A chronicle of my attempts to live a classy life as a single girl in the Nation's Capital

Monday, September 27, 2010

October Dinners

Every October, Real Simple magazine creates a month of meals for its readers--complete with weekly shopping lists. I have been telling myself for weeks to start eating better. I got into some really bad habits this summer--I blame restaurant week and Taco Bell cravings.

So I decided that this monthly plan gave me the perfect opportunity to shape up and make some healthier dinners while also trying new recipes. 

I will be posting my pictures of the meals (next to Real Simple's photos) and commenting on the recipes weekly. 

Look for the first post tomorrow as I am almost done with the first week (I started early--paitence is not my forte)

Until then, check out the site they've created with all of the recipes.  After week one, I can tell you there's some yummy stuff here!

Four Week Dinner Plan

The problem with teachers...

I have mentioned in a previous post  how annoyed I get with all of the non-teachers of the world mouthing off about what teaching should be or what should be done to fix our failing schools.  Today, I finaly read an article that had me cheering in agreement--then I saw it was from Socialist Worker which kind of made me stop for a second-- but whatever, this guy knows what he's talking about.  And, surprise, surprise, he is an actual public school teacher

I am pasting the article below for your perusal--but I am glad that I am not the only one feeling attacked lately.  I am a good teacher (my students and my administrative reviews all attest to that) and I work extremely hard but I am so sick of hearing people say that teachers are the problem with our schools.  Sure, some teachers are problematic. But the majority of us are hard working and have the students' best interests in mind.  So as Mr. Jones says why don't we "stop scapegoating teachers" and get to the real issues at hand? 

And that Waiting for Superman monstrosity... I don't curse often but it is total bulls@!t.  I worry about the fallout from this poorly researched and extremely biased movie...

The (long) article is below and I hope at least a few of you take the time to read it.  I've highlighted a few parts I particularly agree with.

Answer No. 1: Stop scapegoating teachers

Columnist: Brian Jones
Brian Jones Brian Jones is a teacher, actor and activist in New York City. His commentary and writing have been featured on GritTV, SleptOn.com and the International Socialist Review. Jones has also lent his voice to several audiobooks, including Howard Zinn's one-man play Marx in Soho, Wallace Shawn's Essays and Noam Chomsky's Hopes and Prospects: Globalization and Imperialism (forthcoming from Haymarket Books).
As part of its "Education Nation" summit, NBC invited New York City teacher Brian Jones to participate in a panel discussion on the future of the teaching profession. Joining him on the panel are Michelle Rhee, the Schools Chancellor of Washington, D.C.; Geoffrey Canada, CEO of the Harlem Children's Zone Project, a network of charter schools; Allan Golston, president of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association; and Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.
The title of the panel is "Good Apples: How do we keep good teachers, throw out bad ones and put a new shine on the profession?" The discussion will stream live at MSNBC.com today at 4:45 p.m. (Eastern time).
First, though, Brian has a few thoughts to share before the bell rings.
I DON'T know how much time I'll actually have to say what I need to say. So what follows is what I would like to say--if I get the chance--this afternoon.

Cue fireworks.
How do we keep the good teachers?
The first thing we need to do is to stop vilifying teachers. Much of what passes for "reform" nowadays is really just a way to attack teachers. Even the blurb I received about the discussion on NBC begins with the following claims:
Research and school-based evidence around the country now confirms that the most important variable affecting the success of the student is the effectiveness of the teacher, and the second most important variable is the effectiveness of the principal. Those two factors far outweigh the socioeconomic status, the impact of parental involvement or class size.
Really? Teacher effectiveness outweighs socioeconomic status? Behind words that sound like they praise teachers and extol our importance lies a line of argument that essentially scapegoats teachers.
Hunger and homelessness are less important than the quality of the teacher? We're living in a moment of mass immiseration. Millions are unemployed. Millions are facing foreclosure. Whole blocks and neighborhoods and communities are being destroyed.

