I don't really know what I am musing on these days. It's more like an irregular stream of consciousness thing...it seems to be working.


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w November 22, 2002

Tree, Apple

Not falling far from...yes, it's that time of year again. PARENT CONFERENCES. Imagine, if you will, four tired women sitting expectantly in a classroom still pungent with the assorted odors of adolescence, smiles afixed to our faces, grade books open, pencils twitching, eyes darting to the clock to see if it is damn it, 3:15 yet? Lest you think we were eager to start, let me hasten to add that conferences begin at 2:00, end at 3:15 (with the exception of Thursday night. More on that later). Every day this past week has been a minimum day, so that we can meet with parents for 75 minutes after school on a first-come, first-serve basis. You can imagine the chaos.

Essentially, parents show up, consult their darling's report card, and go to whichever teacher is available first. This usually ends up being me because I am unabashedly the mistress of the Turbo Conference. Now, I don't rush the parent, exactly, I just get to the point after mentioning how delighted I am to have the child in my class. I have found that mentioning this first off puts the parent in a terribly receptive frame of mind, and you can then sock them with the "but s/he needs to be a little more, ah, consistent in completing and turning in homework". I can get through 10 parents in 30 minutes, swear to god. It does help that I don't teach a subject that the Socialist Democratic State of California deems necessary to micromanage, I admit that, but still, I think this is pretty impressive.

Meeting parents puts a whole new face on those delightful bundles of hormones...and lends a great deal of credence to the old adage about the apple's trajectory from its point of origin. It's not just the physical resemblances, although those are interesting...it's just so obvious that that kid belongs with that parent. It's not bad or good, just DNA. The other interesting thing is to see which parents show up...it's rarely the ones of the kids who are failing or squeaking close. The ones who do show up concerned about a grade help shift the kid over in my mind from "hoo boy, have we got our work cut out" to "okay, this is manageable".

I had started out this entry intending to wax amusing about my personal observations of some of the parents, but as I wrote, I started to feel kind of ashamed of my snobbery and cynicism.

I sat there last night talking to a steady stream of people who were in my shoes thirteen or fourteen years ago, changing diapers, dealing with spit up, worrying about whether or not their kid would walk early or not...wondering what they'd be like as teenagers. And I realized that I'm going to blink and Bean will be sitting next to me at parent conferences, rolling her eyes or making faces at her friends waiting with their parents...and I'll be on the other side of the table, wondering if this teacher or that truly has my child's best interests at heart, fretting about grades and potential and blah blah blah.

This is a Huzzah for all those teachers who have just finished conferences and are hopefully crawling into a bottle of wine right now, but it's also a Huzzah for all those parents who have gone through this before, are going through it now, and are anticipating with fingernails between teeth.

Hang in there: as teachers, we do realize that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, and the vast majority of the time, that's a good thing.

by Heather Hoffman at 8:18 PM

w November 15, 2002


That's my newly coined word for the years between 11 and 14...copyrighted, okay? Nah, just kidding. Anyway, today our "team" (the various subject area teachers for half the 8th grade) took our kids to a nearby park for a treat day; well, it was only really just for one period after lunch, but it was a perfect length of time. It was meant for a bit of a reward for those kids who had been putting in effort over the quarter, and wonderfully surprisingly, we had only 21 kids stay back out of about 150. Brought ice cream sandwiches and a couple of footballs and Frisbees, and let them loose. Well, they were amazing. It is a teeny park, but they kept it clean, didn't run wild, respected each other's space, etc. In fact, they kind of let their inner little kids out and just flat out played. I know that their ILK aren't very far from the surface at age 13, but they try so hard to be cool and grownup, it's heartwarming to see. They wanted to make sure that we watched them build sandcastles, swing, go down the slides...and it dawned on me how important all sorts of adults are in childrens' lives (or teendrens'). They crave the attention, and if it's not positive, they'll go for the negative---an easy trap to fall into.

There was also this charming mother of a smaller child there who, when offered an extra ice cream sandwich for her kid sneered back, "I don't let my child eat ANY sugar"; she also made a point of finding out what school we were from and asking why we were here (in a public park, but anyway). It steams me so much, this anti-teenager attitude---these kids weren't breaking playground equipment, stomping on plants, and smoking pot, they were enjoying themselves and being incredibly well behaved.

Here's my impassioned plea to everyone out there: please don't forget that we were all that crummy age before, and the vast majority of kids are really good kids, and they don't deserve the low expectations we seem to have of them.
Enough preaching.

I guess the point of this Huzzah is certainly to compliment my students and tell them that I love them, but it's also to thank all my family and friends who take an interest in my darling daughter...because she will hopefully grow up with such an abundance of positive attention, she won't crave the negative.

Have a great weekend.

by Heather Hoffman at 5:29 PM

w November 08, 2002

Camp Kennedy

Not a place to learn how to pahk yoah cah, but rather what happens at the middle school of my employ when the first big storm thrashes Northern California. Now, all my friends in Canada will scoff at the notion of a "rain day", because I know we all went to school and wrote exams in thigh-high drifts (at least I did---honest, Christmas exams, 10th grade), but in fact, the power was out, the phones were out, the heat was off, etc.

I got to school blissfully unaware of the issue, although I did notice the amazing number of downed branches and downed entire trees...discovered that the administration had been sending kids home ever since about 7:00. Well, the assistant superintendant showed up and screeched that school was absolutely in session, and sloshed out. Problem was, we had about 45 kids total...out of 1000. Thus, Camp Kennedy (it helped that power in 2/3 of the school came back on).

Basically we rotated through three activity stations by grade level: watching Monsters, Inc, playing volleyball in the gym, and board games in the library. Even with the wet and the funky schedule, it was actually a pretty fun day, and I was charmed and heartened to see how many of the kids (well, boys) knew how to play chess. I abdicated my turn at the board a few times because I was honestly more intrigued with watching them play, and I think I might invest in a few cheap chess boards to have in my room for other rainy/slow days. Was taught to play dominos by a substitute there that day, and by the afternoon, he had taught a couple more of the chessplayers. It was a fitting end to a much better week than I have had in a while.

AND we get Monday off for Veteran's Day. Huzzah--but stay tuned to make sure the West Coast hasn't floated away.

by Heather Hoffman at 7:00 PM

w November 06, 2002

Apu, the Fountain of Wisdom

I don't know about y'all, but we are big Simpsons fans in this house. Well, I am, at least. We are also the proud (and grateful) owners of a DirectTV/Replay setup, so I get a LOT of Simpsons reruns...just watched the one where Apu the Kwiki-Mart owner and his wife Manjula have octuplets, and there is a quote that I think will make all parents either laugh until they are ill or cry until they have no more tear ducts. Picture this: Apu is trying to soothe 8 howling babies. Next scene, Apu is slumped over with babies draped over him, all snoring soundly. Manjula comes in, shakes him awake and says "It's 4 am! You're late for work!". And he utters the most relevant, accurate, and hilarious statement ever made about the early days of parenthood.

"I had the most beautiful dream that I had died..."

I pretty much fell off the couch in hysterics, remembering my own exchange with my husband about five weeks after Bean was born. Typical middle of the night howlfest, and my husband was heading upstairs to get more diapers or something. As he left, he turned to me and said, "Well, look at it as though it were combat". Without even thinking, I blurted out "Yeah, but at least in combat I'd have the option of dying".

Life imitates Art...

by Heather Hoffman at 10:20 PM