Monday, December 17, 2007

Online Shopping

Thank goodness for online shopping! After just one visit to a mall this Christmas weekend, I'm eternally grateful for purchasing nearly all of my Christmas gifts from the comforts of my condo. Honolulu is known for its traffic, but I could've never imagined witnessing a 15-20 minute traffic jam just to exit the mall parking lot!

This year I relied on,,, and some specialty online retailers to find all of my gifts. Shipping to Hawaii can be an issue, but because of my upcoming mainland trip, I was able to have everything shipped to Louisiana. Courtney and I did venture to Ala Moana, a super-nice mall in Honolulu, to baby shop. We found some cute outfits for my godson, Nate, and her friend's baby shower.

On another note, I've found it difficult once again to get swept up into the Christmas spirit here in Hawaii. With the sunshine and warm weather, Christmas seems like a foreign concept. It has been a little chillier than usual (high 81, low 70), but we also haven't decorated, which could be a contributing factor.

Three more days of teaching before the voyage home! Can't wait!

Friday, December 07, 2007

Honolulu Marathon - 2 days away!

Sunday, December 02, 2007

I've heard about this site for a while now, but it was just recently opened up to Hawaii teachers. It's a site designed specifically for teachers, and it allows them to post grant proposals on anything that will influence student learning. Anyone can donate, funding all or part of a proposal. I'm not sure who is out there giving, but there certainly are some generous folks helping out.

Courtney has submitted two proposals that were fully funded, so I decided to give it a try. I have a pretty extensive classroom library, but am missing books that catch the low end of my readers. I submitted a proposal for $260 worth of books, third-fourth grade level adventure books that would expose my students to different parts of the world. Within two days it was fully funded! At the beginning of January, I should receive all of my books. My students will be stoked!

Here's a link to my proposal (already funded). With Christmas around the corner, sending a gift to a teacher through would be a fabulous way to spread some holiday love :)

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Mike Huckabee

I'm not sure, after these past seven or so years, that I'll ever be able to vote for a Republican for president. But, if the next president were Mike Huckabee, I wouldn't shed any tears.

As a former governor, he's got a solid track record and has stayed true to his beliefs. (Romney also had a successful tenure as governor, but his views have now completely changed to the more political opportune). Huckabee even talks a bit about education - something most of the other GOP candidates couldn't care less about. Here's a 1-minute soundbite of his views on the matter.

Then, if that doesn't woo you, this most definitely will.

Thursday, November 15, 2007


Trick-or-treat for UNICEF is a novel idea that encourages kids to help kids. The organization works to provide basic needs - clean water, food, vaccinations, etc. to children across the world who most need it. The kit they send teachers is great - with collection boxes, lesson plans, and a kid-friendly video that shows what kids around the world go through for the simple things most of us take for granted. It really touched my students, and exposed them to parts of the world that they rarely imagine.

Last year my students raised $170, which I was quite excited about. This year, inspired by the video and a great discussion about the most basic things people need to survive, my students raised $369.67!! I was stoked. It's incredible how passionate and generous kids can be with the right encouragement - we could learn a lot of lessons as adults.

Tonight Courtney and I took the top 5 money collectors out to dinner at Pizza Hut. It was an interesting mix with two fourth-graders and three-fifth graders, all girls. The socioeconomic range of my class is huge, from solidly middle class (two-income) to homeless. It was interesting to see this play out at dinner.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

What They're Saying About Education...or Not

It seems the Democratic presidential candidates are betting on Iraq and healthcare, giving the minute attention they've given thus far to the dire state of American schools. Though the issue has yet to come up seriously in any debate, at least one candidate has given it some thought. Here's what each of them say about education on their respective Web sites:

Hillary Clinton*
  • Attracting and supporting more outstanding teachers and principals, and paying them like the professionals they are.
  • Reforming the No Child Left Behind Act. This law represented a promise -- more resources for schools in exchange for more accountability -- and that promise has not been kept.
  • Increasing access to high-quality early education and helping to create Early Head Start.
*These bullets are the full extent to which she addresses education. They fall within her "Supporting Parents and Caring for Children" issue, one of 10 stand-alone issues.

John Edwards*
  • Strengthen Public Schools
  • Promote Economic Diversity
  • Create Second-Chance Schools for High School Dropouts
  • Expand College Opportunity
*Each of these bullets are followed by a one-paragraph explanation; these issues are addressed as part of Edwards' extensive and ambitious plan to "End Poverty Within 30 Years."

Barrack Obama*
  • Expand Early Childhood Education
  • Innovation to Improve Teacher Quality
  • Pay Teachers More
  • Reform and Fund No Child Left Behind
  • Support Teachers
  • Improve Testing and Accountability
  • Give More High School Students Access to Rigorous College-level Courses
  • Expand Summer Learning Opportunities
  • Increase Federal Aid
  • Free Up Money for Student Aid and Protect Student Borrowers
*Each of these bullets are followed by at least one paragraph explaining the means by which he would address the issue; education is one of Obama's 14 stand-alone issues. Obama seems to be the only candidate who has paid this issue any worthwhile attention.

Sunday, August 26, 2007


Miss Teen South Carolina U.S.A. on U.S. Education. I hope she's not our new spokesperson on the issue!

I guess Courtney was too smart to be Miss South Carolina.

