Thursday, December 21, 2006

Merry Christmas!

It's so hard to believe that half of a school year has already passed, along with a quarter of our anticipated time here in Hawaii. Courtney and I both found ourselves a little emotional at school yesterday as our kids headed home for the holidays. Two of my students won't be back (making 5 lost students this year), and about half of them will be with a different teacher next semester as we implement a new curriculum, so it was tough saying goodbye.

As a teacher I've grown tremendously, but I can still readily see my glaring deficiencies and the areas in which I struggle. This is truly a physically and emotionally exhaustive job - one that brings with it both joys and sorrows each day. It's also a job that never ends. I was talking to my friend Christina on the phone a few months ago and was reminded that some people, maybe even most people, are able to leave their jobs at work when they go home. My, would that be nice. My anchor of sanity through this has been sharing the experience with Courtney. It's been wonderful having a confidante going through the same emotional roller coaster every day.

I'm leaving Hawaii tonight for the first time in four months for a much-needed vacation. My redeye flight will take me to Houston via L.A. where Dad will pick me up and take me home to Hathaway. Mom has 30 lbs of crawfish waiting, and I'm looking forward to recuperating some of the weight I've lost during marathon training. From Louisiana I'm headed to Jackson Hole, WY, on Dec. 27 for a few days of skiing with Courtney's family. Then it's Atlanta for New Year's Eve with Christina and Matthew on the way to NYC for a week. Florence, SC, will be next for our engagement party and other wedding planning fun. Finally, we'll be hitting Las Vegas by storm for two nights on our way back to Hawaii.

Whew, and I thought this vacation was going to be relaxing :)

Monday, December 11, 2006


When our alarm went off at 2 a.m., I couldn't help but wonder, "Why the hell am I doing this?" I've been battling a persistent sinus infection all week, accompanied by an annoying itch in my chest that all the coughing in the world won't squelch. But we'd gone to sleep at 7 p.m. the night before, so I felt pretty well-rested, and after I'd eaten my multi-grain bread slathered with peanut butter, momentum started pulling me into Honolulu.

We left the condo at 2:40 a.m. and parked in our secret, but illegal parking spot in Waikiki by 3:30. Shortly thereafter we boarded a school bus that dropped us off at the starting point by 4 a.m. At this point Courtney and I still had an hour before the start of the race, so we used our time effectively, hanging out by the bathrooms to take care of those needs that can easily add a few minutes to your race time.

By 4:45 we'd lined up with the crowd, and by 5:20 we'd finally crossed the starting line, but I still hadn't quite gotten my mind around the fact that I had 26 miles ahead of me. This was my second marathon, but I still found it hard to grasp that I'd be running a distance that in Hawaii can easily take more than an hour to drive.

The Honolulu Marathon is the 3rd largest in the U.S. with 29,000 runners. We must've been pretty far back for it to take us 20 minutes to cross the line. We spent the first 12 miles or so running with the pack, which weighed down our mile times. Then at mile 15 my ambition got the best of me as I waved goodbye to Courtney in order to attempt to break the 4 hour barrier.

By mile 20 I really started to feel it. My lower back was killing me, my feet were bruised and Diamond Head, Honolulu's Heartbreak Hill was looming. I knew that by keeping a 9-minute pace, I could beat 4 hours, but I also knew that I could walk a bit to try to alleviate some of the fatigue. It was a really tough decision, but I decided to press on. Mile 24-25 was entirely uphill, and I ran a 9:40 - not good enough to get in sub-4. Mile 25-26, thankfully was downhill, and I ran it in 8 minutes, my fastest mile of the race. At this point, there was no quitting as I sprinted the last .2 miles to finish in 3:58:53. Courtney came in at 4:08:10.

At that final moment I remembered why I'd decided to run my second marathon. I was also reminded why 29,000 other crazy people were running beside me, and why millions run one every year. There's no feeling that compares to wanting, working and accomplishing something that on its face seems so daunting.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Maui Wowie

Courtney and I jetted off to Maui this weekend, thanks to $80 r/t flights on Aloha Airlines, and a long Thanksgiving weekend. We left early Friday and returned Monday night. We both missed school for the first time, and felt little guilt as we laid on the beaches (it also helped that all I missed was a collaboration day - no students).

