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?