Hawaiian Produce

Produce, not surprisingly, grows remarkably well here. This being a near-perfect tropical climate, a huge range of fruits and vegetables flourish. The downside is, however, that in this global marketplace, it's more efficient to grow most things elsewhere. Thus brings the paradox of seeing trees laden with mangoes on my drive to school, yet seeing "Imported from Mexico" stickers on the $2.50/lb mangoes at Safeway. Or knowing that in many backyards in Hawaii, avocados are dropping like stones right now, yet the grocery stores are charging $2.50/lb for ones imported from Chile.

Alas, a few weeks ago one of my teacher friends from school told me about the local farmer's market. Come to find out, on Sunday mornings, just two miles from our condo, there's a wonderful market with a wide range of local produce. The market is sponsored by a division of the Parks and Recreation Department, and vendors are mandated to offer their produce for about 35% below grocery store prices.

We've since been stocking up on mangoes, apple bananas (short and tangy - much more flavorful than the average banana), avocados, papayas and much more. I'm in heaven! Check out this week's catch below.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Broken Arm

This is a photo of Jacob and Angelica. Jacob is a bright and mischievous guy - very easy to love. Angelica is extremely shy, but very devoted. She was one of my biggest success stories last year, making close to two year's growth in reading comprehension and fluency. She recently broke her arm. This makes things awkward for her, as she's right-handed, so is still using the arm to write. When she's not writing, she often rests it on her desk, elbow down, forearm sticking up in the air. I've now called on her countless times, thinking her arm is raised for a question or comment. This usually startles her, as, because of her shyness, she definitely doesn't like to be called on unsuspectingly. We both usually get a good laugh when this happens.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Young College Hopefuls

I've been trying to subtly lead my students to believe that college, for them, isn't really an "option", it's a given. I registered as a prospective student on a few Hawaii and West Coast university Web sites, and my kids enjoy looking through the college viewbooks. If any of you have any old posters or pennants or anything from your alma maters, I'd love to display it in class. Just shoot me an email for my address.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Hurricane Flossie

I've received a few calls and emails regarding Hurricane Flossie. As it stands now, it should bypass us on Oahu. If you look on the map below, worst-case scenario is that it hits the Big Island which on the map, is the biggest island. Oahu is one of the ones to the left of it, so we're sort of in it's shadow. I imagine we'll get some rain, and the winds have been pretty strong all day today, but no need to worry!

Thursday, August 09, 2007


Sometimes I feel as if my students are supremely limited in their written communication. Most of them speak Hawaiian Creole Pidgin at home, so writing in Standard English is really difficult - particularly with regard to grammar.

Today we began a unit on poetry, one we unfortunately didn't get to last year. I think it will be a great way for them to throw off the bowlines in their writing, as in poetry, conventions matter very little. Today was a great start - here are some of my favorites. The rules were: no more than three words to a line; no rhyming words.

Braces, by Shayna
Heavy weighted metal.
I'll be heavier.
5 pounds or more.
Bright Lights
Laughter of people.
Giggling around school.
Teasing my braces.

Lunch Lady, by Lyric
I wonder who
is she mean
is she ugly
I hope not
I hear her
saying next loudly
what will happen
will she give
gross food
like eyeballs
or ears or
hands I wonder

Moving Away, by Bailey
throat tightens
tears settle in
lips shut
eyes open
heart turns cool
black out
knees weakening
think of memories
walking away silently

Scared, by Henriette
I was scared
at Maili Beach
A fight started
With my uncle
I was frightened
and started crying
Then cops came
and stopped it.

Untitled, by Jacob
Mr. Landry isn't good
No rhyming words
How could he
I love rhyming
He's still Mr. Landry
He's my teacher
I'm his student
can't do anything
I'll tell Ms. Owen
he took off
his wedding ring.

Supreme Awkwardness

So many situations as a male teacher are awkward. Number one in my book is the hug. As a compassionate individual with 33 young people around everyday, there are countless situations when at any other time, a hug would be a natural occurrence or remedy. The last day of school, when a kid is sick or his or her feelings have been hurt, etc. But alas, I have resorted to the half-hug, and only when initiated. Ka'aina, of previous posting fame, is a bit clingy, so he gets a lot of half-hugs (one arm around the shoulder).

Other awkward situations are one-on-one situations, i.e. tutoring, or when I keep someone in from recess. I basically just make sure there is always more than one student in the room, and parents sometimes request that other students be there if their kid is going to stay for extra help.

One particularly awkward moment was when on the day after school let out I called a couple of students to come help me clean my room. They'd said they wanted to the day before, but try explaining that to a parent. "Hi, can Angelica come to school (when school's out for the summer) to help me scrub some desks?" Courtney can do it and have parents think nothing of it, but if Mr. Landry does it, it's pretty weird.

So, that brings us to today. None of the previous awkwardness has even compared. See, I have a whiz in my class named Josiah. He's a brilliant little guy, part Hawaiian, part Korean. He's incredibly disorganized and habitually late, but so perceptive. He's truly gifted. The latest reading comprehension diagnostics I gave him put him at an 8th or 9th grade comprehension level. This is fantastic in itself, but presents a few minor challenges. The first being I teach 5th grade. Therefore, my classroom library is geared towards 5th graders. I don't have many options for him to have a challenging read. I do, however, have a couple of books. One of which is To Kill a Mockingbird.

On the second day of school, Josiah picks up To Kill a Mockingbird. My initial instinct was "Sweet!!" What teacher wouldn't want his student to pick up that book on his own? But after he took it back to his desk, I started thinking about the content. I remembered that the premise is a rape trial, though, of course the book is about so much more than rape. I thought about how relatively liberal my parents were with me growing up and how if I came across anything I was unfamiliar with, they generally never held information back.

