Winter Doldrums

I'm back in Chicago now. Luckily I got into town before 12 inches of snow have fallen in 4 days. Temperatures have been as low as 0, with wind chills bottoming out at -35. Coming from temperate  California, this is quite a shift in atmosphere. Air inside is dry, outside is only braved for very good reasons.

I braved the slushy roads today to get the last of my gifts for family. Its hectic, but for some reason I can't plan ahead to avoid the rush on stores. Pictured here is the snow I had to sweep off my rental car to get out and about.

Ah, now I remember why I've stayed on the Pacific coast for 5 years!


Visiting Rafe Esquith, Part III: Math & Science

**If you haven't read the first two installments of this series, scroll down and read those first.

10:24 Chemistry

Keeping in mind that some 5th grade classes may spend the whole day on English and Math, its remarkable that Rafe Esquith's class has already completed their lessons on both of them before the first recess! Here are some highlights from the lesson:

-As a continuation from the previous day, Rafe brings out pie tins which contain salt crystals leftover from a solution that has evaporated.

-Rafe points out to me that he doesn't use a textbook for science, everything is hands on. Students observe for themselves what is a homogeneous mixture and a heterogeneous mixture.

-Students are introduced to the Periodic Table of Elements with a story about Rafe's daughter, who has a double PhD and does cancer research using the Table. Another real-life application to the learning.

10:45 Recess

In most classes at the sound of the recess bell, students have a Pavlovian response to ignore the teacher and race out the door. In room 56, Rafe speaks through the bell and the lesson goes on. The clock in the room is broken at 12 midnight and the ceiling is leaking in 4 places. Rafe mentions that the roofs have been leaking for 25 years with nothing done about them. This year they did provide buckets!

Of course the students in room 56 still get recess, but they choose to stay inside and work on one of two projects: guitar lessons or their rug art project. (see similar rugs here).

Of the students doing guitar, 3/4 of them are strumming acoustic to one of the pop tunes for this year's Shakespeare play, The Merchant of Venice. The other 1/4 are playing keyboard, electric bass or guitar. They'll be performing, I assume, come June. That is, if they can keep up with the standard for performance. On more than one occasion, Esquith unequivocally tells a student, "_____, this is why I may have to replace you, because you're not focusing on your part." Esquith is strict. He has high demands on his students, but he still includes them in the family if they're not able to perform at the moment.

Meanwhile, in the other room, a group of boys and girls are working on their hook rug projects. Rafe mentions to me that this teaches them delayed gratification. At first the project was difficult for those students who were used to getting things right away. They complained to Rafe, "Its hard!" He replied, "I know. Keep at it, one hook at a time." Now 4 months into the school year, the students have completed maybe 10% of their rugs depicting various scenes and animals. Not directly in front of Rafe, the students show that they're still 10 years old instead of super children. They're chit-chatting, speaking in vernacular, but for the most part having something to do with their project. Still, Rafe comes in check in on the students and asks one of them what level are you on?

11:10 Back to Chemistry

Rafe introduces the project for the day after teaching students the basis of the atomic model of protons, neutrons, and electrons and electron configuration in order to make a model of Boron. Students select their own groups of 5, get a set of materials, and get to work using fishing line, translucent beads, and pipe cleaners to make the nucleus and orbits of electrons.

As we observe the students in various rates of progress, Rafe mentions to me that he allow his students to fail so that they can learn from their mistakes. In life, isn't that how we learn too? The School of Hard Knocks is based on that model. Students come up to Rafe to show him their work; each design is slightly different. Rafe compliments groups and individuals profusely though genuinely throughout the day to encourage good behavior and work habits.

11:50 History

Rafe transitions to this lesson with a recap of how the war started as students look at a year by year timeline. Today we watch two segments from Ken Burns' Civil War documentary. The first was an eloquent love letter written just before the battle of Shiloh. The second was a narrative of the battle itself, where more men lost there lives than in all previous wars in America combined.

Much of the teaching here is in narrative story. Still, students can recall specific vocabulary from previous lessons and fill in gaps of chronology as Rafe tells anecdotes of Ulysses S. Grant and Nathan Bedford Forrest.

12:20 Lunch

Suddenly we dismiss to lunch with children taking their lunch tickets in hand. I follow from a distance, just observing Rafe's students compared with others. In many ways, they're the same. Yet when waiting for their turn to get milk, Rafe's students manage to keep their hands to themselves while other shoulders of other kids are ebbing and flowing back in forth in play as they wait.

