Thursday, December 10, 2009

Did they learn what I taught?

Teacher Musings:
As I sit here at 2 am, I am unable to sleep for several reasons. The main one has to do with the little one who has decided to spend all night kicking me in the ribs. However, as I have been lying around trying to sleep I find myself thinking about school and teaching. I don't know if writing some of my reflections down will help to end the karate chops, but hopefully it will prove insightful when I re-read it in a more awake state.
I have always been strong believer in backward planning, and I cannot truly conceive of any other way to plan and teach. I also see backward planning as intricately tied to actual learning objectives. To me, backward planning means clearly explaining what you want a student to be able to do independently by the end of the year, and then plan instruction and assessments from there that both teach and then measure whatever it is that you are working towards. In my ideal situation this is all fairly linear, clear and stays on track through a school year and from unit to unit.
However, like all things with teaching, their is often a gap between my ideal and the reality I encounter (which is not necessarily a bad thing - I'm not entirely convinced that my ideal is the "right" way to go). In the last two weeks I have taught my students about finding details and using them to find the main idea in non-fiction pieces. So far we have focused on narrative non-fiction and expository non-fiction. Next week we are going to read editorials, and the first day will put the teaching that I have already done to the test. I'm somewhat anxious to find out if they can identify the details in the editorial, the reasons the author uses those details, and as a result of all this, the author's message in the editorial. On one hand, I expect that most of them (with a few exceptions that I know need some extra interventions) will be able to do this, based on the formative assessments I have already given. However, this is the part of teaching that I still struggle with. I want to see if they are meeting my expectations. If they are not, I will re-teach what I need to teach. However, if they aren't doing what I thought they should be able to do, what does that say about our work for the past two weeks? What could I have done better? Is that precious time wasted, or should I look at it as a learning experience for myself? On one hand, this dilemma is a demonstration of the benefits of backwards planning - the work we did before is informing the next steps in instruction. However, this also means what I taught will be needed and measured which could easily point out my complete failure to teach what I thought I taught.

Yummy Stuff:
One of my favorite dinners is Warm Chickpea Salad from the "Voluptuous Vegan" I've made it so much that I don't need to recipe any more, but this is pretty close to the actual one in the book!

3 cups of cooked chickpeas (equivalent of two cans)
1 onion, diced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 stalk of celery, chopped
1 can of artichoke hearts (whole or quartered - if they are whole, cut them in halves or quarters depending on your preference).
1/4 cup sun dried tomatoes (you can use dried, but rehydrate them in boiling water for about 10 minutes first)
1/4 olive oil plus a bit more for sauteing
3 TB lemon juice
1 TB fresh rosemary, chopped

1) Pour the chickpeas into a bowl
2) Saute the onions, garlic and celery in olive oil over medium heat for about 10 minutes, or until onion is translucent. Then, pour this mixture over the chickpeas
3) Put a bit more oil in the pan, and then put in the artichoke hearts so that they are spread out in one layer. Cook them on medium heat for about 5 minutes, and then flip them over to cook on the other side for five minutes more. Then put them in with the chickpea mix.
4) Chop up the rehydrated sun dried tomatoes (if needed) and put them in the chickpea mix
5) Mix the 1/4 of olive oil, lemon juice and rosemary in a separate bowl to make a dressing. Then pour it over the chickpea mix and mix it up. Serve on its own or over some greens.

Friday, November 27, 2009


Thanksgiving Musings:
Things I am Thankful For:
1) My amazing partner who is truly my best friend and the reason I can get up in the morning and do any good in the world.
2) My family who I remain close to even across the country. They have never made me feel bad about our move, are endlessly supportive and we have somehow found ways to maintain a close relationship, for which I am very grateful.
3) My dear friends who are really my family. I love that I spent last weekend with one of my best friends sharing a house in Philly, and the night before Thanksgiving in my sweats at another friends house enjoying indian food and good company. I have so many people in my life with whom I am completely comfortable, and I never thought I would be so lucky.
4) The fact that no one had to be hurt or die for me and my husband to enjoy a beautiful Thanksgiving spread (more on that later!) Becoming vegan and getting together with the G-man were the two best decisions of my life (don't ask me to rank them!)
5) I am still doing a job I love that never leaves me bored. I love the planning, I love the students, I love my colleagues and I love the joy that comes with making a small different in so many lives. I found a career I can really see myself doing forever, and I'm lucky to have found it so early.
6) The little things - drinking green tea on a cool rainy morning, listening to "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me" with a cat on my lap, reading a really good book, etc.