I took the book away, but said I'd call and talk to his parents about it. So today I rang his mom, invited them to open house, then brought up the book. I explained that Josiah was reading on a super-high level, and that makes some books with mature topics accessible for him. I asked if she knew of the story To Kill a Mockingbird, and she said no. That should've been my first clue, but I went on. "Well, this story has a rape in it," I explained, "and I wanted to know if you were ok with him reading it and would just like to talk to him about the content first." Awkward pause. "Oh, no, I don't want him reading stuff like that." I ramble a bit about how I just wanted to check with them first and stuff. Awkward pause # 2. "Well, ok, I hope I see you guys at the open house, bye!"

Ahhh! Lorrdez, my fun-loving, matter-of-fact co-teacher (she teaches math), said I should call her back and explain what the book is about, but I just fear that would make things even more awkward. But I don't know - as it stands, Mr. Landry called to see if Josiah could read a book about rape. Hmm. I just wonder if this would've been as awkward if it were Courtney calling a parent.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Honeymoon Continues - Volcano, HI

As the Big Island came into sight through the airplane window, Courtney and I knew that we were visiting a place wholly different from crowded Oahu. Hilo, the Big Island's biggest and Hawaii's second largest city at 47,000 people, is a quaint, but sleepy town on the island's eastern shore.

Once we picked up our Chevy Cobalt from Avis, we ventured into Hilo town and made the farmer's market our first stop. We were in heaven as the produce was all locally-grown and much cheaper than our neighborhood Safeway. We bought hothouse tomatoes, Japanese (burpless) cucumbers, a giant avocado, mangoes and a huge bag of papayas (this must be peak season as I got 7 for $2!!).

After the market, we explored more of Hilo, then made the 30-mile drive West to Volcano, home of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The Guest Cottage at the Volcano Rainforest Retreat was heavenly, complete with a cozy, but adequate kitchen and a woodburning stove.

The next few mornings we got up early to hike around the national park. It's tough to describe how odd the terrain was at the bottom of the different caldera, but if I had to sum it up in one word, it would be "otherworldly." I kept commenting to Courtney that it seemed like we were on a different planet - minus the few plants springing up now and then. The scene was terrific - the Alpha and Omega. Some parts of the caldera were completely barren, a wasteland representative of a place where all life ceases to exist. Other areas were hopeful and inspiring as Ohia trees and ferns were springing up, almost unbelievably, in the black volcanic rock - proving the fortitude and perseverance of Mother Nature.

Other highlights were walking through an underground lava tube that was once filled with molten magma and steam vents where the the subterranean heat was close enough to the surface to heat rainwater seeping down, turning it to steam.

Check my album for photos from this part of our trip.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Honeymoon Begins - Latta, SC

Latta, South Carolina, was a tiny town stuck in a simpler time with tree-lined streets and a downtown post office and library. Everything in walking distance and everything quiet (of course, we were there on a Sunday), tucked just far enough away from I-95 for it to be sheltered from Interstate visitors. Courtney and I left the wedding reception at about 10 p.m. and made the 35-minute drive to Abingdon Manor - a Greek Revival mansion set on a lush yard complete with magnolia trees and an enviable herb garden.

The next morning Courtney and I awoke, feeling pretty well-recuperated from the previous day's festivities, and readied ourselves for church at the quaint Methodist church down the street. We were the obvious newbies in the small congregation, and after the service, Ms. Iratene Henry welcomed us, inviting us to their monthly pot-luck lunch. It didn't take much to convince us, as we hadn't at that point given much thought to where we would have lunch on a Sunday in sleepy little Latta. Ms. Iratene was a very gracious host, introducing us to everyone and quickly making us feel like celebrities (a few folks had seen our picture in the Florence Daily News that morning).

Lunch was a great mixture of summer food with squash casserole, shrimp and grits, deviled eggs and an incredible creamy pecan cake for dessert. We had a wonderful time, and it was a perfect reminder of the generosity and graciousness of small-town America - something Courtney and I have been away from for a long time now.

Monday morning we rode to Charlotte with Courtney's parents and brother, Chris. We connected in Atlanta for the 9-hour plane ride back to Honolulu. Although we were dreading returning home (mainly because it means returning to work), arriving in Honolulu to 75-degree weather and a light Hawaiian mist was definitely refreshing.

Remodeling Update

I laid the tile and Courtney and I painted this bathroom before we left for the mainland. We planned to finish it completely during our one-day visit home between the wedding and the honeymoon. It went down to the wire, but we did finish before we left - leaving it in pristine condition for our new roommate. It seems with remodeling there are endless frustrations and complications, but when it's all said and done, the feeling of accomplishment is overwhelming.



Thursday, June 21, 2007


Courtney and I broke away from the confines of Oahu and are now enjoying the wonderful heat and humidity of Louisiana and South Carolina. We had a great time at our "Cajun Wedding Party" in Jennings, La. My Granny even got Courtney's dad out on the dance floor!

The year ended quickly for us. Our schools were both in disarray towards the end. They manage their disorganization relatively well all year, but as the end of the year rolled around, going to school became a bit of a headache. Learning was definitely not prioritized during the last two weeks, which was pretty unfortunate. Just chalk it up as one more reason why my school is in the state that it's in.

On a happier note, Courtney and I cut loose after our last school day ended and joined some friends for a sunset sail on a catamaran in Waikiki. Here are some photos.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

$13,000 Per Student, Per Year!!