Not able to fit in the cafeteria with the students, I have my own lunch in the staff lounge. I over hear teachers banter about a girl caught stealing with the excuse that she's poor and how their own adolescent children won't listen to them even though they repeat the same expectations over and over again. This brief encounter gave me an opportunity to see how unique Rafe and his students are at the school. Rafe assures me that many strong teachers are at Hobart, but some leave with disillusionment from administration and the edutocracy governing/mandating equality of experience when some children's current behavior doesn't merit the privilege of an experience (for example requiring a child who cusses out a teacher to participate in a 5th grade promotion ceremony).

By the time I get back to the classroom, Rafe and the students have resumed their guitar and art projects. Rafe is finishing off his salad. "Is there a single down minute in his day?" I ask myself.


Science and History may be the gravy of lessons that some classes can't get to. With resources from his non-profit organization, The Hobart Shakespeareans, Rafe is able to organize trips and get supplies for these enriching projects.

With extra effort during vacation breaks, teachers can also apply for grants to get similar projects and resources for their classrooms. Many teachers just buy things out of their own pockets, which is totally fine. But with educational foundations ready to support teachers, schools, and districts that organize proposals, I learned that I could get better at either writing grants or finding someone to write them for me.


What steps have you taken to enhance your classroom with enrichment or after-hours community building activities?

With so much emphasis on "active engagement" and tasks, under what classroom conditions are lectures and narratives appropriate for learning to take place with them?

Have you ever used failure as the starting point for a lesson in your class? How did it go?

Next, Part IV: The Hobart Shakespeareans

Visiting Rafe Esquith, Part II

**Note: if you missed reading the first part of this series, scroll down and read it first for the context, then come back to read this entry.

7:59 - 9:35 Mathematics

Rafe begins class on this Monday gradually, with students getting their materials and desk areas ready for the day. He greets the remaining students as they come in the door, asking about the health and weekend social life of his 10 year olds. Rafe has a voluminous DVD library that students check out titles from on the weekends. I see one student take out "West Side Story," a laminated page of comprehension and reflection questions about the film and a one page response to them, which she gives to a class clerk to collect.

Rafe is reviewing fractions with the students. Many teachers see a dichotomy between their responsibilities to prepare students for real life and to prepare them for the standardized test. Rafe addresses both with the seeming ease of his 27 years of experience. Writing 3/4 along with .75 he asks, "When would we use this in real life?" Students respond that they'd use .75 with money, and Rafe volunteers that he'd ask in baseball, "3/4 of you go in the infield, the rest go to the outfield." Rafe emphasizes to me that the children need to grasp the why of what they're learning if they're going to buy into what you're telling them.

Test-taking Strategy

A few minutes later, Rafe is making a test item on the board to express ".040" as a fraction. He's got
lined up, and then asks a student to give him the correct answer AND WHY.
C 40/1000 (because it is in the thousands place)
Next he asks students to suggest alternative answers that could be on the test and why someone might incorrectly think its the right answer. One students offers "4/10, because someone might think that the 4 is in the tenths place" Another gives, "80/2000, because it isn't simplified yet". When you get test takers to think like test makers, then you're teaching decision making skills that will help students to master something that few teachers like, but all must admit is a reality we need to prepare them for.


As students do independent work, Rafe comes back to the corner to talk with me. He would do this several times during the day. [As my own mentor teacher Natalie Bernasconi tells me, the most valuable thing you can give someone is your undivided attention. I'm honored that Rafe gave me such a valuable gift.] We talk about the motivation factor, my focus for inquiry and reflection for the year. After 25 years at Hobart, Rafe has established a reputation that precedes him. I spoke with a students who'd entered Hobart as a first grader with the hope that she'd be in Rafe's class in 4 years. But there are other students who haven't "bought into the whole school thing" and become motivated by the constant stream of returning students who visit room 56. Finding themselves unchallenged in middle school when they leave Rafe's class, some of Rafe's past students come for Saturday sessions of enrichment. Before such a reputation and returning stream is established, teachers need to help their students grasp the thought that, "If I do/learn this, my life will get better."

Language Learning

As this is a language teaching blog, I'll mention some of the ways that Esquith works with some of his ELL students to comprehend material. He mentioned to me in our back-of-the-class conference that 6 of his students came to him with reputations as "unteachable" by their previous teachers. "I think I've turned three around, two not yet, and 1 I don't know about." Esquith emphasizes that the class culture he establishes is fundamental for why his group of 34 students can accomplish so much in a year.

-Error correction is an issue in second language teaching. I notice on several occasions that Rafe will give a direct "no" to a student's answer, but there's never any impatience in his voice.

