The Author

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I am a high school English teacher, and mother of two charming little ones of my own. I teach in a high poverty urban charter school, while I live in a typical American suburb that has frequently been rated one of the safest cities in the country. It is a paradox I struggle with constantly, but it is my life.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Vinny is the sunshine of my life

He is sleeping peacefully on the couch next to me and he makes me so happy. I love hearing him sigh in his sleep.

I have been worried about him getting connected in his new school, since he has changed so much and it has seemed to take him a really long time to learn names, but this weekend he asked if his friend Joey from school could come over our house. This is a good sign. According to Marc, Joey is actually over a year older than Vinny and is one of those kids whose parents are holding him back from kindergarten for a year. While I am not terribly fond of Vinny having friends so much older than him, at least he has friends. I should probably go ahead and try to set up for Vinny to have a little playdate.

He is such an awesome kid. He has suddenly decided he needs privacy to get dressed and has taken to shutting the door in his room while he picks out and puts on his clothes in the morning. This meant that he went around with his underwear on backwards for half the day yesterday (I noticed when he was having trouble in the bathroom all morning) and his socks on inside out the entire day, but I'd rather celebrate his success at independence than focus on the mistakes. Today, however, he did come show me in the morning that he had his socks on the right way. Although I never mentioned the socks, I guess he had noticed.

Need a little sunshine

I have been having a really hard time keeping my spirits up lately. As odd as it is, I really, really want to be in a good mood, but nothing is going how I want it too, even just stupid little things. It seems that everything that I find myself looking forward to just goes to crap.

I wanted to go to the beach during the day yesterday. Despite it being over 100 degrees all week while I was at work, of course yesterday was too cold to enjoy the beach, so we didn't bother. 

Even, I just really wanted to go to the Green Day concert, and Marc found an opportunity to get tickets through KROQ by volunteering to clean a beach. I have never felt so loved by my husband in his effort to make this happen for me. The bad news... they ended up being lawn tickets. If you haven't been to the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater recently (like in the last 2 years), then you wouldn't understand why this is really not an okay situation for me. The lawn is exactly what it sounds like- a big grassy area at the top of the amphitheater. It used to be an okay place to see shows. You could bring a blanket, get there early and stake out a good spot and kick it for most of the evening, very relaxed atmosphere. Now, however, they way oversell it, and don't let you bring even blankets to sit on, because they clearly don't want you sitting; the 6000 people (not exaggerating- I looked it up) they sold tickets to would not fit if everyone sat down. There is no lighting and young kids (like 14-17) use it as the perfect opportunity to pass giant bottles of alcohol and get drunk beyond their wildest dreams, which generally means that they do not make it out of the giant crowd before vomitting everywhere. Anyone who has been there in the last couple of years can corroborate that this is an accurate description of the lawn experience. As much as I want to see this Green Day show, I cannot stand all night and also cannot risk drunken teenagers falling on top of me or crashing into me. We sold the tickets last night. We considered using the cash to put towards buying better tickets, but we are really broke. We could actually really use that $70 to buy groceries,  and don't have even another $50 to invest in better seats, so that is pretty much where this ends.   :-(

I am finally really, really, really sick of being pregnant. I have been having contractions all the time, and I don't care what anyone says about BH contractions just being tightness and not hurting, they hurt. There is no room for squeezing of any kind to not hurt. This would probably explain why I am already 2cm dilated, but I was dilated weeks before Vinny too, and the doctor said it means nothing as far as when she comes. It could still be until the 21st. The only part of me that really wants until the 21st is me knowing that my sub is not in the system at school yet (still waiting on paper work), and I would like more time with the students anyway. There are still a few kids whose names I am having trouble remembering.

On the flip side, some stupid crap happened Friday that really crushed my optimistic "The kids ARE alright" view of teenagers. Please understand that I really cannot elaborate out of the nature of what happened and my position, but it really bummed me out. I am such a firm believer in the goodness of my students, and when stupid things happen that show me how immature they are and how little they consider the consequences of their actions, it just really gets me angry. As much as I want to believe that they care about other people, they have no idea how much I care about them and care so little about anyone but themselves. Now I know this is a total sweeping generalization, which is unfair to make, but I hate that even one of my students really is this way, because it just wakes me up to the fact that they CAN be this way. It makes me not even want to go back to work tomorrow.

Bleh... and now I am going to go spend my entire afternoon at church for training for a ministry that I get an opportunity to actually participate in like once every 3 months. I guess that is part of going to a big church, there is little actual need for me to serve, despite my actual desire. Sometimes I wonder why I bother try.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

My kids, from the very big to the very little

Today was an interesting day. I started at work, left for a couple of hours to go to an ultrasound and dr. appointment, and then returned to teach the rest of my classes and do back to school night.

There is so much I could say today, so here are the highlights:

I've never had an ultrasound this late before, and it was really cool. I couldn't see the whole baby as much as when she was 15-24 weeks (had 3 ultrasounds during that time), but what we could see of her face and everything was so pronounced. We could even see her opening and closing her eyes. It was crazy how much of her features we could really see. She really looks like Marc (but so did Vinny as an infant, and now he looks a lot more like me). She has a lot of hair. The tech measured her hair and said she's got at least half and inch of hair all over her head. It was crazy; you could see it waving in the fluid. 