The Honolulu Advertiser once again covers an important story on education, but misses the point. In today's article, the newspaper reports the fact that Hawaii schools receive more than $2 million each year in private donations. It even states that some schools have become reliant on these donations, even to cover some operating expenses. The article goes on to tell us that the state spends roughly $13,000 per student per year in public education (Louisiana spends about $7,600).

Where the article misses the point, however, is how in the world a state can spend that much money on public education and still have schools relying on private donations! Not to mention still have crumbling (in a figurative sense) schools. That's absurd!! Punahou, the most elite private school in Hawaii, alma mater of Steve Case (founder of AOL), Michelle Wie (golf phenom) and Barack Obama, charges $14,725/year in tuition. Shouldn't a public education be comparable in quality?

These numbers highlight two major points. First, money is not the issue! Competency is the issue! (one of many, I guess, but a leading contender) Second, there are inane inefficiencies in a system that can spend so much money per student, yet have so little of it trickle down to the classroom. With that kind of a budget, you'd think teachers could be paid a professionally-competitive salary, and all classrooms would be equipped with a set of personal computers. Instead, we have a top-heavy Board of Education bureaucracy hiring a slew of carpetbagging consultants, among many other money-draining endeavors, I'm sure.

The disappointing thing is that nobody is calling them on this. The Honolulu Advertiser's mission is "to chronicle Hawaii's story while being a vigilant partner in helping the Islands shape their future. To be diligent, truthful, accurate and fair. To provide a voice for all the community..." Unfortunately, as I've become accustomed to, the voice of my students is not being provided by this powerful publication.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Ode to New Orleans

Nearly two years after Hurricane Katrina hit, New Orleans is still struggling to find itself and rebuild the vibrant core it once was. My friend Rob is doing his part, volunteering for Habitat For Humanity this month. You can read his musings at Quarry Hill Road.

There was also a wonderfully-written 'Ode to New Orleans' of sorts in today's Times-Picayune by gifted writer Chris Rose. Courtney and I have, as of late, thrown teaching a couple of years in New Orleans into the mix of things we'd be interested in doing post-Hawaii.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorial Day Bewilderment

With nearly 3,500 U.S. troops dead and more than 26,000 servicemen wounded, not to mention the more than 100,000 Iraqis killed, this was a poignant Memorial Day for me. I remember attending a lecture at LSU in the spring of 2001, and the lecturer listed all the reasons why Iraq was not capable of an attack on the U.S., and the reasons why a preemptive strike would be the wrong thing to do.

Five years later, those words echo as we've dug ourselves into a quagmire that has destroyed our reputation around the world, made our country exponentially more unsafe, and created a haven for Islamic extremists (in Iraq). It's tough to ignore the parallels to the Vietnam War that also began under the pretense of promoting democracy abroad, and ended in a senseless waste of money and human life.

Each evening, at the end of The News Hour on PBS, the program airs photos of soldiers recently killed in Iraq. Below the photo is the soldier's age and hometown. I'm not sure what saddens me most, seeing the 18 and 19-year-olds fresh out of high school, or the 35-year-olds who probably have three young kids at home waiting for their return. I think everyone who supported this disaster should sit through this photo roll each evening.

Watching this episode unfurl during the past five years has been at times unbelievable, and other times amazingly ironic. In a Christian society that each election cycle debates the value of human life with regard to abortion, we're so easily led into battle and are so quiet in the face of this enormous loss of human life. Equally ironic was tonight's report on The News Hour about proposed cuts to the SCHIP program that provides health insurance to America's least privileged children. Apparently we can't find the money to insure the most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters, yet we supported a war that at this point has cost each American family $20,000.

This site compares the cost of the Iraq War to what we could do in healthcare and education with the same amount of money.

Initial White House cost estimates were $50 to $60 billion dollars. Some economists have now predicted that this war will end up costing $1 trillion.

I can try to find the bright spot in all of this and say that we'll learn from our mistakes and a transgression of this magnitude won't happen again. But there isn't a bright spot. As we've seen over and over again throughout history, nationalism and colonialist tendencies are no match for our feigned concern for human life.

Friday, May 25, 2007

A Year's Reflection

Courtney and I are part of the "Sponsor A Teacher" program in Teach For America, where the organization gets corps members to communicate with important supporters and donors. It doesn't require much, just sending a couple of reflections during the year. I wish there was more contact, so that we could really engage in discussion about our experience, but this at least allows us to put some of our reflections down on paper. Here's the recent letter I sent to my sponsor.

"May 21, 2007

Dear Sponsor,

More than 300 days ago, I landed in Hawaii with an inimitable mixture of excitement, curiosity and trepidation. I had no idea what was in store, and still, after nearly an entire school year, can’t fully quantify the ways that this experience has affected me.

What I can quantify, however, are some of the ways that I’ve been able to impact my own students. I’d be remiss to say that I moved every one of my students the elusive two grade levels of growth, but I have collected my share of success stories.

Angelica, one of my smallest, shyest students, has made incredible gains in reading fluency and comprehension. She’s been able to recognize her own progress, and has seen how much her relentless hard work has paid off while moving from a fourth grade to a sixth grade reading level. Ka’au, who had a difficult last year, spending much of it in the principal’s office, has become a leader among his fourth-grade peers. And Jewel has steadily matured into a bright, compassionate young lady, all the while grappling with the disbelief that her father murdered someone in September.

