choose to become a teacher, I would be giving myself a chance. Myself and many others.


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Does Hollywood really need help?

The Senate decided to cut Hollywood out of the stimulus plan, which would have given new productions a 50% tax break. They said that January sales were the highest ever, up 19 percent from last January’s sales. Full article at the LA Times.

So who knows what’s really going to happen. Even though sales increased, maybe it’s just because everyone running to see the Oscar contenders and they’re going to plummet at the end of the quarter. And signs aren’t good for other entertainment companies; Disney is reporting first quarter profits down almost a third.

For anyone who says who cares, look how much money they have, think of it this way: If I have nine dollars, I can buy a six pack and have a good night. If I lose a third, I’m down to a forty or very cheap wine. It’ll be a bad night and take a day or two to bounce back, both physically and my self-esteem.

So anyway, just following up to my wonderings. I’m glad the movie industry was cut out of the stimulus plan. I know there’s honest, hard working people that might have benefited, but it would have probably just made the execs pockets fatter. It’s not the same as the auto industry as Baucus argues, and I don’t see anybody from the sports or music industries lining up with their hands out.

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