Dr. said she is perfect, but measuring small for her gestational age. He offered to refer me to a specialist, but I am not concerned at all. He said that it is very possible that it is just genetics leading to small babies. A specialist could actually do genetic testing to determine that, but I don't need a specialist to tell me that this is the case. She is only 36 weeks, and she looks like she would be about 5 pounds 8 oz if born today. Vinny was born at 37 weeks (argueably 38 weeks- the dr and I disagreed on his due date- but with this one I am certain), and he was 5 pounds 10 oz and very healthy, just small. Marc was full-term and was 5 pounds 6 ounces. I was 7 pounds something ounces (why do I know everyone exactly but myself?), but I was a full week late. I was always the smallest kid in class. Vinny has never gone beyond the 10th percentile. So I am certain she will be a small baby, and probably just a small person in general. Why wouldn't she be? But hey, it is lucky for me... I would much rather deliver a 6-7 pound baby than anything bigger.

My blood pressure was great (was induced last time because of preeclampsia, so this is a good sign), and we are moving right along. I'm 2 cm dialated and 70% effaced. He expects things will go quickly when it happens, but it could still be any time between like next week and my actual due date of Sept. 21st. Much of the faculty (and student body) is betting I will go into labor at school. I suppose there is a good chance, just based on pure percentage of time spent there vs. at home, but I doubt it. Besides, only like 10% start labor with their water breaking, so, although the kids are expecting some exciting Hollywood-esque moment of a huge gush and a rush to find someone to bring me to the hospital, it would more likely be me noticing small contractions, finding coverage, and driving myself home to labor there until the contractions got worse. 

Not much to say on this front, but I just have to share a few funny Vinny-isms. Yesterday, a family friend brought a gift for Tiana and a gift for Vinny. He got a gift certificate to Baskin Robbins. He was so excited. We told him what it was in the car, he was "reading" me the fine print. It went something like this, "Mommy, it says you go to the store and give them this paper and they give you free ice cream- freezed ice cream- and you just have to be happy because they give you ice cream, and it says you can't be sad because they are giving you ice cream, so you just have to be glad."  Fantastic, right? We all need to think a little more like my son. Seriously.

Another funny. Is it possibly a telling sign that when my son plays with a cup in his bubble bath he likes to scoop up water with bubbles still on top, so that it looks like foam on a drink, and yell, "Mommy, your coffee is ready!" I suppose he knows that Mommy doesn't really think coffee is worth too terribly much without cream on top.

My Big Kids
I love my job a lot. As exhausting as it is, I especially love teaching theater. Today's rehearsal was awesome. I had a good laugh when I noticed my Ebeneezer Scrooge, a senior who is one of my best students, dragging himself painfully across stage and I asked, "What's wrong? Are you hurt?" only to be told, "No, just sore. I tried MMA [mixed martial arts- a program offered afterschool] yesterday and I think it was the first time I have worked out in over a year."  I laughed and informed him that it was probably a good decision then. It will be offered on Tuesdays, when we do not have rehearsal, so I really hope he keeps going.  Hmmm... a year? Perhaps my drama kids should do aerobic warm ups.

I had another interesting moment today when I said hello to one of the seniors who was one of my star theater kids last year but doesn't have room in his schedule this year, and he seemed down so I said, "You look rather put out. Everything okay?"  He answered, "I have 7 classes."  He is really bummed because he is super intelligent but blew off a lot of stuff his freshman and sophomore year, so he has had a lot of catching up to do while a lot of his friends have only a few classes. I reminded him that it is just one tough year and then he will be done, high school diploma in hand, off to get any job (within reason) that he wants, because he is so charismatic that he'll get any job he interviews for. He replied, "I hate how much you believe in me." I laughed and replied, "Someone has to, and if its not going to be you, it'll have to be me." I meant it too.

A group of my drama kids learned some tough lessons today at Back to School night. Since my class is truly career prep now, I am letting them really be quite project-based in all things, and not taking control of anything, including tonight's back to school night concessions fundraiser. I gave them a budget for supplies, cash for shopping, and told them to decide what to sell and make it happen. They did okay, but there was quite a few moments where they ran to me in panic, "Where are the ice cream toppings?" or "Do you have an ice cream scoop?"  I just smiled and said, "Ask your project manager." Made them all crazy I am sure, but they got through, made a profit (haven't counted exactly yet, but looks like they did), and I am sure learned a lot. I  plan on having them write reflections tomorrow. :-)

I love my job.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Everything coming together, at least at home...

Over the past few weeks, I've been going through mommy panic mode that I just didn't really feel ready for a baby, at least as far as my house. This weekend, it all came together.

First Saturday morning, God totally smiled upon me as I happened to drive past a garage sale (while not at all out looking) that had a bassinet! It is a beautiful white and green one, and she only wanted $15! Score! Then, best of all, my baby shower was this weekend. It was a wonderful time.