The challenges that I’ve faced, and there have been many challenges, pale in comparison to some of the inherent challenges and roadblocks that my students face in Nanakuli. What I try to do every day is equip my students with the capacity to make the decisions that will steer them in their own direction in life. I recognize my shortcomings in accomplishing this, and will make many changes in the upcoming year; but I also recognize the modest differences that I’ve been able to make in my students’ lives, and I cherish that opportunity.

Thank you sincerely for your support of Teach For America."

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Renovation Part 1

In an effort to add some value to our condo, particularly in a cooling real estate market, Courtney and I decided to do a few upgrades. Our place was built nearly 13 years ago, and just about everything but the carpet is original. The prefab cabinetry is beginning to peel, and the appliances were really showing their age. So our first round was to upgrade all of our appliances (fridge, stove and stacked washer/dryer). We found some pretty good deals at the Sears Outlet store. In conjunction with the appliance upgrade, we decided to re-do the master bathroom. It was definitely an undertaking. We ran into a few snags, but nothing insurmountable, and learned a ton along the way. Courtney even broke a sweat once or twice ;) Here are some photos.

Unfortunately, we never really took a before shot of our bathroom before the remodel, so this is a picture of the second bath, which basically had the same layout and fixtures. The vanity light fixture was rusting, and the cabinetry was way outdated. The laminate flooring was a good color, but it just didn't add anything to the room.

Post demolition, installing cement board as a foundation for the ceramic tile. This whole process was brutal on my back and knees. So much so that I took a day off from school to recover.

The final product! After much sweat and bruised knees and knuckles, the project came together beautifully. The ceramic tile is a huge upgrade from laminate rug, and the deep color is refreshing. We're now working up enough stamina to tackle half of the other bathroom before heading home for summer break.

Monday, May 21, 2007

The Zoo!

This week was the end-of-the-year fourth grade field trip to the Honolulu Zoo. My students were so excited. It's really easy from day-to-day to forget that they're such young kids. I demand so much from them academically and behaviorally, that it's easy to ignore the fact that they're just 9 years old. To see them wildly ecstatic was refreshing. Courtney also took the day off of work to join us.

Friday, May 18, 2007

If You Could Travel to Any Period in Time...

If you could travel to any period in time, where would go and why?

"I would go back to caveman time so I could ride dinosaurs!" - Ka'au
"But there weren't any cavemen when dinosaurs roamed the earth." - Mr. Landry
"Oh, well I'd still go back to caveman time." - Ka'au

"I would go to the future to see who I am going to marry." - Lyric

"I would go back to 2003. That was a happy time because my mom used to spend time with me and my sister." - Moani

"I would go back to when my grandma was still alive." - Tresslee

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Ed in '08

Yes, I’m alive, and despite the long absence, I’ve been doing a lot of deliberating recently. After a spring break trip back to the mainland, we had a week of state standardized testing – a lightning rod subject in education circles.

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) measures educational progress based on these tests, and fourth grade is a benchmark year. I was pretty nervous, and after my own attempt to gauge how my students did, I had plenty of reason to be. I don’t think they fared very well, despite the growth many of them have made. Unfortunately, schools don’t currently get credit for growth – so even if a fourth-grader moves from a first grade reading level to third grade, he/she still can’t hack the fourth grade test.

This is the only criticism I’ll lay on NCLB, as you can hear plenty of it from teachers, administrators and unions across the country. And, quite honestly, I’ve become a supporter of it in principle. The goals are unrealistic, and there are most definitely gaps in the framework, but the way it has brought at least minimal accountability to the classroom is a step in the right direction.

I know I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. If this experience is teaching me anything, it’s that the problems within our system are ridiculously complex and massive. Because of this, I’ve become wary of any quips and soundbites from critics or politicians – even critics of NCLB because the problems can’t be solved by any simple solutions.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation along with the Broad Foundation are aiming to put education at the forefront of the 2008 presidential discussion. As anyone who’s begun to follow this has already seen, Iraq is dominating the conversation, but the Gates and Eli Broad are hoping that $60 million is enough to grab the nation’s attention. Check it out at

Tuesday, April 03, 2007


"You look like Jesus."
- Aina's reaction to my newly-grown beard

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Dixie Chicks

The Dixie Chicks have come a long way since their ridiculous banishment from country radio. I remember the unbelievable irony in the reaction to their Anti-Bush comments - we were fighting in Iraq to supposedly give Iraqis the freedoms we enjoy here (life, liberty, etc.), yet instantly individuals and radio conglomerates were willing to do excommunicate them for speaking their minds. Courtney and I recently watched a great documentary called Shut Up and Sing on the making of their latest CD (Taking the Long Way). If you haven't listened to the album, I'd highly recommend it - it's an emotional and in-your-face blend of their hybrid country music.

On that same note, Courtney's sister Kristen, a music major at Florida State, is amazingly talented. She is part of the FSU A-Capella group, Late Night Yahtzee, and helped her team to a regional first place finish recently in competition. They will next be performing at Lincoln Center in New York City. Check her out here on YouTube.

*FYI - for the past two weeks I've been on the mainland for spring break, hence the scarcity of teacher stories.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Wedding Bells

Hosting the perfect Southern wedding? Run for the hills

Weddings are not to be left to chance, and no one knows that better than Gayden Metcalfe and Charlotte Hays, authors of the new Somebody Is Going to Die if Lilly Beth Doesn't Catch That Bouquet: The Official Southern Ladies' Guide to Hosting the Perfect Wedding.