-Rafe calls on one student to answer an item on the least common multiple (LCM) of two fractions from the text. The student remains silent. Rafe rephrases the question. No response. Rafe then uses a synonymous phrase and asks yes/no questions to find the LCM. Eventually the students speaks up to verify the correct answer.

-At times during independent work, Esquith will engage in side conversations not directly related to the work at hand, but having to do with something else learned previously (a DVD watched over the weekend) or coming up ("You guys are going to like Chemistry today").

-Just before the lesson concludes, Esquith delegates some students to tutor others who haven't grasped all the concepts of fractions yet. I notice that these tutors lean towards the tutee, ready to help.


All of these moments were possible because the anxiety level in the classroom was practically in the basement. Rafe emphasizes that teaching is about building relationships. You build background knowledge in your relationships by having on-going conversations about current events in/out-side of the classroom. Learners need to know right and wrong ways to do, say, and write what they will be assessed on in the future. In a low pressure, high support environment, receiving a direct "no" doesn't seem to discourage participation.

9:35 - 10:25 Literature

The students are 4 chapters away from finishing The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. It will be the fourth novel they have read so far this year, after: Of Mice and Men, The Westing Game, and Lord of the Flies (I think). Can I remind you these students are in 5th grade? My 7th graders read two novels in the back half of the school year, The Red Pony and The Pearl, which are at least half as short as one of these novels. Needless to say, I was very interested in how Esquith led the guided reading. Here's what I noticed:

-Rafe strategically selects students to read passages that are appropriate for their level. He took over the reading on a few passages that contained colloquial phrases and vernacular that were difficult.

-Reading flows between the teacher summarizing what was read, comprehension check questions, students reading, and the teacher interjecting background knowledge and explanations.

-Students are used to being held accountable for following along in the text. When a student re-read a part already covered, Rafe said, "we've already read this, who wants to read?" and another student continued reading. BUT, then Esquith comes back to the same student for another opportunity to read at the right spot!

-Students read with prosody and fluency. Commas and sentences require pauses of different lengths that Esquith ensures students use when reading.

-He ends the 10-page reading segment with a speculating (Costa's Level III) question, "what do you think the family reaction is going to be?"

-Room 56 students still must pay the piper of standardized tests. He prefaced the multiple-choice benchmark test the students were to take by saying, "guys, this has zero effect on your future, but give me your best effort. If anyone gets 10 out of 10, I'll give them a 100 dollar bonus [in class money system]."


Again, the class culture allows many of the language learning features to take place. Direct, polite error correction; consistency in expecting students to follow along in the reading to be ready when called on randomly or by volunteering; and the ability to take and give up the floor for guided reading can happen when the teacher has established an environment of respect and free of fear.


At times, language classrooms need to have structure and predictability. How aware are you of your consistency as a teacher to maintain expectations that result in a rigorous curriculum?

When teaching other content through English, what scaffolds to you use to help your students in comprehension?

What would a system of introducing tutors and past students to your class do motivate your current students to achieve more?


Visiting Rafe Esquith, Part I

On Monday, I had the privilege of visiting the classroom of Rafe Esquith, a 5th grade teacher at Hobart Boulevard Elementary School in the Koreatown neighborhood of Los Angeles. If you haven't heard of this teacher, its about time that you have. I first learned about him from a 2006 LA Times article announcing his second book, "Teach Like Your Hair's On Fire: Lessons from Room 56." When I finally read the book a year later, I was immediately impressed with his compassion, work ethic, and 100% devotion to his students' learning.

As a teacher on the so-called "front lines" of public school education, I have sought out many books for inspiration, instruction, solace, and skills for working effectively in this intense environment. From theorists, Friere, Piaget , to the activist Kozol to practitioners like Montessori, Kohl, Wong, LB, and Clark, I've read them all. But all of them have ceased to (or never even) teach in a classroom. With the theorist/researcher-practitioner dichotomy aside, there's something to be said for staying in the classroom to adapt to current conditions. While some teachers with an effective method could reach more by rising to administration or higher education to train teachers. But the transfer of skill from professor to textbook to student teacher to classroom to student thins out at every level, what you intend to teach students may not be actually what they receive. The only way to ensure that what one wants to teach them will be taught is to stay in that classroom. And that is exactly what Rafe Esquith has done for the past 27 years.