Even though I was much further along at this shower than I was when I had Vinny's shower, I felt great, and I think I even looked better than last time.   ;-)

I got a lot of wonderful stuff, plus the gift that is always just what you need- gift cards and money! Today, we went shopping and got everything else we really needed. Well, almost. I have to cash a check I got to go get the car seat we want, and I am also hoping to locate another 20% off coupon for Babies R Us before purchasing it.

Ideally, there are still a few other things that we had hoped to get- I currently have only one bottle (but those are cheap and I plan to breastfeed mainly anyway) and I never ended up getting a swing, but we can always look for that second hand. I also really, really want to get a nice umbrella stroller, because with Vinny we ended up using it all the time and the one we have is really cheap and really a pain to push around. However, it will be a while before she is big enough to put in an umbrella stroller, so there is time to save, and Christmas is just around the corner.

While I was at the shower this weekend, a good friend of Marc's who is artistic came over and painted a beautiful mural on Tiana's wall. It is exactly what I was looking for to make the room feel complete, and it is just so unique and creative. It feels like home, and it is the symbol to me of how far we have come in the past 4 years. This is what makes the difference between apartment living and having a home. Seriously though.  

When Vinny was born, his "nursery" was a corner of our bedroom, because we only had a one bedroom apartment in a bad part of town. At the time, it didn't seem to matter, because the three of us were going to be a family, and this was us, making space.

Now, Vinny has his own beautiful, big boy room, and this will be Tiana's room:

It is funny to think about, out of all the things that I would want and love to have, what I really want most of all now, is this recliner we saw of Babies R Us the other night. We were there updating our registry one night, and I just sat down in this chair thinking about how the color would totally match the nursery, and then I just somehow decided I must have it. However... I don't have $400, and I don't anticipate being able to get over the guilt of spending  $400 on a chair. Really. It is just so comfortable though, and would fit so perfectly in the corner of her room. I can just imagine nursing her half asleep in this chair and not even caring that it is 3 a.m. That is how comfortable this chair is.
Anyone have $400 laying around and want to buy me this chair?

Now, if only I felt as ready with school as I do at home. I am so, so, so not ready to hand off my classes. I just need a day to spend getting ready. Part of me is thinking about having my sub come in for a day before I go to just give me a release day to spend making copies and finishing lesson plans so that I have really prepared stuff to hand him. Now, the funny thing is, if it was me teaching this semester, I would consider myself WAY ahead of the game, but everything I have "ready to go" is very much put in simple terms that is mostly my shorthand for the lessons that are really in my head. I need to get from my head to paper very, very quickly.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Why I Love Teaching Theater Arts

At the beginning of the semester, I was informed that the purpose of the new buildings was for a career-based program at our school, and that they would like to use my theater program as the basis for a performing arts career pathway, considering I have like 10% of the school involved in my program. This was more than fine with me; in fact, I commented that theater is probably one of the most practical programs we offer.

It is just so true.

I love teaching theater because of all the practical skills that students learn. Since it is now considered a real class (last year, we were more like just a drama club), I am doing my standards-based planning from the California Standards for Career Education in Performing Arts.

One of my standards says that students will:
"Develop competencies and creative skills in problem solving, communication, and time management that contribute to lifelong learning and career skills."

 Boy, that couldn't be a better description of what actually happens in my classes. 

Problem solving: 
Student: "Mrs. Mohr, we still don't have a bed for Alice's bedroom."
Me: "You are in charge of set design. That is the centerpiece of this set. You have had two months. Figure it out by Friday." 
Student: "Yes, Ma'am." 
Two days letter... five teenage boys walked the multiple pieces of a bed down the street from his house, and voila, a bed appeared on the stage. I am fairly certain the student slept on the floor for the next two weeks, but he solved the problem. 

Before I have even taken roll at the beginning of rehearsal.
Student: "Mrs. Mohr, we are missing (fill in name of random missing student)." 
Me: "Someone call him." 
Multiple students whip out cell phones and dial. The first one to get an answer then says (in a fantastically stern voice): "Where are you, dude?!  Rehearsal is starting! (pause) No! Not Act 2! We are doing Act 1 today- it is on the calendar! Besides, you are in both acts."
I smile. Missing student appears by his scene. 

Time Management: 
Student: "Mrs. Mohr, can I be excused from rehearsal tomorrow? I have a group project due Friday that my group wants to work on." 
Me: "No. We need you here. Invite them to rehearsal. You can work between scenes."
Student: "Okay, but can we borrow your laptop to do the research?" 
Me: "Sounds like a plan." 

These are regular occurrences in my program, and just a few examples of how these students make me so proud. They all take some training at first, but they truly develop the responsibility and mindset of career professionals. It is funny, because by the end of last year, I had sort of forgotten what it was like at the beginning of the year, when all of these skills and habits very much still needed to be learned. This year, I have about half returning students and half new students. The new students are just figuring these things out, but what is so fantastic this year is that the returning students are so with it, so helpful, such problem solvers... and have NO mercy on the new kids. One of the new kids did not show up for rehearsal today. A returning student looked up his cell phone number in my index card file and discovered his number was no longer in service. A returning student who was not in the scene agreed to fill in for this rehearsal, while the rest of the students vowed to kick his butt upon his return. About 30 minutes later, as we were wrapping up his scene, one of the students yelled, "Hey, there he is, walking home! What the heck?" This then prompted the entire cast to run out the door and up to the fence to catch him walking down the street, where much scolding was done. Meanwhile, I sat in my chair and waited for them to return. :-) I super love that the kids are now learning from each other. 