Yet the very people who created this mess--the speculators, the bankers, the hedge fund managers--are the very people who, we're led to believe, are to be the saviors of education! And instead of talking about creating jobs or lifting people out of poverty, they want us to believe that teachers should accomplish those tasks. It's hardly fair. But I digress.
So: How do we keep good teachers?
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
LET'S START by acknowledging that we should keep teachers. By my count, at least three of our panelists today represent the view that schools are best staffed by a perpetually rotating crop of new teachers.
From a business perspective, this makes perfect sense. After all, newer teachers are cheaper teachers. But this logic spells disaster for education.
As education historian Diane Ravitch put it to me: "Would you want to be treated at a hospital staffed entirely by interns and residents?" Of course not. Rather than make teaching into a job that you do for two or three years on the way to law school--or becoming chancellor--I think our kids are worth the expense that is necessary to retain experienced teachers, especially in schools where the need is greatest.
To develop and promote great teaching, we should look at models where great teaching is going on. I think that means, by and large, that we should not be looking at charter schools. For one thing, nationwide, charter schools have a 132 percent higher teacher turnover rate than public schools--that's according to a study performed by Columbia University's Teachers College. Charter schools, by and large, are not training master teachers.
The second reason is that the vast majority of charter schools are not outperforming public schools. I know most people would find that shocking to learn, if it would ever get reported. The most comprehensive and rigorous studies--I'm thinking here of several performed by Stanford University--show that only a small percentage of charter schools outperform public schools.
But charter schools have a hype machine that is greatly disproportionate to their actual merits. We've seen that with the new film Waiting for Superman, which portrays all public schools as failures and all charter schools as successful. The idea that's been created in the public mind is that children who couldn't get a decent education in public school are moving to charter schools, where teachers are turning their lives around.
In my experience, however, the reality is exactly the opposite. The students who are the most successful in the public schools are moving to the charter schools, and those who have the hardest time in school--either because of behavior problems or because they are just slower learners--tend to be "counseled out" of charter schools and wind up back at a public school.
My school, PS 30 in New York City, receives such children from charter schools every year. They often arrive in the middle of winter--right before it's time to take the standardized tests by which we all increasingly live and die.
I spoke to one parent who transferred her child to PS 30 after she got the feeling that her child wasn't welcome in a charter school. This lovely child is not a behavior problem, just a slow learner. "I think they were looking for a particular type of kid," she told me. "A gifted and talented type."
This parent explained that she was really excited about the charter school at first, but when there were so many new teachers--and even new administrators--year after year, she became discouraged and eventually stopped counting.
Waiting for Superman follows four students who leave the public school system and enter a lottery for charter schools. But what about the kids who win the lottery and then lose it? What about those who are encouraged to leave charter schools? Are they waiting for Batman?
No, by and large, the people who are working to turn around the lives of the kids who are having the hardest time are teachers in the public schools. Those who are seeing the most success at that work need to be sought out and studied.
We never hear the question asked: What makes great public schools great?
I have a friend who is an excellent teacher. He used to work with me in East Harlem, and now teaches in Scarsdale, which is a wealthy suburb. He really feels like he's growing as an educator, and when I ask him why, he says it's because of the support he receives.
He doesn't face merit pay schemes of any type. In case you missed it, a comprehensive study by Vanderbilt University released this week demonstrated that merit pay has no effect on student test scores.
Rather, my friend is incentivized to develop himself as an educator. He has great financial incentive to take more classes, get more education and seek out more professional development. So the school system is making a long-term investment in him. Furthermore, he has a beautiful campus, and an abundance of resources at his disposal.
I should mention that he also has tenure and is a member of a union.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
WHICH BRINGS me to the next point--how to "get rid of the bad apples."
First off, I want to say that in the current context, this question is really a red herring. Despite what Oprah might think, teachers do not have a "job for life." Tenure means we have due process. It means we can't just be fired at a whim.
And despite what you may have heard, the fact is that not everybody gets tenure. That's another myth. Getting rid of so-called "bad teachers" is hardly the problem. Consider the fact that nearly 50 percent of teachers leave the profession within their first five years. The real issue is that we're not doing enough to keep great teachers.
