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Bird's Blog

Poetry, musings, observations, commentary, rants, confessions...and who knows what else!

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Location: San Francisco Bay Area

Teacher, writer, poet, grandmother, lover, wine-drinker, chocolate eater, beach comber, hiker, traveler, Giants fan, San Franciscan. All work on this blog is copyrighted material.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Something surprising, and yet not so ...

My sister called me today and told me she had something to tell me that would make me roll my eyes, would surprise me while at the same time not surprise me, and then would make me laugh. I had all of those reactions to her tale. Here’s the story:

My sister owns a small business in Nevada.

Today, she purchased insurance for her business.

And was informed that the Federal Government requires her to carry terrorism insurance. (Surely this requirement has something to do with the Terrorism Insurance Act of 2002 – though frankly, I grew bored and could neither read nor scan the document to completion in order to verify that assumption.)

My sister will now pay an annual premium to protect her business (an alteration and bridal shop) in the event a terrorist attacks it.

Presumably, she is at low risk for such an attack, but you never know. Perhaps a terrorist will consider her shop a prime target. Or perhaps the local drive-through coffee kiosk near her business will be attacked and her business will be collateral damage. Mayhap she is more of a target than we know – she is, after all, highly regarded in her community and the loss of her business would wreak havoc with many a bride, bridesmaid, prom queen, and countless others who come to her for repairs, hems, Halloween costumes, draperies, etc. Oh! And let us not forget – she does the alterations (and per military regulations) for locals who join the Marines. Yes – that could make her a target indeed. No matter, the main point is: she is required to purchase the insurance.

My sister merely rolled her eyes, signed the papers, and wrote the check when her insurance agent informed her of this requirement.

I, on the other hand, have questions. For example:

How does the insurance policy define “terrorist” and “act of terrorism”?

Does the policy insure for both domestic and foreign terrorist attacks?

If an alleged terrorist allegedly sets a bomb off in my sister’s business, which in turn creates an inferno, does my sister’s regular fire and damage policy supersede the terrorist insurance? What if her regular policy actually provides more coverage - can she claim the damage on the policy that pays more?

And here’s a sticky wicket: my sister cannot, of course, get insurance for such things as tornadoes, hurricanes, etc., as they are deemed to be “acts of god.” But many terrorists believe they are acting on behalf of god. So if a terrorist attacks my sister’s business, and that terrorist then claims the act to be of god, is my sister’s terrorist insurance then moot?

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Friday, May 25, 2007

Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down

Thumbs Up

Keith Olbermann of Countdown - for once again dishing the dirt where it belongs – on our government – Dems and Repubs, House, Senate, and Bush.

Seema Dundhi and her unit - a cadre of UN Peacekeeping Forces in Liberia – all women.

Al Gore - for an articulate and humorous critique of the news media in his interview with Jon Stewart on the Daily Show.

John Edwards - for his continuing support of the troops via his insistence we get out of Iraq, and his plans to bolster our ailing Veterans Administration (whose budget has been cut by our beloved President – who fully supports the troops indeed).

The Onion - for political and social parody extraordinaire.

Thumbs Down

Speaker of the House Pelosi - Oh Nancy, you done wrong.

Senator Harry Reid. Oh Harry - you weak-knee-ed fool.

The Democrats - for once again turning tail and running for cover.

The Republicans - for being being idiots.

Mr. Bush - for idiocy and stubborness that defies all rational, reasonable logic.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Midnight Rape

Tired last night from a lovely day in Golden Gate Park, I fell asleep early, snuggled in the linen sheets and light, cotton blanket on my bed, my window slightly ajar. I’ve grown so accustomed to the street noise that drifts up my way – the cars passing on the busy street half a block up, the low rumble of cars pulling up to the curb, doors shutting, the small amount of foot traffic on my street - apartment dwellers returning from the bar and restaurant scene within walking distance of my roost and teenagers, strolling in the middle of the street, giggling and sometimes whispering in loud, tipsy voices as they head home, no doubt well past their curfew.

But last night I was awakened from a dead sleep by a young woman’s voice, calling out from the street “RAPE! HELP! RAPE!” I grabbed my cell phone from the nightstand, sprang out of bed to the window and peered down into the street. I saw and heard nothing. I hollered out, “HELLO? WHO”S DOWN THERE? “ There was no answer. For a moment, a moment only, I thought – maybe a prank. But I couldn’t take the risk – I dialed 911 and within moments, a patrol car was cruising up the street, then slowed near my apartment building, spotlight on, trolling the shadows.

I went down to the street to talk with the officers. Told them my tale. They walked the street, heavy flashlights in hand, beaming a strong light into bushes, cars, doorsteps, stairwells. They knocked on doors, searched the construction site across the way, gained admittance to the apartment building across the street and I could see through the building’s windows the light of their flashlights going this way and that as they walked the hallways and listened for sounds of distress.

But they found nothing. Whoever had sent out that initial cry had disappeared, or was silenced in some way – either through her own volition, or coercion, or force.

