Saturday, August 30, 2008

The First Week

So, my first week of teaching is behind me. I'm still wet behind the ears, but I finally count as a real teacher now -- one who has a class of my own dependent on me. Or actually five classes.

The first day was terrifying. My classes seemed so huge, the periods so long, the students so unruly. I thought I would never be able to manage this. The schedule of my day is like this ---

1st period--Latin II. 12 students.
2nd period--Grammar 9. 25 students.
3rd period--Latin 1. 26 students.
4th period--Study Hall. 12 bored students.
5th period--my only free period.
6th period--lunch. All the seventh and eighth grade boys, along with another teacher.
7th period--Latin II. 12 students.
8th period--Grammar 9. 27 students.

At three I reel on home with sore feet and a sore throat.

But by the second day, I was already beginning to get acclimated. I developed clever seating charts separating people by gender, attention level, attitude problems, etc. These were immeasurably helpful -- I would not have even known my classes. The kids who had been most unruly the day before simply sat in the front row and sulked because they weren't near their friends. And they paid attention!

The other thing I did was give them work to do. I honestly can't spend my whole day on my feet, talking. And they can't spend the whole period listening to me do it. So, they have in-class assignments, they correct their homework, and they aren't bored.

The other teachers have been extremely supportive. They feel it their duty to take us newbies under their wings and tell us it'll get better. Also to refer to me as "the sacrificial lamb for Grammar 9" and to gasp when I tell them I have 27 9th graders for 8th period. Apparently (well, so the students say), someone quit over Grammar 9 once. I do know that everyone who had it one year requested something else the next year. And, as they did their time, it's my turn.

I don't know, though. So far it's not so bad. Ninth graders are admittedly fuller of beans than eighth graders. But they're not terrible. They're just silly. They need to be given serious work, information to learn, and plenty to keep them busy -- but they also need smiles and laughter. They need to know I don't condemn them for being ninth graders. And I don't.

My disciplinary philosophy is: in actions, as strict as necessary. In attitude, as positive as possible. So, I won't let them talk in class, and I make my study halls actually study (horrors!). But I will say, cheerfully, "Nope, sorry, it's study time!" I try not to get angry. I hope I can keep this up.

And that's that, so far. I have all sorts of plans for my classes, things they'll do. I hope I can keep up with it all. But time will tell!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Short Update

Well, Olivia, my dear roommate, has finally moved in. She showed up Thursday and it's been good times ever since. She brought lamps, a computer that got along with the internet connection, and measuring cups, but the real blessing has been her company. She's an easy person to get along with, and it's just great to have someone else around! It was getting just terribly lonely.

The next day, John showed up. He was covering a story in DC for his paper, and so he got to spend the weekend with the crowd here in town. Sydney was hard to get together with, because of her schedule at the hospital where she works, but pretty much everyone else swarmed in now that there was some fun going on. I cooked a number of meals (I'm discovering I just love cooking for company!) and we saw a movie and went bowling. Tonight the guys (Sean, John, and Andrew) had their first recording session for a podcast they're planning. It's just been one fun thing after another--which I really needed after so much quiet and solitude!

To add onto the good things going on, we're now the proud owners of a table. It's a pretty simple one, but it has leaves to expand (so we seated six people easily) and is just a good place to sit and work on things. This was given us by Olivia's mom's friend's parents. (Isn't it great to have connections?) We got some nice stackable chairs at Goodwill for $1.50 each.

And for a final wrap-up to the other good times, my dear auntie came to visit yesterday. She's in town for a conference and was able to make it out here and meet some of my strange & lovable friends. I think she also took pictures .... ;)

In other news, my last Latin tutoring student has "graduated," so there's not much to do except a few faculty meetings until school starts a week from Wednesday. Maybe I'd better plan a few more lessons before things get really hectic.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Spirit of Radio

Yes, I know that's the title of a Rush song. I like the song, and I would agree with it that the major downside of radio is the ads. But I actually just borrowed the title to talk about what I think about the radio.

I started listening to the radio the other day just for something to do. It was too quiet and I was tired of every note of music I own. So I fiddled with the dial and listened to pretty much everything that was on. Since then I've found a station I can live with, mostly, and let it rattle at me much of the evening.

Several years ago, I stopped listening to the radio because I didn't see the point. Full of ads and needless yammering from the hosts, when I just wanted to listen to music. Furthermore, they only played stuff I like less than half the time. Why shouldn't I just listen to my own music, which I know I enjoy?

I realized the other day that my feelings about the radio were largely based on my circumstances. Living at home, most of my life wasn't under my control. I had to interact with other people and make decisions based on what the family was doing. My music I wanted on my own terms. Familiar music I owned myself was perfect--something exclusively mine, which I could choose. I didn't want to listen to strangers talking at me, because my family talked to me plenty.