Along the way, Rafe has earned numerous accolades and awards: The Disney "Teacher of the Year" award (in a tux and his white tennis shoes), National Medal of Arts, Member of the British Empire (for his Shakespeare performances), a mini-van and "Use Your Life" from Oprah Winfrey (he drove me back to my brother's house in the mini-van!), and Compassion in Action award from the Dalai Lama. Every year he takes his students on trips to Washington, DC, East Coast and Midwest college trips (for his past students who are on college-bound tracks), and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Needless to say, this man works tirelessly on weekends and vacation periods to make things happen for his students. As you may suspect, these amazing extra-curricular activities don't happen with out extra infusions of cash. A former student of Rafe's set up a 501c3 Non-Profit status for his classroom to receive tax-deductible donations from interested donors. Few public school teachers can say they have a 6-figure budget for the work they do, but Rafe has worked to establish the foundation to support every amazing thing the students do in and outside of the classroom. It is with this premise that I am drawn to see for myself how Rafe's class operates.

This observation opportunity happened after I hopefully sent my copy of "Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire" to him in May to sign. I received it a week later with the inside page signed by all the members of room 56 as well as a card saying, "Jeff, let's get you down here for a visit. Call me xxx-xxxx, Rafe". I was incredulous. Here is this mega-busy, mega-famous teacher giving me his personal cell phone number and inviting me in on the action? I called him up in early June, and after a brief discussion of both our teaching situations, we agree to correspond via email to setup a date to visit. We settled on December 15 because I would be on winter vacation and he would not. So for 6 months I prepared and waited for this rare opportunity.

December 15 turned out to be rare alright: it was raining in LA. I arrived with drenched pant legs and shoulders from my bus commute around 7:45. Rafe certainly does get a lot of visitors, 4/5 of the first page on the office sign-in sheet were for "Esquith/Room 56". He extends the opportunity for student teachers, professors, and others to visit his classroom. Wow.

Two of his students came down to the office with umbrellas to greet and escort me to room 56. Upon entering the classroom, I noticed that most of the desks were already filled even though school starts at 8. Students can arrive as early as 6:30 to get extra help on their math. Rafe gives me a warm handshake and invites me to sit anywhere to observe the class for the day. I look at a seat in the corner, next to the soundboard where cords for microphones, electric guitars and basses are plugged in for this afternoon's rehearsal of the Hobart Shakespeareans. Before I can sit down, a student asks me if I'd like a cup of water. Already, I notice that these students are considerate of others.

I won't dare to compile eight hours of observation into this one blog. Instead, I think I'll divide them up into a series: Math, Literature, Science, History, Art, Shakespeare, and a final summary. There's just too many fine points to note that a summary of the whole day won't do it justice.


How do you as a teacher benefit by observing a mentor or peer? Is there a difference in the benefits between mentor and peer?

How do relatively young teachers (<5 yrs) incorporate features from expert, experienced teachers (10 years <) who've reached a level of mastery and efficiency mostly due to refinement over time?


A farm in LA?

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Craig and I went hiking in Runyan canyon park today to work off some of the big meal. We came across this house on a hill with three horses and goats! It just goes to show that in a city of sprawl,  there's still some places that hold on to slower times. 
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Yum yum Thanksgiving with brother, sister-in-law, and friend Charley. Had pork instead of turkey, sweet potato fries, and pie!


Well, the experiment is working. 3 posts in a day and I'm finally in LA. We've shopped for turkey day. What is UR fave food?


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Another rest stop along US 101. i had octopus tacos. delish! U know in Jaan the word for octopus is ''taco'' so u could say i had taco tacos! On to LA with a claering in the clouds!
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Road trip

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I'm trying something new... Updating my blog via my cellphone. I figure its always with me and if Japanese can write entire novels on theirs, I can jot out a few sentences at a time on mine. Gilda and  I are on the road to LA for Thanksgiving to be with our families. We stopped at the Atascadero A&W and used some coupons to get that frothy mug taste for less. No school for 5 days will give me some  time to clear my head. Im already starting to visualize some curricula that has been disjointed for some time now. But u don,t want to hear about all that teacher jumbo. Hopefully more updates from  the road later on!
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Barely Breathing

I have just tumbled out of sync with my blog posting. My days are so full with teaching duties, committees, or a small portion of exercise to attempt a balance, that my reflective presence in cyber-space has gotten the shaft. I have a lot to say and I've thought about it considerably, but for some reason I don't put finger to key.

In 2009 I'll be going to Russia in March on a teacher exchange. In June, my girlfriend and I have plans to go to Turkey. There'll be plenty to blog about. Until then, I'll try to get my life back in balance to make space for journaling.


Ensenada Adventures

Movie theatre in Ensenada. $4 for a ticket!

Well the language studies have been continuing had a good pace. Today we learned the imperitive or command form, which is very good for handling a room full of hormonal adolescents. Sientente (sit down)! Trabaje (work)! Afternoon activities have been slightly robotic in drills, but I guess I need the practice.