Hays talked this week with USA TODAY about everything from what not to serve at the reception to the role of the groom, which appears to be negligible.

Q: This follows your book on hosting the perfect funeral. You say Mississippi Delta funerals bring out the best in people, while weddings, which should be happy occasions, bring out the worst. Why is that?

A: Because of the Delta mother. She's a wonderful creature, but she loses it over weddings. You smell her before you see her — we are people of many bottles. And with a funeral, you only have three days to prepare. With weddings, you have months, and that's very dangerous. It becomes an endurance contest.

Q: Is a groom really that necessary for a successful Southern wedding?

A: Still necessary, but the thing he needs to do is stay out of the way. He's an extra. It's a day for the mother and the daughter. He doesn't have a prayer, especially when that mother gets involved.

Q: You have 10 songs that should never be played at a Southern wedding, and Love Me Tender tops the list. What's wrong with Love Me Tender?

A: Well, we think you need a bit more dignity than Elvis. Sheep May Safely Graze would be a better choice for an agrarian society. Would you want the Elvis Presley-themed wedding? It's too much.

Q: You also list the top 10 foods never to be served at a wedding reception, including cocktail weenies and anything on a Ritz Cracker. I'm kind of fond of Ritz Crackers myself.

A: We love Ritz Crackers, too, but for a wedding, don't you think you should have something more than a Ritz and Cold Duck champagne? It's not the place. You don't want a Ritz Cracker at your wedding. Or processed cheese cubes on toothpicks. Please! Have them in private.

Q: What is it with you Southerners and cheese straws? You serve them everywhere.

A: There's no self-respecting Southerner who doesn't have a cheese straw at every important moment of her life. You just have to have them. You're not married if you don't have a cheese straw.

Q: Do Southern mothers really attend other weddings solely to spy?

A: Yes, that is true. You've got to see what other mothers are doing. If you want the champagne fountain, you've got to make sure other mothers don't have it first. But now they're into chocolate fountains, which aren't any better. Probably worse. People dip Rice Krispie treats in the chocolate fountains now. Not good.

Q: You've said Delta mothers are pros at torturing their unmarried daughters. How so?

A: They want you to do everything perfectly. The first form of torture is when they're sending the clippings of other friends' weddings. Another form of torture is the thank-you note (once the daughters gets married). And a thank-you note not written with a ballpoint pen, thank you. You have to say the perfect thing about the present. They torture you about every bit of the wedding. They're trying to avoid every mistake they made.

Q: You even have advice on what to do if your daughter brings home the wrong boy.

A: The best thing to do is to ignore him. Or let him know that he might have to pick up her college tuition. We had a classic case where the groom met with the bride's mother, who told him alcoholism was rampant in the family. He fled. Everyone was happy in the end. That was two marriages back for her. Also, it works if you can never quite get their names right. You know, Harry for Harvey.

Q: You have some advice for Yankees attending a Delta wedding. Can you share?

A: You never, never, never congratulate the bride. That's rude, rude, rude. Never, ever congratulate her for getting a man.

Q: How many times can a "mature" bride be married in a church?

A: Just once. After that, it's a country club or at the home of a friend.

Q: What about people who bring wedding presents to the reception?

A: Wrong, wrong, wrong. I hope people will quit doing that in real life and in the movies.

Q: What's wrong with dressing up the ring bearer like a miniature man? You seem very much against it.

A: They look silly and unattractive, and it's not nice. Dress him in short pants. They have the rest of their lives to dress up like grown men.

Q: You say it's considered all right to get drunk at a wedding, as long as it doesn't impede doing the right thing. Explain.

A: You can be a well-behaved drunk. You speak to the hostess and tell her what a nice time you had. If you stumble down the receiving line, that's fine, as long as you go down the receiving line. If not, someone will tell your mama, even when you're 60 or 70.

Monday, March 12, 2007


Contrary to what meets the eye, the social challenges in Hawaii are immense. I caught a lot of flack last spring when I told people that I was moving here to teach - especially given the dire straits of much of Louisiana's educational system. But once you venture beyond Waikiki and Pearl Harbor, you're confronted with a reality not that different from some of the most blighted communities of mainland America.

Both the New York Times and USA Today recently attempted to shed light on some of the unique challenges faced by residents of this "island paradise." The New York Times article from December hits especially close to home for Courtney and me. Each day as we drive to school, we pass hundreds of tents lining the beaches of the Leeward Coast where nearly 1000 residents, mostly Native Hawaiian, have set up camp because of the prohibitive cost of living. I had two homeless students in my class during the first semester. Both have since left - one to a temporary shelter set up by the state, and the other has become one of Oahu's thousands of "hidden homeless" - those living with friends or family (sometimes 15-20 family members in a single-family home).

The USA Today article speaks of the underlying racial tension that sometimes manifests itself. As one of America's most recent colonial exploits, some of the wounds within the Native Hawaiian community are still fairly fresh. The overwhelming military presence here can at times magnify the injustices that many feel were committed just one generation ago. Thankfully, Courtney and I haven't felt any of this resentment within the communities where we teach, but the underlying tension is still, in certain situations, palpable.

View from my classroom

Some of My Beautiful Students

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Tough Couple of Weeks

I'm afraid I've fallen into a rut. With Spring Break just a week-and-a-half away, motivation has been very hard to come by lately. Teaching is hard!! This isn't a revelation, I knew it was going to be hard, but man, this is exhausting.