Here is to you and yours this holiday season!

Yummy Stuff:
We had an AMAZING Thanksgiving dinner (yes, just me and the G-man - and Nuzzle!) We had:
1) Vegan Pot pie (from Vegetarian Times with some modifications)
2) Bourbon-Laced Sweet Potatoes
3) My mom's stuffing - delicious (and easily veganized - just use veggie broth rather than (ewww) turkey juice)
4) Garlic-mashed potatoes
5) Pumpkin cupcakes with cinnamon icing (a la Vegan Cupcakes take over the world!)

So, the pot pie was good, the stuffing was great (my favorite part) but the G-man's garlic mashed potatoes were AWESOME!! Since he makes them a little different every year, and this year was possibly the best, I thought it best to capture what he did - so we can remember next year :)

G-man's Garlic Mashed Potatoes:

About 4 large (or 7 small to medium) yellow potatoes
One head of garlic
About 1 1/2 TB of olive oil
1/4 original Almond Milk (feel free to use any non-dairy milk)
1 TB Earth Balance (vegan margarine)

1) Pour the olive oil over the garlic and wrap the garlic in foil. Roast it in a 400 degree oven (or toaster oven) for 1 hour)
2) Meanwhile, peel and thinly slice the potatoes. As you work on the potatoes and finish slicing them put them in a bowl of cold water - this keeps them fresher.
3) Put the potatoes in a pot and cover them with water. Bring the potatoes to a boil, and keep them boiling for 15-20 minutes - until they are very soft.
5) Get the roasted garlic out of the oven, peel it and mince it. This is messy since the garlic is soft and squishy when it is roasted - you could also use a food processor for this step if you have a small one (or small bowl in a larger food processor)
4) Drain the potatoes and put them in a bowl. Add the minced roasted garlic, the almond milk, salt, pepper and Earth Balance. Use a potato masher (or a pastry cutter in our case - we don't have a potato masher) to mash the potatoes.
5) Serve! Or, if its going to be a little while, put the potatoes in a oven-proof container and stick it the oven (at whatever temperature it is at for your other dishes) to keep warm. Definitely a hit!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Reflection and Confidence

Teacher Musings
Tonight was my grad school night, where I run out of school at 3:15 and take various forms of public transportation to UMass Boston. This semester I am taking a philosophy class, which has been really interesting and has been an enjoyable experiance since much of the "philosophical" way of thinking that our instructor wants us to engage in is very different from the real-world, pragmatic thinking I find myself usually engaging in. I don't know if it is this type of thinking environment, or just the fact that this is often my only time away from a computer and other distractions, but I often find myself reflecting on both my teaching practice and on my values in teaching during this class (especially when the professor, with his soothing, very, very quiet voice, talks for more than 20 minutes). I find myself really questioning if my actual instruction (such as my focus on theme in The Color Purple during the last two weeks) is matching my philosophy about education (that it should be both skills-based as well as driven by the learner/student). During these times when I have little else to do but doodle and let my mind wander (I'm not kidding about my professor's soothing voice) I find myself questioning both my actions and my beliefs in a way I have never done before. When I think about why I am engaging in this self-questioning now, I think there are several reasons. The first is having time in which to do it - it is rare that my attention is not diverted away from truly deep thought. However, I think the second is important - I am now more confident in myself as a teacher, which allows me to question myself. This might seem paradoxical, but to question my motivations and beliefs in this way my first or second year would have been the equivalent to asking myself if I was really cut out for this work, which was a much scarier thing to face. At this point (after a scant 6 years, I know) I not only know I want to be a teacher, but really feel like I AM a teacher. It is so intricately tied into my sense-of-self at this point that I can't conceive of losing it - which is part of what allows me to feel that my questioning is building me up as a teacher, not potentially driving me away from teaching. So, I am dedicating myself to finding more time for this type of deep thinking and reflection when this class is done - it might just be that I allow myself to go sit at a coffee shop with a notebook and think for thirty minutes - and I think it will be time well spent.