My "social" life outside of class has certainly been worthy of quotation marks. I´m on my own, just here for a week, so making friends or going on outings with others hasn´t happened. Today the school went to the winery, but alcohol isn´t my thing, so I skipped on that and conjugated irregular verbs in the preterite and imperfect for 90 minutes. What fun!

I did make a point of walking 1.5 miles to the cinema to watch "Hancock". Just my luck, the movie started 5 minutes before I arrived. It was in English with Spanish subtitles, so I got a little reading practice while I mostly just enjoyed listening to the dialogue. During the movie, this woman´s cell phone kept going off and she had no problem chatting away during the movie. I almost turned around and gave her the evil eye, but then I realized that she´s just reading the subtitles and doesn´t need to hear the English because she and the other watchers may not understand it anyway. I chalked it up to another cultural moment, laughed, and read the subtitles along with her.

Tomorrow`s my last day of class, then I retire to my favorite local hostel for a day of r&r from my mostly relaxing week. Just a way to kill time cheaply before I go to San Deigo for my AVID conference.


Ensenada Un Otra Vez!

Staying with a Mexican family for a week in Ensenada to study Spanish in an immersion environment. My first impression is that I´m getting a lot of walking done. I live like a mile from the school, and my host mother and sister have given me walking directions to all the places I´m asking about: post office (2.5 miles), tourist district to get post cards (.5 miles), getting exercise and a feel for how most citizens get around here every day (priceless).

Classes are 6 hours a day, four being conversation and grammar exploration, 2 being activities like games and guided discussion. As a language teacher myself, I´m being quite scrutinous of how we´re learning as well as what. But I also realize that being too picky will taint my experience too. So mostly I´m just going with the flow. Unlike Russian, French, Jamaican Creole, or Japanese, my Spanish learning experience has little immersion to cement chunked phrases into memory. I realize that I have to really think about all the conditions for using the preterite or imperfective, ser or estar, este or whatever before using it. The result has been increased shyness for speaking in public. Either that or its been a general trend in the past two years for me to be more reserved instead of wrecklessly talking to perfect strangers on the street.

I have the afternoons to explore and practice conversation. Today I went on an adventure to the post office, asking directions, changing large bills, and inquiring about tickets to San Felipe along the way. I stopped in McDonald`s for an ice cream and to write some postcards while I relaxed in the cool air conditioning. I`ve come 180 degrees from my 22-year-old position on patronizing establishments of American commercial imperialism. At first I was totally against it, thinking it would ruin my immersion experience and support the tainting of local culture. Now I just see it as a refuge of comfort from a tiresome day that I take every once in a while. I´m not going there because McD´s is the only food I want to eat, far from it. Its just a public place where I don´t have to spend much money to rest for a while on my journey between immersion experiences. Sort of like a ¨pause^in the game.

I´ll be here for the rest of the week, then come up to San Diego on Sunday for a teachers` conference. Hopefully I can post an entry about a trip to La Bufadora, the blow hole!


Coming into the Closet

As a child, my walk-in closet was a refuge for idle thoughts and possessions. It was the largest closet among my siblings and the only one with a window. Even though I would cloister myself in it for hours on end, I could still look out on the street and have a connection to the world. I can imagine myself around age 11, going through old letters (almost every one I’ve kept) and trinkets kept from an even earlier childhood. As the realm of current clothing and after thoughts, organizers and can’t-figure-what-to-do-with-its, my childhood closet was full of present needs and past memories.

After a few years of unscrupulous hoarding, the closet’s manila particleboard and aluminum-braced shelves where hammocked under the weight of misorganized models and pitiful pinchpots that I somehow couldn’t bear to liberate from neglect. In a clandestine raid of guerilla goodness, my parents hired professionals to redesign and reorganize the closets of my older sister, younger brother, and myself while we were away at summer camp. Gone were the sad, saggy shelves; in their places were sleek white spaces with hanging crates for undies and laundry, drawers for everyday clothes, and dowels for the stiff suits and sweaters that I’d have to wear to Grandma’s.

My closet could be organized to the hilt on days right after my usually messy mom threw down the cleaning hammer. But most other times it was cluttered with my daydream escapades into yesteryear’s trophies and treasures. There was the green and grey fighter jet I made out of chunky 2x2 wood blocks at camp. It only collected dust in its hangar shelf until I finally sent it on one last mission to the trash bin. As a lover of maps, I kept shoeboxes full of exotic locations like Madagascar and USSR from National Geographic, as well as rest stop freebies of the Midwest highways and backwater towns that my family would visit on weekend trips in our 1989 Ford conversion van. The closet was mission control for a weekend afternoon of mental voyages outside of the actually shy childhood that I led.