Our first day and night were spent in Lahaina, a quaint little port city on the Eastern coast of the island. We spent the afternoon Christmas shopping, and I was even able to find a bar with a great local porter and the LSU-Arkansas football game. (Courtney wasn't too excited about that, but she was a good sport). We spent the night at the Maui Guest House, a recently-remodeled B&B. They had a one-night hole that they let us fill for only $100 - you know if there's a deal, I'll find it.

Saturday we spent a little time at the beach, then made the drive to the plantation-turned-hippie town of Pa'ia. For $85/night we found a nice room in the Mangolani, someone's half home/half vacation rental. We were a half-mile walk from the town, which consisted of a few cafes, restaurants and shops. It was 1950s Main Street meets Woodstock. I felt quite out of place walking around the first night in my collared shirt and khaki shorts, among all of the dreadlocks, flowing skirts, and the wafting smells of "Maui Wowie" (all you hippies or Willie Nelson fans should be able to translate). This was the first time since moving to Hawaii that I've felt like it was a different country. It seemed to be an interesting blend of Europe and West Africa - with very few native Hawaiians.

Sunday, Courtney and I took our Mazda 6 rental on the "Road to Hana." This was the longest 40-mile stretch of my life, with 600+ curves and more than 100 one-lane bridges. This is no exaggeration, but the views were breathtaking. Courtney was fine until the way back when she (in the passenger seat) was the one on the edge of the cliff and began fighting a bout of paranoia. That night, having survived the 2.5 hr. drive each way, we ate at Flatbread Company, an organic pizzeria. I had the mango barbeque pizza with carmelized red onions, pineapple chunks, pulled pork, and goat cheese - magnificent!

We spent Monday morning lazing about on the beach - Courtney tanning, and me sitting in the shade of some palm trees reading The Catcher in the Rye. Our airport security trip was the most eventful, but least desirable part of our day. Being the terrorists that we are, we tried inadvertently to slip a Christmas gift through security in our carry-on. This particular gift was a lei made with mini-bottles of Caribbean rum for Courtney's brother. Well, once on the other side we were told that we could keep the $12 gift, only if we could produce a Ziploc bag to put it in. Not a grocery bag, not a clear Nalgene water bottle, not even a clear plastic box - it had to be a Ziploc bag. Keep in mind, this confrontation occurred AFTER we'd already passed through security. Apparently that Ziploc bag is the only thing keeping us safe from a terror attack by Caribbean rum. The absurdity!!

Now we're back in our comfortable condo counting down the 16 school days until we're mainland bound.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

A Rabid Substitute

Judy was subbing for Ms. Williams (my partner math teacher) on Friday. Judy's a short, fat and smiley woman who everyone at school knows. She's best friends with a second grade teacher, so she's here every single day, whether she's subbing or not. I'm sure every school has a Judy. Or maybe every school doesn't...

Ten minutes before the bell rang, I lined Ms. Williams homeroom up at the door, in order to switch and get my kids back so they could pack up. As I leaned into room C209, I could hear a loud ruckus, and my kids were running around like animals. On top of that, Jewel was wailing while Emma laughed and pointed at her. To Jewel, an intelligent, normally mild-mannered girl, this was provocation to haul off and punch Emma in the arm. Needless to say, I was bewildered.

"Silence!" I screamed. The running and yelling ceased instantly, but Jewel's tears were still falling.

"What happened?!" I asked emphatically.

"Oh, it was nothing, Mr. Landry," replied Judy, "I was just playing and Jewel thought I bit her. But I didn't really bite her, she just thinks I did."

You can imagine my shock. "She thinks you bit her?" I asked.

"Yeah, but I was just playing." Judy replied.

At this moment, I wasn't quite sure what to do, so I just gathered my kids up, and sent Ms. Williams' kids into Judy's classroom. On her way into my class, I pulled Jewel aside and asked what happened.

"Ms. G (as the kids call her) was messin' around and she bit my arm," Jewel told me between sobs as she clutched her upper left arm. "I started crying, then the other kids was laughing at me, calling me a crybaby."

"Well it's ok now, Jewel, go pack your things up," was all I could muster in my extended state of bewilderment.