Some of the freshman do need some coaching. I had to explain to one girl today that she can figure out when she has rehearsal by looking at the rehearsal calendar (novel concept, right?). Earlier in the rehearsal, I had to explain to the same student that she actually has to read the information in italics to know where to enter and exit. 

I also learned today that Christmas carols do not cross the cultural barrier quite as well as I thought, and surprise, surprise- they don't know "Joy to the World" or "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen." Oops. Who would have guessed. But they will learn....

I love my job.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Getting ahead is not easy

Every year, within just a few weeks of school starting, the papers and responsibilities pile up and I am days, then weeks, behind on paperwork before I know it. This year, I have been really, really good about not letting that happen, because I cannot exactly leave the sub with weeks of piled up work, so I just have to finish everything one day at a time. It is really the ideal way to do it anyhow, but I have just never been able to keep up before. It comes from being so prepared in advance and it being year 3 of teaching this curriculum finally.

HOWEVER... I am leaving in, well, who knows how few weeks. As short as 2 weeks, as long as 4. I really want to have everything as completed and ready to hand my sub as possible, but it is not. I keep thinking that if I am on top of my daily stuff, then I can work on the prep work for the next two months in my "extra" time. Except "extra" time in my world is sort of like unicorns. We can totally picture what they would look like and be like, and we imagine them as so beautiful but so really possibly, yet they don't actually exist in reality.

I am working on getting the prep work done, but I do not know how much I will finish. The part of me that really wants things to be completely ready, and the part of me that wants to have as much of a hand in my drama program as possible, is hoping to make it closer to a month. The part of me that is sick of heartburn, sick of being out of breath, sick of having no energy, and sick of having to pee every 20 minutes, really hopes it is just a couple of weeks.

Well, we will see.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Rough Week

I still love my glass classroom, but I have encountered another problem with working in a glass house in Pacoima....
"Class... please focus up here on the lesson I am teaching, not on the person on the ground out front being tackled by the cops and handcuffed."

Yeah... at least it was my honors class, and they are a little easier to manage than my other classes. I love them a lot.

I taught an awesome lesson today, adapted from Erin Gruwell's sandwich lesson. Since it was block period day, that means I am doing it again tomorrow. I am excited, since it went so very well, but exhausted, and it is a go-go-go, kind of day. I ran around like a crazy person trying to get everything done. Plus, I had the sandwiches made the night before, but I just don't have the energy to do it tonight, so I am going to have to do it early in the morning. Now let's just hope I can actually get up.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


As exhausting as this particular season of my life is, I really like my life. There are so many wonderful things about it. I worked so hard today and had such a long day, and for a long time after school I was having BAD Braxton Hicks contractions at my desk while trying frantically to finish all the millions of things I needed to get done and get all the piles of my desk. But ya know what, there is something that feels so good about working so hard at something you love and find meaningful. (I dislike that I have used the word "so" as an adjective here, when that is really not the appropriate use of the word, but it just feels so colloquially right here... see?).

It didn't all get finished, but most of it did. I had decided that my lesson plan for the next two days needed to be very much revamped, but was not feeling pleased with any of my ideas, so I eventually decided I needed to just pack up and head home anyway for the sake of my sanity and my family's need to eat dinner.

I stopped at the store and picked up more lemons because I suddenly have this obsession with homemade lemonade. It is like the only thing I find thirst quenching, and I am crazy thirsty lately. I found a super simple recipe that doesn't require owning a juicer, so I have been making it myself and drinking like a pitcher a day. Okay, Marc and Vinny are DEFINITELY helping with that pitcher a day, so it is not all me.

Marc and Vinny got home shortly after me, and Marc headed outside to start grilling the turkey dogs. (I have made this fantastic discovery that, despite his total lack of desire to cook, all I have to do is plan something that needs to be grilled for dinner and Marc will totally do that portion of the dinner. Pretty cool, huh? As you can imagine, we have been eating a lot of barbecue lately). As I stood in the kitchen crushing lemons in a pitcher, I watched Vinny gleefully swinging on his swings while Daddy grilled hot dogs nearby, and it just overwhelmed me with gratitude for my life. I have such an awesome family. My fantastic son said, "Thank you for the hot dog, Mommy," as I put his dinner down on his plate. My husband now cleans up dinner every night since my tummy now gets in the way of the sink, and I have a beautiful extra bedroom ready for my beautiful new daughter who will be here very soon. :-)

Just a side note of cuteness... Vinny loves to talk to the baby. He puts is mouth up really close to my tummy, and one of his favorite things to say is, "Tiana, you're pretty!" I think sometimes we all need to take a lesson from a preschooler to remember that beauty is not always something you can see.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

We are nearing the end of our 2nd week of the school year. A bit of interesting info. My blog would be more appropriately named 150 kids now, since I currently have 148 students on my rosters who are "my kids" to me (+ Vinny and soon Tiana would be 150). This is literally counting the kids, not specifically students enrolled in my classes, since I actually have several students who are enrolled in more than one in class of mine (example- English and Drama).