The Sunday headline in the Honolulu Advertiser was "Hawaii Teachers Average 15.5 Work Hours Per Day." This was ridiculous for a couple of reasons. The first: it is partially true. As anyone who knows a teacher can attest, we work much more than the typical 40-hour work week. Courtney, being a much better teacher than I, regularly puts in 60 hours per week on school-related matter. This boils down to about 10 hours per day during the week (including time spent after school prepping for the next day) and 8-10 hours on the weekend lesson planning. We can chalk some of this up to the natural inefficiencies of a first-year teacher having to create everything from scratch, but it is still a hauntingly long work week. (I used Courtney as an example because my week is slightly shorter, as my school has implemented a scripted curriculum, thus less planning on my part).

The second reason why this Sunday story was ridiculous is that 60-hour weeks are significantly shorter than 77.5-hour work weeks! The data apparently came from a "study" commissioned by the Hawaii State Teacher's Union, and the HSTA placed a lot of the blame on the data collection required by No Child Left Behind. This is absurd! Courtney and I, inefficient first-year teachers, log an average of 60 hours/week.

This, however largely exaggerated it was, came as no surprise from an organization that couldn't care less about the quality of education our students receive. They care more about the number of recess duties we have to complete each week than the fact that at schools like mine, a majority of students aren't entering the next grade prepared. The HSTA has negotiated such a sweet contract for teachers that we get tenure here in Hawaii after just two years on the job. After that, performance matters very little, which is why only one class at my school had more than 50% proficiency last year in reading(the next highest was 36%), and only 15% of sixth graders finished the year proficient in math (according to statewide standards).

The problems are huge and incredibly frustrating, which has been part of my recent malaise. At the end of the day I am physically exhausted. My students are amazing, and so eager to learn, but I feel like they've got walls closing in around them. All I can do right now is make sure that I'm doing as much as I can for them during their time with me, but what happens next? They've got the worst high school in the state to look forward to (3% of last year's 10th graders were proficient in math).

Thanks to HSTA, I have 18 vacation days (on top of holidays and school breaks). I'll have tenure after teaching for 2 years and 1 day. My school can't require me to stay later than 2:45 on any given day (not even for parent-teacher conferences, so we end school early for those). Thanks to HSTA, I've got a stellar contract.

But who's representing my students?

Friday, February 16, 2007

Can You Sing Happy Birthday With Me?

Wednesday morning Aina was in the office, ready to greet me as I arrived at school. His first words were, "Mr. Landry, do you know why today is a special day?" It was Valentine's Day, so that's how I responded. But that didn't work, there was something today for Aina that was way more special than Valentine's Day. After trying to get me to guess more reasons, he said, "Today's my mom's birthday!"

I'd been thinking a lot about Aina since he told me his mom had died last spring, but this was still one of those comments that you're not quite sure how to respond to. I tried to match his excitement and asked him what he was going to do for his mom's birthday. He said he and his dad were going to her grave that afternoon to bring flowers.

As I walked to my classroom, he tagged along, and when we got inside he asked me if I'd sing Happy Birthday to his mom with him. Man, I haven't had any child psychology classes, so I wasn't sure what the protocol for this was. I tried to shake him by saying that I wasn't sure if I wanted to because I didn't know his mom. His counter-argument was, "Of course you know my mom! She's my mom!" Still not knowing what to do, I left the question hanging ambiguously (which usually works with 4th graders) by saying, "Maybe later."

That seemed to placate him, so he went outside to play before the bell rang. When he came back into class, I noticed a forlorn look on his face. He immediately put his head down on his desk. I asked him if he didn't feel like doing his morning assignment, and he said, "Not really." I stooped down, put my hand on his back and asked what was the matter. After trying to fight back tears, the dam broke and he responded in between sobs that, "Nobody wants to tell my mom happy birthday."

The lump in my throat was so huge that I thought my own dam was about to break, so I asked him to step outside with me. When we got outside I asked him, in between my own tears, if he would feel better if as a class we told his mom happy birthday. He said that would make him feel a lot better. So I gave him a hug and we went back into the classroom.

After correcting our morning assignment, I asked the class why this was a special day. They responded in unison, "It's Valentine's Day!" I affirmed, "Yes, this is Valentine's Day. It's also a very special day for Aina. As some of you know, his mom passed away last spring. Well, today is Aina's mom's birthday, and it would mean a whole lot to him if we sang happy birthday to his mom."

My students didn't quite know how to react to this - both singing happy birthday to his mom, and the fact that I was so choked up, but they're wonderful kids, and we all sang together. Aina was much happier after that. He even came to my class at lunch to say, "Mr. Landry, thank you for singing happy birthday. It really meant a lot to me, and I know it meant a lot to my mom too."

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Honolulu Marathon 2007

Courtney and I have already registered for next year's marathon, and we'd like to extend the invitation to any of our friends who'd like to join us. It'll be held on December 9, 2007. Early registration for out-of-towers is $95, but I'd say just put our address down if you plan to come, that way it'll only be $60. We currently have one soft commitment from a friend, but we'll have an extra room in the condo, so it could be a great time for you to come for a visit. Just let me know.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

My Mom's Dead

"Mr. Landry, I have this string hanging off of my pants, what should I do about it?" said Aina

"Well, Aina, I think you should probably ask your mom to cut it off for you when you get home," I replied.

"My mom's dead," he retorted, in a subtle, matter-of-fact way.

"Oh," looooong pause, "well then I'll cut it off for you. When did your mom die, Aina?"