Yummy Stuff:
It is interesting thinking about my identity as a teacher, since I feel like my identity as a vegan has evolved in a similar way. I am now in my second year at a job where I have always been "vegan" and people just understand that is who I am. I also don't even think about being vegan much anymore unless I am eating out - its just how things are, and I really don't miss dairy, eggs and meat, even when I find myself using "substitutes" which I now like better than the animal-riddled versions. So, in that spirit, I thought I would share a couple of my favorite snacks that might seem like vegan adaptations but are really just some of my favorite goodies!!

Lately I have been really wanting nachos. I recently made a huge batch of salsa rice when my in-laws were over, so with that on hand I heated up 1/2 a can of vegetarian refried black beans and the rice. I put down a layer of chips on a plate and then spread the beans and rice combination over them. I topped it with salsa and sliced black olives. Really simple and really yummy, especially when watching football!

Fried Won tons
I used to love what my sister and I called "crab meat cheese fried won tons" at our local chinese food restaurant. I had never heard them called crab ragoons until I came out to the east coast. Needless to say, I don't put crab in mine. Instead, I mix vegan cream cheese with some chopped scallions and put about 1 tsp. in a won ton wrapper. Then I use my finger, dipped in water, to moisten all the edges of the wrapper, and fold it in half so that it ends up in a triangle. Finally, after heating some canola oil on medium for about four minutes I fry up the won tons - about 2 minutes on each side. When they are done I get all the yummy gooeyness of the cream cheese and crispy-ness of the won ton without any little crabs getting sacrificed - a good deal all around!

Saturday, September 12, 2009


Teacher Musings:
I really can't believe I let the whole summer go by without writing a post. Well, maybe I can believe it as I look back at what went on this summer. My husband and I bought and moved into a new house. I took two summer school grad courses. Also, we visited a lot of family, and had some family and friends come to stay with us, which was wonderful!! All in all, it was busy yet enjoyable. However, it means that now school is suddenly back in full swing. As the year starts I find myself (and everyone else at my school) facing a lot of uncertainty. A certain amount of uncertainty is just factor at the start of any school year: What are my students going to be like? How big will my classes be? What unexpected factors will affect the schedule? What will my curriculum team decide we need to focus on instructionally - two weeks before school starts? At earlier points in my life this uncertainty has made me crazy and stressed. However, after six years of it (interspersed with moving to a new state with no job, being laid off and not getting into my classroom until one day before students show up) have helped me learn that a certain level of uncertainty is a given in September, so I better learn how to deal with it. In order to get through the uncertainty, you have to make certain adjustments. I've learned that I can plan some of my year in June (as I prefer to) but that some planning I just have to wait and do in September. I've learned to plan roughly for the first two weeks but to put off making some copies until the day before - because I don't know whether or not I'll really have a full-length class that day, or suddenly be asked to give a new diagnostic. However, making these adjustments has been the easy part - letting go of my resentment that I have to make them has been difficult. In some ways its easier to hang on to my frustrations - there are plenty of people who would not only listen to me complain, but would join me in a cacophony of bitching. While this might feel good in the moment, what I have found is that this type of complaining has done little to nothing to improve either my teaching or the uncertainty that comes with the job. So, when I think about making adjustments this year (of which there will be plenty), especially the ones I don't want to make, I have made it my goal to not only adjust as needed, but to not resent the changes I need to make. With a new role at school and new home responsibilities on the way I have no time to spend on the negative. So, I look forward to both a flexible and positive year!

Yummy Stuff:
One of the comfort meals I love is breakfast for dinner. Lately I've been into apple oatmeal pancakes - they are both hearty and extremely yummy! I've searched around for a few vegan versions, but the one that has come out best is a synthesis of non-vegan oatmeal pancakes and regular vegan pancakes. So, here is my own little recipe for oatmeal pancakes - apples (or raisins or walnuts) optional, but oh so good!!