And I still see my old kids around a lot too. It is a small school, and it is nice that I get to keep relationships with these kids. My first class that I taught for 10th grade English is now the senior class. It is crazy to me to think that they are all graduating this year. I love those kids.

That said... I am really exhausted now. I am fine during the day; half the time I forget I am pregnant. It is absolutely wonderful that my room has its own bathroom and makes my life a million times easier. I love my job and have so much to do all the time that it really keeps my mind off the whole tired and pregnant thing. But then I go home at the end of the day, and the list of things that still need to get done is still there like it is every day of every school year, but it is just SO much harder to get done than it has ever been before. Plus, I get home and think about doing things like laundry or cooking dinner and I am so spent from giving all my energy to my students all day that I can just barely bring myself to get up the energy to do it.

Just a few more weeks. That is both terrifying and relieving all at the same time. It is terrifying because I am not at all ready. I don't mean that I am not ready for the baby- I can totally handle that part- it is handing my other kids over to a sub that I am wholly unprepared to do at this moment. Yet, I am relieved that it is coming soon and I will have some time with my newly expanded family and double the joy of wonderful little people that are part me. :-)

Our news story was on today! I was so excited. As you all know, I love my students like my own kids in a lot of ways, so seeing them on tv is like seeing your own child on tv! I hate how I look in the clip, but I am really proud of the kids and how they really did a good job of representing what our school is really about. What I love most about my kids is that this one kid that I nominated is really just symbolic of the heart of so many of our kids and our school in general.

Monday, August 9, 2010

What an emotional roller coaster...

Today has been such an incredibly emotional day, and such a roller coaster. I cannot handle another day like this. I really don't want to talk about all of it, as a lot of it is very personal, but I will share some of what I can.

This morning, I had to quickly turn my first couple of classes over to other teachers to cover... because ABC News was there to interview me and one of my students, because I nominated him for an award, and he won. He totally deserves this award, and the time of it is great too. I went to participate in the taping, watching their class, our school's human rights organization, plan for an upcoming fundraiser to raise money for victims of the flood in Pakistan. Some of the victims are actually friends of two of my students, and they don't even know if all of their friends over there are okay, so it was actually kind of hard for me to hear about that, yet it is so inspiring at the same time. These kids are the most amazing kids. They bring so much joy to my heart, in that they see the little that they have compared to other Americans as truly wealthy in comparison to the rest of the world, and they want to share the wealth to help people in need. They are some pretty special kids. The student who won the award will get a $1000 scholarship for his college education. Considering that he will likely end up at a state school, that money will go far, especially when stacked with other similar scholarships that I believe he will end up getting, and a kid who I never would have pegged as college-bound 2 years ago will probably graduate college and propose some genius idea to create world peace or something like that. It was the kind of "teacher high" that keeps me going in the tough parts of this job....

Like casting a show. Creating the cast list of A Christmas Carol this week has been hard on me. I feel so bad for the girls who I will be letting down by casting them in roles smaller than they imagined, and frustrated at the fact that there  were not enough boys auditioning this time to even really fill all the roles, so I am just praying that the ways I filled them end up working okay.

Or the even tougher part.... hearing about a past student whom I truly care deeply about and the fact that he has really gone down the wrong path. Out of privacy, I will not go into detail, but I will just say that my heart really, really hurts today. I cried a lot. This student has a very special place in my heart, and this was news that I had hoped never ever to hear. All I can do now is pray. I truly believe that The Lord is the Good Shepherd, who will go after the one who is lost, and I can only find solace in that right now.

The sadness in my heart over this one student really was a much needed reminder, because these tears were so much more justified than the the 5 minutes of tears I cried when I saw Vinny's haircut disaster today. What started out as a "buzz cut" ended up as a "bald as a cue ball" style that sort of broke my heart. My wonderful husband shaved off his wonderful amber curls in moral support (well, that's what he says... I think he was just sick of wearing a swim camp every day at practice), so now I have two bald boys. Now it seems really ridiculous that I cried so much about something so stupid, but at the time, I truly couldn't help myself.

I am sick of being hormonal and emotional. But I am also not ready for this baby...

Oh boy.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Nesting Woes

I am feeling the desire to nest like crazy, both in my classroom and my home. Marc has been very tolerant and very helpful, but things are not getting done as quickly as I wanted. I had this huge "to do" list planned for this week that included completing the baby's room and refinishing some furniture we got for our room months ago. Nothing really got completed. Like a fraction of what needed to anyway.

We got the walls in the baby's room painted weeks ago, but we've been gone and haven't had time to get to touching up the corners and painting the trim. Marc finally got to it this weekend, but it took a lot longer than expected. I wanted to help, but Marc said that all the leaning over to get the trim would make my back hurt and he refused to let me help. I went shopping and got a pedicure instead. Since the trim didn't get done until dinner time last night, we finally cleaned up the drop cloths today and started putting the crib together.

