Saturday, February 27, 2010

Negative Gardening... a discipline practiced by various members of my family. Whereas mainstream gardening consists in careful cultivation of some forms of plant life, to the vigilant exclusion of others, Negative Gardening is based on the beliefs:
  • that all forms of life are good and deserve the right to flourish;
  • that our attitude towards the things (and plants) Providence casts our way ought to be one of grateful acceptance, not miserly discrimination;
  • and that to categorize some plants as "weeds" is to limit our own enjoyment of creation's abundance.
Also, healthy dollops of laziness.

So, "discipline" was the wrong word. Regardless, being who I am, it is the attitude that I have adopted towards my own yard. It's February, right? So normal people don't mow their yards anymore, right?

In Phoenix it is different. The grass stops growing in the "winter" (a.k.a. the Season When the Sun Is Not Trying to Kill You) but the other stuff keeps going. There are weeds out there with stalks as thick as radishes. If they were radishes, I wouldn't have to buy food for a week. If I liked radishes.

The neighbors, being perhaps inclined towards anti-quietism (they work on their gardens with fear and trembling), are apparently not pleased. Thursday morning I got into my car and noticed that an uprooted weed, dirt and all, had been placed carefully on my windshield.

Would it be paranoid to interpret this as some sort of a message?

Now, I'm no quietist myself. But a little de Caussade is good for everybody. And in the spirit of neighborliness, the first thing that occurred to my mind was REVENGE -- er, evangelization. I spent a good 15 minutes on the way to work thinking of ways I would word the note, if I knew whose door to nail it to. ("Your recent anonymous gesture opened my eyes: until now I had not suspected that such gall could coexist with such cowardice," etc., etc.) After that, I decided that I would let the yard go for another month, just out of spite.

Petty? Yeah, but he was petty first!

Harrumph. I spent today at a coffee shop planning classes, and thanks to a productive sick day yesterday, I've got 'em all done already. The whole week planned out by Saturday -- a first! What on earth will I do tomorrow?

Driving back to the house, I noticed the stark contrast between every other yard for half a mile and mine. I'm not a very communally-spirited guy (I like long walks on the beach. Alone) but I had to admit that it looked pretty shabby.

So I got down on my knees and weeded. I like weeding, really. Dirty-kneed, getting down to the roots of things. Continuing the job tomorrow will feel like leisure after all, which is what Sundays are for. That's easy for a teacher to forget.

I just hope Neighbor Corleone over there doesn't think it's because of him. If I see him, I'm going to ram this milkweed, or whatever it is, right down his throat. And pray that one day he learns not to be such a stuck-up sonofabitch.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Study Hall Blues

Mr. P, when you let your beard grow you look like a hippie, and it distracts me. So, I just wanted to tell you that.
- Jordan

Jordan (6th grade) made this comment during study hall, apropos of nothing. It doesn't take much to distract Jordan. He moves around like a startled lemur

-- actually, that looks almost exactly like Jordan -- and can be perturbed by a whisper from across a noisy classroom. His natural habitat is a haphazard nest of half-crumpled paper, through which he frantically shuffles at the beginning and end of each class, a mostly useless ritual: I received perhaps two homework assignments from him during all of last semester.

Lately I have been narrowing my eyes whenever I see him, pointing at his chest, and mouthing "two oh five." (205 is the vaguely Orwellian name by which we refer to the detention room.) This makes him grin nervously. I'm not sure whether he is pleased or annoyed.

Jordan is one of the kids with whom I have a very easy relationship. This is largely because I don't teach him anymore, thanks to a restructuring that happened at the end of last semester: he got bumped to a lower Language Arts class, or I got bumped to a higher one, depending on how you look at it. Now the only time I see him is in Study Hall, after school, where my main job is to be mean.

Anyhow that's how I've been interpreting that particular function this semester. Our Study Hall is a lovely idea -- the kids get an hour after school in a controlled, quiet environment so they can finish their homework and go home unburdened. Meanwhile, their parents get to go to the gym (or adult education classes, or happy hour) and pick them up a little later.

Of course, the kids have already spent the last eight hours here. Also, they are done with their homework, or claim to be. Also, the ones who don't get picked up till six (I'm done at four. God bless the woman who stays) are the ones who aren't good at sitting still anyway. So you get a less lovely situation. My job is to play Trunchbull.

I don't mind; I think it's good for me, actually, since a large part of learning to be a teacher has been, for me, learning that love is not the same as being nice.

What bothers me is the kids like Tyrese. Everyone loves Tyrese, because he is a scoundrel, a roughneck, a charmer, and about three feet tall. Everyone else is bent on doing everything they can to help him. He is bent on getting himself as many detentions as possible.

Tyrese used to be in my class. Because of the above-mentioned restructuring, though, the main time I interact with him anymore is in study hall; which means that the main way I interact with him is by asking him to stop shouting, asking him to get up off the floor, asking him to stop shouting, and then giving him detention. Can you blame him if he doesn't seem to like me much anymore?

Oh well. One more preview, I guess, of the good and bad parts of being a parent. How do you people do it for decades on end? And I get to go home to a quiet house, too.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Pulvis Es

Recent conversation with the 5th grade on Latin words on their English derivatives:

JP: Can anyone think of a derivative for 'mortuus'? ['dead']
5A: Mortal!
JP: Good! What does 'mortal' mean?
5A: Human?
JP: Yes, well, close -- it's a certain characteristic of humans -- anybody know what?
5A: That they live for a while and then they die for a while.
JP: Yes, well, close -- Good -- mortal is the opposite of immortal, right? So it means you're going to die. We here in this room are all mortal -- that's right, we're all going to be dead one day -- me, and each of you, too -- you'll all be dead someday, yup!, well...

I don't know where that popped up from. Sometimes you just can't stop talking, you know? So, happy Lent, everybody.