The whole clamor about "bad teachers" is really about attacking teachers' unions and creating a view in the public mind that these unions are themselves the source of the problem. It creates an atmosphere in which teachers feel targeted, not encouraged.
My teacher friend from Scarsdale agrees. "It should be about encouraging and inspiring people," he told me, "not trying to get rid of them. You would never do that with a child." Unless, that is, you're a charter school...
Of course, teachers aren't children. But we are human beings. That means we're greatly influenced by our environment and by the conditions in which we live and work.
And of course, there are some people who really don't belong in a classroom. But that's a very tiny number of people. And it doesn't make sense to blame the union for their presence--that's a question of administration. Who hired this person? Who gave them tenure? It wasn't the union that did either.
I think unions are duty bound to insist that every employee receive due process if there's a question of competence. Frankly, I think everyone should have such due process at every job. No one should be able to be fired at the whim of a supervisor or employer.
It's quite noticeable that we don't have the same tough talk about the people at the top of the school systems. When it was revealed recently that test scores across New York City were actually dramatically lower than originally thought, there was little discussion of even the idea that the school chancellor should be held accountable.
We can have all the high-minded talk about the importance of education all day, but the bottom line here is that people in charge of running the education system are employers. Therefore, as employers, they are going to be more enthusiastic about certain proposals for reform and less enthusiastic about others. If a reform strengthens their position as employers, then it's going to be cheered. If it strengthens the position of the employee, then it's going to be dismissed.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
THIS PANEL is framed by the idea that reforms like decreasing class sizes don't matter. But that's nonsense. Of course, class size matters. At my school, we have a teacher who was temporarily assigned to our building after being "excessed" from hers. In the local lingo, she's an "ATR." For lack of another position, she wound up in my classroom.
I have eight years experience teaching, and so does she. But I also have one student who can't read. He spent last year in another country, and we suspect he didn't attend school during that time at all. He knows the alphabet, and that's it. But this excessed teacher sits with him all day, and because of her, he's learning to read. When kids are reading aloud to the class, he wants to join in.
When this teacher gets a permanent assignment and has to leave our class, I'm going to try to continue to help this student, but there's no way I can do for him what she's doing without neglecting my duty to the other students.
From a business perspective, the current setup in my classroom is very expensive. Two teachers in a general education classroom, each with eight years of experience? Unheard of. But it's very effective. It's making a huge difference, and I think we should spend the money to have that kind of setup all over the city. We really could transform kids' lives with a reform like that.
But that would mean more union members, and a stronger union, so that reform can't be considered.
Instead, New York City is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to set up merit pay schemes in just some schools. Again, these schemes are proven to have no effect on student achievement. But that doesn't matter, because merit pay is a reform that greatly strengthens the position of the employer over the employee.
Similarly, the "value-added" model, which claimed to be able to quantify the effect of a teacher on test scores, has basically been debunked as far too unsound to form the basis of any kind of policy. Yet this unproven, unscientific model for rating teachers is touted as the next great thing in education.
There's a racial dimension to these questions that can't be ignored, either. It irks me to no end to hear hedge fund managers refer to the charter school cause as the "civil rights movement of our generation." Education Secretary Arne Duncan says that Waiting for Superman is a "Rosa Parks moment."
Interestingly, Black voters in Washington, D.C. and in Harlem recently--and overwhelmingly--rejected pro-charter school candidates. That's why I think it's more appropriate to call this a Glenn Beck moment. That is, a moment when we should realize that these people are wrapping themselves in the mantle of a movement to which they bear no relation.
Dr. King once said, "The forces that are anti-Negro are by and large anti-labor." Apparently, Black voters are beginning to think that the reverse is also true.
But folks from the business world have an extremely hard time shaking off their faith in free-market principles and their hostility to unions. Evidence and research be damned.
There is more than a slight element of hypocrisy here. To hear the billionaire school reformers tell it, class size doesn't matter, resources don't matter, and experienced teachers are standing in the way of success. But when these same people spend five figures to send their kids to private schools, what do they insist on? Small classes, excellent resources and experienced teachers.
How can we make every public school a great school? Those three things--the things that the wealthy demand for their children--would be a perfect place to start.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Notes from the Chalkboard