The cops left; I returned to bed, yet I refused to shut and lock my window. I refuse to live in fear on my own street. But I slept badly the rest of the night, tossing and turning and wondering about the young woman whose voice I heard so clearly: “RAPE! HELP! RAPE!”

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

Teacher's epiphany - and long overdue at that!

Forgive me dear readers, for this extraordinarily long post. But I do hope you will read it and share your thoughts. The academic year is coming to a close, and I have a story and personal revelation to share. Ok, you're already snoozing, eh? Zzzzzzzzzz. ;)

This academic year, I taught two sections of a year-long, integrated reading and writing course. I very quickly, within weeks of the fall semester starting, dubbed one section my “class from hell.”

And I worked like hell to win them, to convince them to buy into the learning process, to step up to the plate, to abandon high school behaviors, and to become members of the academic community. This is no different, in many ways, than the work I do with any other “remedial” class - that is the task of the teacher in the first few weeks. And in past semesters, I have succeeded quite nicely in that first, crucial step. But not this time around.

I won my class from hell over only to lose them within days. It became a constant battle. I would win and lose them repeatedly over the course of the first semester. That semester, I had a 6-week observer, who was impressed with how I worked with this difficult class. Quite frankly, so was I. But they exhausted me.

By the end of last semester, I felt I had actually convinced them to step up consistently – I thought I had won them over, finally. I was wrong.

When we returned, after the winter break, the class regressed. And not just back to where they had been at beginning of the fall semester – but even further back. And I began the heavy lifting of getting them back again.

What a frustrating experience! I was investing all this time and effort, and only a few students were responding. The others kept throwing monkey wrenches into the process. I began to take it personally (never a good sign). And I began to really resent that I was investing more time and energy, on both an intellectual and emotional level, than my students. Yet still I persisted.

These last few weeks, as we move rapidly to the academic year’s conclusion, I have been eagerly awaiting the end, anticipating my freedom. And I’ve grown increasingly short-tempered and impatient with not only my class from hell, but my other class as well. I am burnt out and resentful of one class, and those feelings are slopping over into the other class.

Today, I had an epiphany. I should have had it long ago. This moment of truth was of course triggered by a student in my class from hell.

My class from hell runs 2 hours and 20 minutes, but today we started an hour late – something which the students were apprised of on Tuesday. And today was a peer review day - - in pairs, students read and critique their essays, providing each other with feedback. My policy is that if you miss peer review day, arrive quite late, or come unprepared, your essay grade is lowered by one grade. Students make a commitment to their partner to be there – if you’re not there, your partner is left out in the cold – without anyone to review her essay.

Even though class starts an hour late and there is, theoretically, no other place the students need to be, four students show up 5 – 15 minutes late. I start peer review on time though – reassigning pairs based on who is present.

One student, let’s call her Cindy, arrives a half hour late. I’ve already rolled her partner into another group (creating a group of three instead of two).

Cindy is stuck reviewing her essay on her own – I won’t impose on another group by adding a new and late member.

At the end of class, I ask Cindy to stay to talk. She was already at risk for failing the class any way, but she has really shot herself in the foot today. Because of her extremely late arrival on peer review day, her essay grade is automatically lowered by one whole grade. Cindy, of late, has not been writing passing essays to begin with, despite tutoring (which she is not really attending) and despite conferencing with me (she doesn’t follow up my feedback in conference, i.e., she doesn’t revise).

I explain to Cindy the damage she has done to herself today. She has a better chance of failing the class than passing it. She has been trying for a week to get out of coming to the class final next week. She realizes that even if she writes a C paper, the grade will be lowered and with this No Pass, she will fail the course, thus making her attendance at the final completely irrelevant.

The final paper is due next Tuesday. The final is that Friday. She asks me if I will grade her paper immediately and email her on Wednesday – letting her know if she has a passing grade, because if she doesn’t, she might as well skip the final.

Are you kidding me? I think this, but don't say it, of course.

I have spent the semester prodding, cajoling, and chasing not only Cindy, but half the class. I have met with her numerous times, responded to her emails, and helped her above and beyond the call of duty. I have twisted myself upside down and inside out trying to reach this class of extraordinarily reluctant and immature students. And this is the break point, finally. This is the epiphany.

She is fucking out of her mind.

But it is my own fault. I have set this up by caring more about her work than she has.

No, I tell her. I won’t begin grading the last essays until after the final. The final is mandatory, and skipping the final could cause her to fail the class. However, she is an adult and can make her own choices.

She sighs. Flips her hair, says, “Oh alright then” in a rude and saucy tone, and leaves the classroom.

The lesson for me is clear. As God as my witness, never, ever again, will I invest more time, effort, and emotion into a student’s learning than the student does herself.

And now, on to a pleasant bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, a chicken breast roasted with rosemary, garlic, and olive oil, and a lovely salad of red leaf lettuce, radish, blue cheese, and pine nuts. I think I will even smoke a bowlful, play the Grateful Dead (perhaps one of the August 1984 shows from the Greek Theater in Berkeley), and watch the cars drive up and down my street from the balcony.

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Sunday, May 06, 2007


My friends in Thailand are on holiday at Pattaya. I wish I was there.

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