On Monday morning I stopped by my principal's office and relayed the story. She switched between laughter and shock, but I expressed in no uncertain terms that I didn't want this woman subbing fourth grade again. She assured me that she'd look into it.

Well, word spreads fast at an elementary school, and who did I run into on my way to class Tuesday morning? Judy.

"Mr. Landry, I just want you to know that I didn't bite Jewel," she explained.

"Well, that's not what Jewel told me," I replied in annoyance.

"No, no, no, she's just a sensitive girl. I was just messin' and she thought I bit her," she said, trying to convince me. "I just don't want you thinking bad things about me."

"Well," I replied, my annoyance beginning to compound, "I joke around with my kids a lot, but never once have I put my mouth on them. I don't think what happened was excusable."

"No, no, no, it's just a big misunderstanding. I just don't want you to think bad things about me," Judy replied.

"Ok," I said, walking away.

Unfortunately, this was not some piece of prose that I dreamt up last night, but true events. And, even more unfortunate is the fact that nothing will be done about it. The rabid substitute has been here all week, amidst the unlimited fodder of unsuspecting elementary school students.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Is it Safe to Come Out Now?

So, last week the congressional tyranny of the past six years officially came to an end. As Jim Webb was declared the victor in Virginia, a new era in Washington began. When do the impeachment hearings start?

I say that last bit in jest, or perhaps as Al Franken says, "I'm just kidding on the square." This election gives a glimmer of hope that the American public actually can be trusted to make a sound decision, even if it takes them a few years to realize what that right decision is. It's really hurt to watch our trusted political process and our constitutional rights take such a trouncing recently, and I must say that I'm still reeling in disillusionment, even after the good news of the past week.

Maybe it's a coming of age for me - the dreamy-eyed belief in a sound political system has to give way eventually to reality. That reality as of late has been a world of vehement partisanship and back-scratching. Of favors traded and of complete disregard for the plight of middle-class Americans. Of power corrupting absolutely. This is far from the idyllic belief that I grew up with that politicians actually have the public's interest at heart.

Hopefully Congress will use this opportunity to make some meaningful reform - reaching a compromise on immigration, addressing the growing problem of global warming, and passing serious lobbying reform. Maybe then my wounds will heal, and my faith in the political process will be restored.

P.S. I voted for my second and third Republican candidates this election - for Hawaii governor and state senator. Don't get your hopes up though, my confused conservative friends, I'm still a Democrat through and through.

Sunday, November 05, 2006


Hawaii is as beautiful as the pictures, though I've been a bit disappointed by the urban sprawl that is Oahu. Our side of the island (the Western coast) is less congested, but it's still suburbia. I don't know many people, though who can claim a work commute as beautiful as mine and Courtney's. To our left along nearly the entire 10 miles of our drive to work is the Pacific Ocean. The colors through my polarized sunglasses are unbelievable. The 4 varying hues of ocean blue contrast spectacularly with the green of the palm trees. It reminds me of southern France, with the yellows and oranges of the Mediterranean architecture against the azure blue of the Provencal sky.

Teaching isn't quite as rosy as the landscape, though the daily grind is equally as ... shall we say, unbelievable. My kids are awesome - I teach language arts to two classes of 14. They seem to have a perfect combination of maturity and childhood innocence. Their maturity has been formed from the realities of their everyday life - many are adopted, live with relatives or have a dad in prison. As I learn more and more about their life experiences, my disbelief grows.

Even more unbelievable is the gross mismanagement of their education. My school is in constant search of a "quick-fix" that will turn around their failing scores. Thirty percent of my kids scored proficient on last year's standardized test. Seven percent of our school's fifth graders can claim the same. There's bound to be a program out there that can fix it all, though, so we try a new one every couple of months. One storage room on campus looks like a program graveyard, with boxes of materials lining the walls. Hey, at least the publishing and educational services companies are profiting - we're spending $250,000 on programs and consultants this year alone.

Did you know that we spend roughly $115,000 on each public school student in the US, over the course of a K-12 education? I'm by no means qualified to say this, but from my observations at this point it's less a money issue, and more a management issue. Money like that with results like the ones at my school are not sustainable. Something has to be done.