We didn't even get one side up before discovering that the crib, which I planned way ahead for and ordered online months ag, was defective. In one of the 4 holes to put on the sides, the part where the screw goes in was missing the metal thredding to screw it into. There really was nothing we could do about that. I ordered it from Wal-Mart, and I checked online and found that it is now out of stock, so even if I contacted them about sending a replacement, it could take weeks. I don't have weeks. I will be considered "full-term" in 2.5 weeks. While I am really hoping that she holds out until very close to her due date, she could come early, and I have this fear that we will not have a crib ready for her. Seriously... it wouldn't even be that big of a deal since she will probably sleep in a bassinet or with us for the first few weeks, but it just feels like the most essential part of her room, and I really want to have her room ready for her. I think it is more symbolic than anything.

The humorously ironic part is... I don't even have a bassinet yet.  I don't know if I will even get one. I registered for one, and I have been looking for them on CL and whatnot, but it just not high on my priority list because Vinny used it for so little time. Of course, when Vinny was an infant, we had a 1 bedroom apartment, so his crib was in our room, which meant moving him from bassinet to crib was not exactly a huge transition, so it happened at 2 weeks. Now moving Tiana to her own room, I probably will not feel ready for that a 2 weeks. If I don't get a bassinet, my back up plan is Vinny's old pack n play, which has a drop in netted bassinet thing. We sold his bassinet when he was a few months old and bought this pack n play, but it is so big and was second hand when we bought it, so it is a little worn out. I don't know....

Anyhow... so today, we returned the crib to Wal-Mart and went and bought one at Babies R Us. What made it difficult was that we had so many limitations in searching. First of all, I matched the paint of the trim to crib #1. (Frustrating, right?). So, we needed to find a similar color for this crib. Then, a lot of the ones at Babies R Us are over $300, and we only spent $200 on the first one, so we didn't want to spend a lot more. We didn't want to buy another Graco, seeing as how the first one was a Graco, and I now feel that Graco furniture does not do good quality control in their furniture manufacturing (which is actually done by a subcontracted company called LaJobi, but that's beside the point), and most of the ones in our price range were Graco. There was one more in our price range, but they didn't have the right color in stock, and we had already had to borrow a vehcile today just to return the first one, so we certainly didn't want to order one. Plus, it said 7-14 days... that could actually put us at not having a crib together until the very end of the month. Eek. Too close for comfort.

Bleh... still SO much to do.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Computers and Kids, or should I say Human Sponges?

I have a friend who made a comment on her Facebook about her daughter, who is Vinny's age, using the mom's laptop to watch videos on youtube and whatnot. Apparently, a lot of my friends let their children on their computers. Personally... I do not really let him be on my computer. I allow Vinny to sit with me and I show him pictures and play him music and stuff like that, but really, I do not think that at 4 years old he needs to be on my computer. Computers are very expensive, and my files are very important, and even if I am watching him, with just a few clicks, he has the potential to delete months worth of lesson plans or whatnot. While I do have most of this backed up, I just prefer not to deal with it. One time when he was sitting on my lap while I was on the computer he somehow managed to turn my screen completely sideways with just a few clicks. It took me almost an hour to fix it. Yeah, I don't have time to deal with that kind of stuff. I do occasionally let him get on the old desktop to look at pictures, but really, that is such a piece of junk, if it refused to turn on tomorrow I would not be surprised or sad.

However, Vinny sure does suck in a lot from just watching us. It has to be that, I guess. Today, I took him shopping to pick out toys with his birthday money, and of course he finds this toy laptop. He must be my son, because it was on clearance for $20. At Christmas. I was considering getting him this toy and it was $40 at the cheapest place then, so this was actually a pretty cool deal. He totally loves it. He has been on it for HOURS. It has a mini l.e.d screen, but a full keyboard and a little mini mouse (like the regular kind- not the laptop kind) and everything. It has a bunch of different learning modes and games, which he somehow has completely figured out how to maneuver already. It is sort of a trip watching him. He actually uses the mouse correctly. My laptop doesn't have a real mouse, it has the touch pad thingy, so I don't know how he figured that one out so quickly.All I can think is that kids are quick learners and has learned from watching Daddy on his laptop?  I don't know...

Kids sure are sponges though, that is for sure. I somehow just assumed that Vinny pays very little attention to my various online activities, but that must not be true. He somehow knows that people (including me) sell stuff online (I guess from watching me sell stuff on eBay?), because at one point today, he was playing a letter game and he kept pressing the "X" button to bring up this "X-ray" picture of a skeleton, and he tells me, "Mommy, I am selling skeletons." I ask him, "What do you mean- you are 'selling skeletons'?" He replies, "I am selling skeletons online and making lots of money." Oh boy....

Do you think he knows about my blog?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

I can't believe it is only day 3

I feel like I have been teaching for weeks already. I can't believe it is only day 3. I recovered from yesterday's freak out about budget cuts, which really was just caused by frustration about lacking in necessary supplies, paired with the stress high stakes assessments and time crunches.

I am a resilient person by nature, and I came up with an awesome lesson plan that included all the great things a lesson plan should have... engagement, direct instruction in content area vocabulary, technology, modeling, interaction with the text, and bell-to-bell teaching. Of course, nothing went the way it should... everything took longer, my LCD projector gave out, the windows make it hard to see the overhead, but I got the testing done that needed to get done. I collected the homework, and had the students working and learning most of the period. This was good stuff.