In my high school years, I’d won my bout with nostalgia and excised a great deal of the cumbersome wood funny awards and the paper trees of old tests and essays. Now thrift store corduroys and an Illinoisans’ idea of Aloha shirts hung from the racks – further evidence that the closet was the only safe place for my kind of fashion. It was also the last time when all siblings would be living at home. As a fully equipped a fallout shelter, the closet could sustain me against a sister-and-brother tickle raid. I could hole up there for minutes with a stashed soda pop and Doritos until brother scrounged up a Q-tip to pick the locking mechanism on the door. No closet is impenetrable.

Eventually we all have to come out of the closet that is our childhood and face a world that scoffs at daydreamers and story collectors. But there’s nothing to keep us from coming into the closet for a memory or a moment to rekindles that place of safety.


First Professional Presentation

The day of our presentation. We've been eating breakfast at 7, waking at 6. Our room faces East look out over grazing fields for sheep and horses. The fields have been frosted over these past two days, its that cold. Breakfast is big: cereal and fresh fruit salad, tea with jam and bread, ham, sausage, egg, baked beans, baked tomato, and mushrooms. Juice, too. I finish it without being full; its just enough.

This morning I would remember my vest, scarf, and hat but leave my rain jacket and pants. It would rain in the afternoon. This whole trip is a lesson in "inappropriate clothing"! Jen and I practiced our timing on the walk to the bus, the other Jen timing us with the watch. We go a bit over, but stopped to discuss the details to share or omit. We feel comfortable we'll stay on time.

Today's bus connections were better and we arrive in time for the plenary session of some professor from Korea talking about World Englishes. I come late because I need to take care of the photocopying of our handout. The print shop took care of it right away and I had 50 cut, color bookmarks in 5 minutes. I think i went to a session spelling mistakes by Arabic students. it gave me ideas for doing the same thing with my Spanish students.

At the tea break, Jen and I came to our room to set up. We put bookmarks on each chair, loaded the powerpoint on the computer and made sure the room was a comfortable temperature. Jen said she had trouble sleeping last night out of worrying about this and that for our presentation. I was surprised because she made me rest assured that I would do fine. Perhaps those of us who can comfort others also need to be comforted at the same time.

When we started our presentation the room wsa packed with 50 attendees. One of the Teacher Development Interest Group leaders introduced us, then sat in front of the door. She actually had to turn away latercomers because there was no room for them to sit or stand! Jen and I traded off slides and speeches very fluidly. We stayed within our 30 minute time limit and had 5 minutes for questions at the end.

I experienced for the first time that there is something beyond the author/presenter's content that draws, engages, adn enriches the experience of audience members. Each person brings his/her expectations and filter for information. They didn't necessarily come because I was presenting but because the topic interested or already meant something to them that they brought to filter their perspective for better or for worse. But, by the end, I was associated with their interest. Two to three people stopped me afterwards to say how much they enjoyed it.

One of those people was Andrew Wright. He came to our session as a 13-book author or storytelling. He asked a question about ease of uploading video/photo content to a blog. He wants to create a website for his work. [I actually learned this on Friday, when I went home.] The fact that people want to hear what I ahve to say makes me want to share more!


IATEFL Conference in Exeter, England

Internet access has been few and far between on my trip. I think it as a benefit because I think everyone needs to decompress and disconnect from the Wired world a few times a year.

Since I last posted, I spent a busy day in London seeing the British Museum, The Victoria and Albert Museum, Brixton's Jamaican community, Harrod's Department Store, and the Greenwich Observatory. More details on those when I can upload pictures.

I took a 5-hour bus (coach as they call it here) ride to Exeter on Tuesday. The rolling hillside of Devon county is quite charming. Hedgerows, sheep, and green fields are quite soothing to the eyes.

We're staying at a quaint country inn, Heath Gardens that is outside of town. Aside from being a hassle to get to and from on the bus, it is a lovely place to relax after a full day at the conference.

IATEFL is the European/UK centred organization for English teachers, so I am out of my element in networking and understanding the on-going conversation. I have eased my way into things, gradually starting to get business cards and make friendships.

As for the city of Exeter itself, I haven't had too much time to explore it. They've recently refinished the High Street (main street) to be a pedestrian mall with bus right of way. I can believe the amount of people on the pavement (sidewalk) for the relative size of town (40,000). This is a pedestrian friendly town. There's a castle and cathedral to explore, so I think I'll get out today to see it. Stay tuned for more!