Now, living (for the present) alone, I suddenly can see why people would want to listen to the radio. Right now, my schedule is almost completely under my control. I have about three hours of tutoring to do a day. The rest of the day I arrange however I like. I make my own dinner, based on what I happen to feel like at the moment. I have the choice to read, or write, or take a nap--it makes no difference to anyone but me.

So, oddly enough, I find myself craving what I never used to--a world that is out of my control. I remember hearing in a theology class that the amazing thing about human relationships is that the other human being is completely independent of oneself. You can have a conversation with someone else who may say anything, things you haven't thought of before. We pay for this with a lack of free choice. We can't guarantee we're going to like whatever comes out of our friend's mouth. But that makes it so much more exciting when we do. A human companion is an unknown factor, which can go along with our ideas or sharply counter to them. The interplay of two people is so complex that an infinite number of good novels, each with a different plot, could be written with only two characters.

In my situation, then, I guess the ideal solution is to find another human being to interact with me. But Olivia's not arriving till the 14th. My next best choice is the radio. It leaves an element of uncertainty in my life which I'd been needing. Maybe it will play something I like, and maybe it'll just have a huge block of boring ads. But maybe--just maybe--it will play some song I've never heard but will love. Maybe it will play something that makes me laugh or cry. When I pull up one of my favorite songs on my computer, it's just a song. I hear it all the time, and since I have it on call all the time, it's not special. But the other day I turned on the radio and "Don't Stop Believing" was just beginning. I own that song. I listen to it all the time, whenever I want. Yet when I heard it on the radio, I was all excited. I didn't even think to want that song, and there it was beyond all expectations. A surprise, instead of just the same old song. It made all the difference.

Another time I was just sitting around, feeling idle, when a song I'd never heard came on. It was called "Hey There Delilah" and it made me cry. A song I've never heard can surprise me, prod my emotions in a way a similar song on my own computer can never do.

The DJ's and talk show hosts can be on the corny side, and they have a rather excessive obsession with giving away free concert tickets, but I'm still grateful to them. They say things I wasn't thinking of before, give me something to think of that didn't come from myself.

Life is best when I go off to the laundromat and exchange smiles across the langauge barrier with the immigrants using the washer next to mine, or trot off to the coffee shop (where I'm getting to know all the baristas and they know me) to say, thoughtfully, that I think I'm in the mood for iced tea and they accidentally give me iced coffee, or my mom calls me up just as I'm resigning myself to an empty evening, or a friend suddenly appears outside my living-room window after dinner, making me jump. All of these things are exciting, uncertain--that exchange with someone which can go in any direction. Even the accidental iced coffee is a thrill. It's a chance for me to cheer up the poor barista that gave it to me by smiling and saying we all make mistakes. It's a chance for me to enjoy the iced tea when I get it.

But when I'm not doing these things, the radio is good to have around. It teaches me that I don't own the world. I don't even want to own my little apartment. I want to share the airwaves with a stranger, even if a stranger from a hundred miles away in a soundproof booth.

Take a walk outside yourself
In some exotic land
Greet a passing stranger
Feel the strength in his hand
Feel the world expand ....

Sunday, August 3, 2008


Life has just been rolling along, fast as ever. But it's been bringing a lot of improvements for me. The nice office lady at school gave me two beds, a chair, and a coffee table, so when my dear roommate arrives, I'll be ready for her! The generosity and kindness of these people never ceases to amaze me.

John returned my visit this weekend, along with two of his coworkers who wanted to see D.C. We also went down to Christendom and talked to people I'd been missing, so that was just wonderful. We all had a really good time, but of course now that they're gone the solitude seems even sharper.

I've been polishing and tinkering with my book, and finally decided I'd done all I could with no feedback. So I sent it to the people who agreed to help me with it, and am hoping fervently they like it ... I'm in a tizzy right now, thinking about it.

I went to the parish here for the first time today (last week, of course, I went in Philly). The building is supremely ugly, but the people seemed nice enough. I didn't know a soul, though. However, I believe I saw someone I knew leaving as I was coming, so I think maybe I should try the nine a.m. Mass instead of the 10:30. That would also keep my half hour walk to church from being quite so hot.

Going to Mass on my own is a mixed blessing. It's nice to be less distracted, but seeing all those families together and not having mine there gives me a pang. I always assumed I wouldn't mind these things as much as I do. I've been away from home so many times before, but never quite as thoroughly on my own. It makes a difference.

That's all that's going on right now. I found out Olivia isn't coming till the 15th. I sure will be looking forward to seeing her. Until then, I'm just tutoring away, waiting for school to start and the hot weather to let up a little.