Oh, and today was the first lock down of the year and the new room. It was a little scary, and I will admit, all that glass makes me feel really vulnerable in protecting all those kids. One of the kids in my advisory class says, "Uh... Mrs. Mohr, those cars are driving really fast." Then, "Mrs. Mohr, I hear police sirens!" I remained calm thinking, "Could be anything," as another kid says, "Mrs. Mohr, Police helicopters are circling..." I went and shut the door and said, "Well, they haven't said anything about a lock down yet." As I was saying that, they started to announce the lockdown. We stood still for a minute to listen for instructions. As the transition to 2nd period was just about to happen, the director instructed the students to go to 2nd period, but do NOT go outside the building. My kids looked at me and said, "What about us? We are already outside the building." Then, he said that our buildings would go to the conference room. I think he meant the kids who would be coming to me, but I let me students run over there anyway. I just told them to go fast. It was lifted before we even got there.

But this afternoon, I found out that the stand off was right across the street from the middle school campus (across from ours) and the guns were pointed right towards the elementary play yard... at recess. Scarier for their school than for mine, but seriously, I now see that I did not make the wisest decision in having them leave the building. When I told my boss later that my plan really was to go in the storage closet and the bathroom, he laughed. Why does everyone think I am kidding? I'm not. The next lock down, no one is leaving the room. We really will be in the storage closet and the bathroom.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

What would Erin Gruwell do?

Even working in a relatively supportive charter school, I am finding the problem with budget cuts to be absolutely detrimental to my teaching.... Let me give you a fantastic example of the problems facing education today, that those who are outside of the system probably don't really see.

In order to get money, we need to use funds from the government Race to the Top program. In order to get that, we need to promote and prove student improvement and achievement. In order to do that, our school is using, among other things, a group of fantastic programs from a company called Renaissance Learning. One of those is a reading program in which they take a diagnostic reading test to determine their reading level, and then they are expected to read books at their own level (genius idea) for which they take tests through a program called Accelerated Reader. It is a fantastic program that actually is well-tested and has very few kinks or issues. Overall, it really did help my students make progress last year, and it helped track that progress very well. Now, we will be using this data to implement a literacy program and get some Race to the Top funds for showing student achievement.

The problem... in order for my students to test, they need laptops. We don't have a lot of computers at our school. We have 4 laptop carts, but there are about 25 teachers, so that is not really the greatest ratio and leads to battles for the carts. We really, really, really need several more carts or something... but alas, with the budget cuts, it is a miracle that I still have a job and that I haven't taken a pay cut at all, so there is certainly not money for more carts. I planned way ahead and scheduled one of our school's 4 laptop carts to use for the 2 block period days this week. I booked it back in May. However, because of budget cuts, our IT department is understaffed and overworked (aren't we all), and the laptop cart I scheduled is not ready for use due to some severe student abuses and just wear and tear on cheap computers that now needed a lot of maintenance over the summer. (What can I say... they are high school kids. We try to be careful, but it happens). I think I will be able to share the cart that my neighboring teacher is using, as she said she is willing to split it half the period tomorrow. The other problem... it only has 25 laptops, and of those only about 17 are really working. Now, if my class size was still 25 people or less, like it was my first year, then this would be something that I could probably make do with... but due to budget cuts, our school is slightly overcrowded this year and my class sizes this year are somewhere around 28-33. This means that for half the period, I will have the computers, and only half of my class will be able to use them at a time, so I need to somehow get them to finish the 90 minutes worth of computer stuff I have to do in about 25, so that they can trade off. I also need to come up with a lesson plan for the rest of the time, and something engaging and quiet that the rest of the students can be doing while the ones using computers take the tests.

Ironically... one of the things I need them to do is take the Accelerated Reader quiz on their summer reading, which was The Freedom Writers Diary. If you are familiar with the book, the teacher, Erin Gruwell, isn't even given books for her students and has to use her own money to go buy them the books she wants them to read.

In teaching this book, I bought the book The Freedom Writers Diary Teachers Guide, which has all of Erin Gruwell's great lesson plans and a bunch of reproducible pages for engaging lessons and vocabulary practice to go along with the book, so I found some activities in it and was going to copy them... but our copy machine is broken. I am sure that they will get someone out to fix it. In the mean time, I could use the back-up, the duplo machine, but last year, due to budget cuts... we couldn't renew the maintenance contract on it. Our director dipped into his discretionary budget and bought the ink, but we all knew that we are basically screwed if it breaks. Well, it basically isn't working. Yesterday it ate half my paper. It would copy a page, eat a page, copy a page, eat a page. Paper is a valuable limited resource in my world, so I cannot afford to waste it like that by trying it again, and I asked around and other teachers said it was doing it today too.

So what would Erin Gruwell do?  Would she pull a rusty, unrelated lesson out of a file cabinet, just because she has nothing else? Or would she head to Office Depot where they offer a 10% discount on photocopies for teachers, and use her credit card to pay for the copies, because her account is overdrawn....

I think she'd go to Office Depot, so off I go, for the second night in a row... because last night, I was there buying pens for the students who couldn't afford to get them this year. Not even kidding....