Snowy Arrival

After 20 hours in transit, I landed at Heathrow airport amidst 4 inches of snowfall and wintery mix. We were delayed in landing because the ground crews were trying to keep up with the first snow of the year: in April! Fortunately my flight was one of the first in, because I would later hear that other flights were cancelled due to congestion.

I made my way out to Woking Station where my college friend Miranda picked me up. We relaxed at their home in Godalming (what an old English name, eh?). Then we went to a Principia Club function in Weybridge featuring the CEO and interim president of the College and Headmaster of its k-12 School. The school's been through a rough period, so this was kind of a clean slate PR stop to let everyone know that things are on the up and up. Of course when 4:00 came around, we had tea and cakes. Yum yum, but I didn't get some because many people were keen on talking to the random Yank who showed up. I found it interesting too that I would be in town from California for such a local meeting.

We retired home for a light dinner of French cheeses, Marmite (first time, conservatively spread on buttered toast = palatable), Pate, and tea. Miranda's mother is in town from her home in the French department of Dordogne. She showed me pictures of her country cottage where she lived for 10 years without electricity or running water, by choice! Now it's done up with wiring and a swimming pool to boot!

I showed pictures of my family and places where I've lived, as well as the obsolete British Pounds I'm carrying around from my girlfriend's 1997 stay in Sheffield and my mother and aunt's 1965 European Tour. The 1965 1-Pound notes evoked colorful stories from Miranda's mum about how much that could buy back in the day: a tank of gas, a Christmas extra gift, compared to now when it won't even buy a Liter of gasoline (yes, Americans we complain about gas approaching $4/gallon; over here it is already over $8. Get over it and get efficient!)

After 3pm I started nodding off. Now it's 10:30 and I'm tuckered out. An early day tomorrow where I'm going to Bank of England to exchange the old 10 Pound note, many have told me to keep the 1-Pound notes for their potential worth 40 more years in holding. Stay tuned for pictures.


You Make My Day

Last month, my blog was given the "you make my day" award by Geoffrey Philp, a Jamaican author whom I've met through blogging and from whom I have learned a lot. I believe the original award was conceived (or at least given to Geoffrey) by Lady Roots. The guidelines for the award are:

1. Write a post with links to 5 blogs that make your day.
2. Acknowledge the post of the award giver.
3. Display the You Make My Day Award logo.
4. Tell the award winners by commenting on their blogs with the news.

Here are the blogs that make my day:

Musings of an International Nomad: My friend Verity is teaching at a girls' school in Harare, Zimbabwe. South African by birth, Verity has chosen to work in a crumbling country with 100,000% inflation to make a difference for at least one student. Her blog is a vital link to a country in the midst of a tumultuous election.

Turtle Vision: Nicole frequently posts her artwork and musings on topics that give richness to life. It is always comforting to visit her webpage after a stressful day.

Pickeled Eel: another blog friend whom I've met through the blogosphere. He's based out of Sydney, but has traveled to Iraq and beyond to bring interesting stories to his viewers.

Deceleration of Time: Erinn, or Madeline as she is known is some circles, is a JET teaching in rural Shikoku. She takes me back to a great year that I also spent in Japan.

Wanderings: Jenn is an English Language Fellow in Estonia. Her blog post titles are often flooded with the vowels and umlauds of Estonian, but her entries are always ripe with reflection.

This blog entry marks my return to the craft, after almost 2 months of trying to keep up with everything else in my life! Later today I'll be flying to England for a conference of English teachers. Finally, I get to blog internationally again. Stay tuned to a flurry of postings and pictures!


Garrapata State Park

As promised, with a little delay, here are some photos from last month's outing to the hills over the Pacific Ocean in Big Sur.

Here's our hiking group, "the happy trails club" on our first outing of the year. This big log was our point of no return: continue climbing to the peak, or go back through the canyon. Of course we went to the top! And what a view!

The misty Big Sur coastline in silhouette. What a place.

Sunset from the trail.

This last post is for Travis and Joy. Four years ago I helped them move this couch into their apartment by hoisting it onto the top of the moving van to enter through the second floor window. Fast-forward to today. Troy have sold me the couch. I tried to get it through my front door and only succeeded in gashing the dry wall. It would turn out that the only way to get this couch into any dwelling is the second floor patio window!


Some thoughts on immigration

My uncle sent me and 20 other people this video on YouTube. I watched it twice because I was concerned about the bias of what it was telling me. I've spent the past 90 minutes crafting a response to all who were included on the email because I think that one benefit of the Internet is not just the mass and cheap distribution of information, but the democratic discussion of that information. Family is one of the few links that we have left in the age of personalized-to-my-world-view news where we encounter other people who don't share our same views. And therein lies the space for healthy discussion. Here's the response I crafted. What do YOU think?