"She died last May. She got really sick and died. It makes me sad," he said.

Aaaahhh! No teacher training prepares you for that. I'm usually really careful when referencing people at home, because so few of my students live in a traditional family. I usually say, "Take this home to your mom, dad, grandma, auntie." A few of my kids have one parent in jail - one for murder this past September, and many of the rest live with an auntie or grandparent. Most of the rest live in modest housing with extended family. It's not uncommon to have 15-20 family members living in a 3-bedroom house.

Part of me wonders if it would be better if I didn't know any of this, if my expectations should be universal, left unhindered by the details of my kids' lives outside of the classroom. I worry because you can't help but soften your perspective when confronted with the reality of their daily struggles, but it scares me to think that in some way, on some level my expectations for them might be lowered as a result.

What I strive for, above all else, is a safe harbor my students, and I feel that I've been able to provide that. Knowing the challenges facing my kids helps put what I'm doing into perspective, and keeps me in check on a lot of levels. I won't say that what my 8 and 9 year-olds go through isn't fair, but my aching heart is repaired when I catch a worry-free glean of contentedness when they're in my classroom.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Living Life to the Fullest

Quite a few people have asked why I chose to teach in Hawaii, of all the places Teach For America sends its corps members. For some people, it's an easy answer, but others would've never dreamed of moving so far from the things they knew. Today during my Master's class, I was browsing old files on my computer and came across this column that I wrote while studying in France. I found it to still be pertinent, and was relieved to realize that my perspective on life hadn't changed in the couple of years since.

"I awoke with fright, thinking the train was on fire, but much to my relief, I had only been sleeping in a smoking part of the train (oh how the French love their cigarettes). Thankfully, my dreams had been more pleasant than my waking hours of second-hand smoke inhalation.

These dreams were filled with voyages across the U.S. and the world. I am certain that much of the inspiration for these adventurous dreams came from my current read, Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road.” But I also know that a part of the inspiration comes from the restless spirit I sometimes bury deep inside of me that constantly scratches the surface. It can only be described as the American, or possibly human, instinct to explore and conquer. Of course, I itch to do more of the former than the latter, because there is so much in our world to see and experience. The only things that seem to get in the way are time and money, and perhaps sleep.

I think that too often we accept our place in life without challenging it and without question. But life is too short to bury our desires, our longing for adventure. To do that is dangerous, as it is too easy to lose one’s sense of self. I even do too much of this myself – ignore my need for adventure and individuality in order to live life as it is “supposed” to be lived. Perhaps a part of this can be contributed to being complacent as well – it is much easier to rest where it is comfortable, without testing our limits, or stepping out of our box.

But Mark Twain was right on the mark when he said, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

Ahh! How true is that?? Don’t be scared of the unknown, of change, of adventure. The thing we must promise ourselves is to always work our hardest to keep those dreams alive and live life as our hearts long to live it. We must never bury our natural desire for adventure, but instead always feed it, allow it to blossom. I can’t count the number of people who have told me they wish they’d have taken the opportunity to study abroad when they were younger, but what I ask them is, “Is it really too late?” Sure, maybe studying in another country for a year is a bit impractical for some of you, but packing the car this weekend and taking a roadtrip for a couple of days with your family isn’t impractical. Sleep in the car, sleep in a tent, just get away and uncover the yearning for adventure that you’ve kept hidden for so long.

Our country is so diverse, there are literally thousands of things to see and do, and money doesn’t have to be a hindrance (just ask my good friend Christina Tietje about our very frugal roadtrip). Throw off the bowlines, explore, dream, discover. And do it now, there is absolutely no better time.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Christmas Whirlwind

The overcast skies and miles of brown grassy plains on the road from Houston to Hathaway invoked in my mind a familiar setting of Christmases past. The bleakness was a pointed contrast to the warm, deep hues of blues and greens that I’d left behind in Hawaii, yet it was uniquely comforting. Five years ago I couldn’t get away fast enough, but there’s a warm magnetism that draws me back a few times a year, further cementing Louisiana as “home” in my heart.

Dad picked me up from the airport on December 23 and in four-and-a-half hours delivered me from Houston to Mom’s house where my two sisters, Mom, and 30 lbs of boiled crawfish awaited. Mom told me a day or so before I left Hawaii that she’d have crawfish for me, and unfortunately none of my friends there understood the significance. Dinner was capped off with some of Dad’s home brew (last year’s Christmas gift was put to good use) of a mild Oktoberfest.

The four days I was home flew by as quickly as you’d imagine when splitting time between Mom’s and Dad’s as well as visiting with all the family in town for Christmas. On Christmas morning my sisters and I were afloat in gifts from Santa. We unwrapped them leisurely for at least two hours in what must undeniably be Mom’s favorite day of the year. She was somewhat limited by my luggage allowance on the way back to Hawaii, so she did some investigative research and provided Courtney and I with gift cards to all of our favorite places back on Oahu. In the grand finale of present-opening, I was bowled over by a zoom lens that I’d been eying for a couple of months.

Two days post-Christmas, Delta whisked me away to meet up with Courtney and her family in Jackson Hole, WY. My intermediate skiing abilities were further honed under the lustrous protection of the Grand Tetons. The weather was generous during our four days there, and I was soon whisked away once again by Delta with extraordinary soreness, but no broken bones.

Now it’s a brief New Year’s Eve stop in Atlanta, then on to five days in NYC. I hope the next 23 years are as exciting as the last.