I often write and/or draw random things on the chalkboard while teaching that make total sense in context, but later make me go "hmmm..."
My 9th graders just finished reading Poe's "Cask of Amontillado" (which can be found here).  They were a little confused about the ending.

So without further ado, I give you a pictorial representation of the shocking conclusion:

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Vintage Jewelry

I have mentioned before that I love to wear and collect vintage jewelry.  And so without further ado, here is my collection so far.
Note that I am not a jewelry photographer and am not going to spend the necessary money to set up a jewelry photography studio, so most of these pieces looks a lot better in person.

The piece that started it: a gold, orange and yellow piece given to me by my grandma.
It came with matching earrings.  I never wear them because the clip-ons are painful! But I will find a use for them. (buttons on a cardigan perhaps?)
The second piece I got, also given to me by my grandma.  It is much less orange in person--a beautiful coral color.
This one was so hard to photograph! Stunning clusters of pearls and colored crystals.  A real statement piece that always gets attention. A gift from my mom.
Also hard to photograph: silver with beige crystals, turquoise and seed pearls. One of the first pieces I bought myself.
One of my more recent purchases (which makes it a favorite until I buy another)
This is why I love vintage--look at the detail! 
Another newer piece--I fell in love with the color of the stones (not quite as bright in person) and the chains mixed in.
And this clasp!  I think I will wear this necklace sideways to show off these big, gorgeous stones.
Not totally vintage--a handmade piece that re-purposed the vintage bird charm. Contains small rubies and seed pearls.
Substantial .925 sterling silver earrings.  I love these--they are my go to pair.  Though they are very heavy...
An eBay find.  Neat bracelet with different Paris monuments represented.  It is a souvenir piece from the 1950s
This piece is lesser quality than some of my others, but I loved the colors. It was just such a sweet piece.
An absolute favorite of mine.  It is all handmade with LOTS of silver.  My mom got it for me at an antique show.  Since then, I have seen many factory imitations but none measure up to this.  Those are vintage typewriter keys.
An Etsy find (and another gift from my mom).  I have an obsession with vintage watch faces, so here is a bracelet of them.  People who don't "get it" often ask me if the watches work (no) and then look at me like I'm crazy.  I look at them the same way.
I also collect hand-painted vintage pins. I keep my good ones in this case. I saw it when I was 15 and made such a fit over it that my aunt bought it.  I have since learned that a case this size and shape is very rare, desirable, and expensive. Fifteen year old me had a good eye.
Inside of the case.
One of my favorites for its unique subject matter and intricacy
My other favorite. This one is newer but it is the only one I have that is 100% hand-painted.  Up close it is really impressive.
And that's it! (for now...)  Any other vintage jewelry lovers out there? What do you collect?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

10 Things Worth Paying For

There are several things that I will buy the store brand/cheaper version of.  But there are some things that I find necessary to pay a little more for--you can really tell the difference in quality of these products.

1. Ketchup: I've tried the store brands, they just taste like sweet, red goop.  And with that in mind, I also buy the more expensive...

2. French Fries: The brand names have larger fries and more potato taste

3. Mascara: It goes on better, lasts longer, never smudges and makes my eyes look great!
My favorite mascara: Lancome Hypnose Waterproof in Black

4. Leather shoes and handbags: I admit.  I will judge people by their shoes.  You can just see (and smell!) cheap or imitation leather and it looks shabby.
Adorable Cole Haan bag

6. Clothing: I used to go to bargain stores and, yes, had tons of clothes.  But where are those clothes now?  They quickly fell apart! Cheaper clothes may look stylish, but seams rip, buttons fall off, fabric looks and feels cheap and you are constantly picking little threads out of your clothes!  With the more expensive pieces, I have them for years and they still look great and I still get compliments.  Sure, I don't have as many clothes.  But what I do have is quality that lasts.
My favorite store--Anthropologie

7. Jeans: All I have to say is go to IndiDenim and get custom made jeans.  Considering they're custom, the price isn't that bad. And they will change your life (maybe that's a little dramatic, but they are awesome)

8. Tea: The difference between drinking something heavenly and drinking something that tastes like weeds
Trader Joe's has really great tea--this jasmine is one of my favorites

9. Liquor: This should speak for itself.
This and fresh squeezed grapefruit juice--yum!

10. Vintage or Handmade Jewelry: it's (almost) one-of-a-kind--you aren't going to walk into any store and find it again--and such a great addition to any outfit.  Just be prepared: people really notice vintage pieces and you'll likely get a lot of compliments.
Gorgeous necklace made from several different salvaged vintage pieces.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Easy A

There's a movie coming out this weekend that I am dying to see.  And now that I see it has a RottenTomatoes.com rating of 90% (3 points higher than Inception!) I am no longer embarrassed to admit it. 

Easy A.  Yes, it seems like a cupcake of a movie, but Emma Stone is just so naturally hilarious. She really deserves better vehicles to showcase her talent.

There is also no way this guy could ever pass as a high school student--bad casting choice there but I'm not gonna complain too much.
Penn Badgley: Totally 16.

At any rate, here is the trailer (and a perfect use of the song "Poker Face").

Any one else wanting to see this? 

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

First Day Back

Today was the first day back to school and what an exhausting day!  While I am always excited about returning, I really don't like the first day back for several reasons.  First: I have to do homeroom.  It only lasts 2 days and creates a lot of unnecessary stress for me.  Second: I don't actually get to teach my subject!  I spend the day acting like some strict person barking rules at my students. 