Dear Uncle Bill and all,

Thank you for starting a dialog on an issue that is eminently important: immigration. I just wanted to comment on a few things that were in (and not in) the video, not for the purpose of arguing, but starting a conversation. I'm interested to hear the perspectives of anyone else included in the email.

The rising graph and inexhaustible gumball supply of "third world immigrants" were very striking, but I noticed a few things. In the graph, the bottom line was "200 million" instead of zero, so when the projected year 2030 population of 392 million soared above the zero sum population of 240 million, it looked like a 500% oversupply instead of the actual 163%. To me, the premise for one gumball as 1,000,000 poor people whose standard of living is raised upon emigrating to the USA doesn't reflect the entire gamut of US immigration policy. Only a small percentage of yearly immigrants are refugees, those who may bring no marketable work skills but whose quality of life would increase from the move. Roy Beck's premise seems to be that all 1 million of US immigrants in 1990 (that was the date where hard statistics ended and projected ones began) were allowed in solely to take them out of poverty.

The main purpose of immigration is to boost the economy, which Roy Beck did not mention at all. He did emphasize the expense-side burden of building schools and other infrastructure. As an English as a second language teacher in California, I see this every day. But I also see how hard immigrants of many income-levels work and can imagine how the steady growth of our economy in the past 18 years (since this video was created) has resulted from it. By how many trillions of dollars has our GDP grown with this influx of human capital?

The 4.5 billion people who make less each day than Mexicans probably included 2 billion people from China and India, two countries that have made huge strides economically since 1990. Now they are global competitors. Just read Thomas Friedman's The World is Flat to see how the world situation has changed since 1990.

As for the ravage that the inundation of immigrants would have on our infrastructure and environment, that is surely something to be concerned about. We could look at how countries with much higher population densities (USA ranks 172 out of 238 countries, I think we might be able to squeeze a few more people inside our borders) deal with it: become more efficient with the resources we already have. This could take the form of smart-growth city planning, higher fuel economy, and high-speed train networks that condense the sprawl of communities built around widening roads & freeways. Yet these capacity-building efforts don't seem to get as much traction with voters as protectionist immigration policies do.

As for his recurring mantra that current immigration policy would "totally destroy our social fabric", I am not so sure about that. Roy Beck's call to reset immigration quotas to 1965 levels refers to the Immigration Reform Act of that year, which changed the face of the USA from receiving mostly white European immigrants, to a more global mix. As a Returned Peace Corps volunteer, I was proud to serve my country with a diverse group of people who represented the children of those immigrants.

I am concerned about the effects of overpopulation on global resources and geopolitical issues. I really benefited from reading Critical Masses by George Moffett on this subject. I certainly don't support illegal immigration. I think that if a country based on rule of law can't enforce the laws that it has, it should change the laws one way or another so it can enforce them.

Well, if you've read this far, I guess you can see that I'm interested in this issue. I look forward to hearing what you and others have to say.



Double Yikes!!

Another month has gone by, and no posts from me. I've had some New Year's resolutions to get underway, so perhaps implementing them has put off my weekly reflections on the blog. Also, I've been keeping up a blog for a teacher research project, so that has taken priority whenever I have the time to blog.

I returned to Salinas from Chicago on Dec 27. I went to a friend's wedding in Stockton on Dec 29. It was good to see people I hadn't seen since college, nine years ago. I welcomed the new year with my girlfriend with quiet night at home. For the rest of that week, I slowly prepared for the resumption of school.

We had 2.5 weeks of classes until the end of the semester, which just occurred this Thursday. I was glad to see that several of the writing skills had "sunken in" over the break. However, some of the students resumed their old antics to disrupt the class. So I've made classroom management a priority for the new semester starting this Monday.

As for my New Year's resolutions, I'm off to a good start. I've visited two gyms to potentially join. I've joined the local Kendo club as a way to stay in shape and keep in touch with my Japan experience. I've also enrolled in a Spanish for Professionals course at the local adult school. The biggest impasse for communicating with parents is my limited vocabulary while talking on the phone. So I've set a goal of improving my skills in this area. Three New Year's resolutions seems like enough for me.

So far this year we've had some pretty dubious weather in Salinas. Rainstorms from the North Pacific have left snow on Mount Toro, leaving the impression that we're in more of a winter wonderland instead of a mild mediterranean garden.

We also took a nice little 5 mile, 5 hour jaunt to Garrapata State Park. The strenuous climb made the wonderful vista at the top all the more lovely. Photos are forthcoming, and won't take another month to post!

Countries I have visited

Where I've been in the USA