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

First Day of School

Today was the first day of school. Even as a teacher, I still kind of get first day jitters. I have to admit I felt calmer this year than any year so far, but as the bell for 1st period rang and students started heading towards my classroom, I admit looking at them with a few butterflies in my tummy (okay and an active baby) and thinking, "I hope they like me. I hope I like them." Despite being at school until 8:30 last night getting ready (thanks to my wonderful hubby for coming to help me finish up) and being up until midnight getting my lesson plan ready for my Honors kids, I even had trouble falling asleep last night.

Anyhow... today was a great day. The kids loved my new classroom. A group of the seniors (the first class I taught at this school) came by at nutrition to see my room and beg to be my service learners for the open periods that they were trying to fill. Lol. It made me feel loved that they are so happy to come back. I love those kids.

The one thing that makes my job unique is the list of concerns I had to address about the glass windows in the front of my classroom....
"Are those bullet proof glass?"
"What if there is a drive by?"
"What are we going to do in a lock down?"

I got at least one of those questions at least once each period. It is true that the entire front of my room is all glass. It makes for a beautiful natural light, so that I didn't even need to turn on the lights once today. However, those beautiful glass windows also cause some concern, and for good reason. Our school is in the middle of an area that 2 years ago became part of the largest gang injunction in Los Angeles, meaning that suspected gang members get served papers by the cops saying that they cannot even be seen together in public in this area, or they can be prosecuted.

Last year alone, I think we were on lock down at least 3 or 4 times (if you don't count the times when there were several in one day). Most of the time, those are for something simple like a suspect being pursued, and and the police just have our campus lock down so that it cannot become a temptation for a hideout. During lock downs, proper procedure is for us to lock the door and get out of view of any windows. Well... my room is all windows. Blinds have been ordered, but for right now, I just told the students that we would split up and go in the storage closet or bathroom. They kind of laughed about that, but I am really, really hoping that there are no lock downs before the blinds come, because that really is my plan, and sometimes these go on for a long time. I really don't want to be stuck in a storage closet with 15 kids for hours. That would really suck.

But... for now, I am happy to be in this sparkling oasis of beauty in a desert of ugliness that is much of Pacoima. My room is beautiful, and the school beautifully landscaped the courtyards surrounding it, and my drama class had a lot of fun and a lot of laughter playing "the blob" today as they ran around the courtyard trying to tag each other. It was a beautiful way to end the day.  :-)

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Vinny's Birthday

Yesterday we celebrated the 4th birthday of my baby. (His birthday is actually Monday). I can't believe how big he is getting. 4 years old has always seemed like the end of being a baby to me. If you ask my mom, 4 is still somewhat a baby, but to me, even when I was younger, it seemed like the beginning of childhood. I think it is because you think of 4 year olds doing so much for themselves, and mostly, I think it is because that is where most of my memories of my childhood begin. I remember a lot from being 4 years old. Although I think some of my earliest memories may actually be from before that, my most vivid childhood memories begin at 4. We moved to Simi Valley when I was 4, and I remember everything about that move. I was 4 when I started kindergarten (I started pretty early), and I remember everything about that too. Nothing about those memories feels like babyhood to me, so thinking that my little baby is now such a big boy is kind of odd for me.

It hit me the most at dinner on Friday night when my mom said something like, "Can you believe how grown up he is getting?"  I hadn't thought much about it, but as she said that he looked at the waiter and said, "Excuse me, can I have more apple juice please?"  It sounds like such a little thing, but it was like a revelation. I don't order for him any more. He doesn't tell me he wants more apple juice- he recognizes that the waiter will refill it for him. Seriously? When did this happen?

He is so creative, and SO my kid. Yesterday at Vinny's party, my cousin Brenda, who was raised very much like an older sister to me, was reminscing on how I used to put on "shows" in the backyard and line up chairs for the audience and make everyone come watch. As I got older, I got the other neighborhood kids involved and made them be in the show too. I was always the director. Haha... director, teacher... it is truly what I was meant to be. Somehow, in my life, it has always been about putting on the show. Vinny is so the same. Everything in his life is a show too. He reminds me so much of me. He got a transformer for his birthday, and  this morning, he announced to all of his Disney toys, "Okay everyone, come on. It is time for the transformers show. Come watch!" and then he lined them up in front of the transformer and put on a show by pressing the buttons on the transformer. His shows are about robots, while mine were about princesses, but he sure does bring back memories. It is funny, because Marc was playing with the transformer saying, "This brings back memories of my childhood," and I was thinking, "Okay, me too, but different memories."

I have to say, I am very proud of myself that so far, Vinny's favorite gift is the 1985 Disneyland playset that I found on eBay for $10. Yeah, that was a find. I am sure it was meant to be a collector's item, but I saw it as something Vinny would just LOVE playing with, and they haven't made anything like it in the past 20 years, so I bought the vintage toy, and sure enough, he loves it. He begged me ALL morning to put it together, and ever since, he has been playing with it. It is funny because it works like my 80s toys did- rather manually and far from perfect. The train gets stuck and the rockets need some manual spinning, but it is the type of fun I remember having as a child and he is having a very good time giving the little characters turns on the different rides. So Cute!