But the funny stuff has already started.  I'm a little worried about a few students who seem to already have horrible attitudes and don't seem to care/realize that they are making really bad first impressions on me.  Today,the students filled out info sheets and also wrote a few paragraphs explaining what they expected from the class and how they would teach the class if they were in charge.  Here are a few choice quotes:

"What are your other interests?" male student: "Chillin'" Another male student: "Females"
 "I would teach things about slavery and the Holocaust.  I would read books that are funny and have allot of comedy in it"  
I'll get right on finding a comedic Holocaust book for ya.  Genocide is hilarious!
"[I would like to learn] how to sleep with my eyes open and speed reading."  
Methinks this little one fancies himself a comedian.  I've got my eyes on you.  And you've earned an assigned seat right up front next to my desk.  Enjoy! 

"[I want to learn] how to write lyrics." 
Sounds cool--but you know what English class is right? 

"I would also try to get other people from England to teach us real English." 
And Americans teach fake English? 

"No [I don't like this subject] because it requires a lot of thinking." 
... at least she spelled "a lot" correctly. But she does enjoy "music, drawing, sleeping, eating, parties." 

"No [I don't like this subject], I took it too many times." 
Well you could, ya know, pass the class... 

I am looking forward to getting to know these kids beyond this craziness. It's funny how well I get to know all my students through the semester and can barely remember this time when I was worried about who they really were and missed my students from last year who all seem like well behaved little angels in comparison.
But soon enough, these students will also be well behaved and familiar to me and I will be missing them when my next new group comes in.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Target Ad

I love hats and wish I could wear them more (as  mentioned in this previous post).  But I often say to family and friends "where would I wear it though?" I feel like I need to be doing something "hatty"  like sipping tea, picnicking, watching horse races etc. in order to justify the hat.  Which is why I absolutely love this ad from Target I say today. 

I totally wear hats. Time to get them out of my closet and wear them around places outside my apartment.

New Furniture and Labor Day Auctions

This past week was my first week back at work--summer vacation is officially over.  I was really excited to be back and can't wait for the student's arrival next week--I really do love what I do and have all sorts of exciting things planned for this year.  But this past week did leave me exhausted and immensely busy, which is why I have neglected writing new posts. 

It's Labor Day weekend, which is a big weekend for those of us who love auctions.  I obsessively browse websites of my favorite auctions and dream about actually having a house with space to put the things that I want.  For my birthday last week, my parents got me 2 pieces of furniture that I fell in love with at a local auction.  Here they are:

Have you ever seen a lamp like this?  The picture doesn't do it justice--it is just so beautiful!  The crystals sparkle when light hits them.  I just sit and stare at it sometimes.
A close up of part of the lamp.

This cabinet is similar to a small sideboard I have in my main living area.  I put this cabinet in a corner of my bedroom and will be using it to display my vintage jewelry collection.  Right now I just have a few pieces (and an old fan of my grandma's) sitting in there temporarily. 
Close-up of the painted portion--when you open the cabinet this part also offers hidden storage!
I also recently went on a trip to downtown Leesburg which had some amazing antique stores (I'll be uploading some pictures for you soon). While there, I bought a lovely Audrey Hepburn-esque vintage hat and a birthday present for myself.  It was a little pricey, but couldn't pass it up!. 
It is a hand drawn and hand tinted early 1900s portrait collection.  It has recently been reframed and matted but the drawings are so cute! 
This is what it looks like overall
This might be my favorite of the 6--though it is hard to chose!
So unique!  One of the reasons I couldn't pass this up is because it is the only one that exists--it's not a mass produced piece that I could find anywhere else (which is also why I love auctions and antiques in general) Also it is just so beautiful. 

As I mentioned before, Labor Day is a big day in the auction world and I wanted to share a few pieces up for auction this weekend that I found interesting.

A Victorian photo album.  In addition to the cool cover--I wonder what treasures lie inside.
Love the colors here.
Call me crazy--but I am OBSESSED with this! When you look at antiques a lot, there are certain things you see over and over.  But this is something I haven't seen before.  A little gaudy?  Maybe... but I love the color, love the elaborate carvings and that mirror! 
Actually a picture of a different piece that I don't care about, but it offers a closer look at the carving of the dresser and the figures in the mirror.  I wish I had an empty room in my place so I could buy this and put it in there. Also wonder if that is a real marble top--if so I love this piece even more. 
Beautiful painting and inlay(?) There is also a matching twin bed frame.
These are so cool!  I want them!  I have not seen anything like this before at auction and it looks like a complete set.
A little morbid and weird--but I think you could do some cool things with these butterflies.
Love the swans and the simplicity of the cups--I wonder if it's hand painted or a transfer?
Imagine how pretty this would be when the light is on.

I think I  need to buy a house, not because I need larger space to live in but so I can indulge my decorating and antique hunting habit.