Oatmeal Pancakes (with Apples)
¾ cup oatmeal
¾ cup flour
1 cup almond milk
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
2 TB canola oil
2 TB maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 of a medium apple, chopped (sweet versions, like Fuji, are best)

Soak oatmeal and ½ cup milk for 5 min

Mix in rest of milk, cinnamon, oil, maple syrup and vanilla

Stir in flour, cinnamon and baking powder

Stir in optional apple pieces

Pour 1/4 cup of batter on a hot griddle. When you see bubbles on the sides (about 2-3 minutes) flip the pancake. Push down with your spatula to spread the second side a little. Then, cook for another 2-3 minutes. Serve with warm maple syrup!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Upon Reflection

Teacher Musings
As the school year winds to close it is always useful to reflect back on what one experienced, accomplished, and did not accomplish in order to improve. I always try to take time to do this at the end of the year, as well as create my long term plan for the next year. This year I am lucky in two ways. The first is that I have an amazing co-worker to do this with. Whenever the two of us work together what we come up with is infinitely better that what I would develop on my own, and collaborating with this woman has helped me develop my teaching much, much more than I have in the past. The second way I am lucky is that I am moving - which means I had to pack my albums and scrapbooks today, which inevitably means reading through them. As I ready through my "teacher" scrapbook (a constantly evolving book of notes from students, colleagues, etc. - purely fun in nature) I was struck by how many positive comments I read about my teaching. Now, obviously I get very few complaints about my teaching in writing, and if I did I would not keep them in a scrap book. But after reading numerous notes that said "Thank you for listening to me" and "You were the calmest, nicest teacher ever" (a comment that never ceases to surprise me since no one else I know would describe me as "calm") I have to stop and think - "hey, maybe I'm not such a bad teacher. Maybe I am teaching them something, and helping them in some ways too." This, coupled with the kindness and "positivity" of my colleague has made this years reflection less about wallowing in what I did wrong, and has given me permission to take a look at what I did right - which is not only pragmatic, but quite uplifting as well.

Yummy Stuff:
This summer is going to be the summer of vegan cooking. Now I know every day is a day of vegan cooking in our house - we're vegan and we cook. But we have just started getting our CSA boxes, and I am looking forward to having time to develop my own dishes and recipes based on which yummy produce we have available! In the past couple weeks I have been trying to make recipes that I haven't tried before, and I have been inspired to try making my own as well. So, here is my first real recipe that can honestly say I created, not adapted. I was inspired by a description of asparagus soup from Vegan Table, but since I don't have a copy of it yet, I had to go with what I thought it could be. This Creamy Roasted Asparagus and Potato Soup was delicious when I was sick last week, and I plan to make it again this week to use some of the gorgeous local asparagus we still have!

Creamy Roasted Asparagus and Potato Soup
1 bunch asparagus
4 yukon potatoes, cut into quarters, skin on
4 cups vegetable broth
1 medium onion, chopped
5 scallions chopped
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1 tsp each of dried savory, dried tarragon

1) Wash the asparagus and put it on a foil lined baking sheet. Spray with some olive oil (or drizzle with 1TB olive oil) and put into a 475 oven for 25 minutes.

2) While the asparagus is roasting, bring the vegetable broth to a low boil. Put in the potatoes and simmer for 20 minutes. They should be tender about the same time as when the asparagus is done.

3) While the asparagus and potatoes are cooking, saute the onions and scallions is 2 tsp of olive oil for about 5 minutes. Then add the garlic and saute for 30 seconds. Finally, add the herbs and stir for about 1 minute. Turn of the heat and cover.

4) when everything is done cooking, put it all in a blender. This is why I love our Vita-mix - it can take it! If you don't have the fancy vita-mix, or another blender/food processor, feel free chop the asparagus, and then add everything to the potato pot and use an immersion blender. Blend it all and re-heat if necessary in the same pot you used for the potatoes. Then you are done!

Friday, June 5, 2009

The Importance of Focus

Teacher Musings:
So, I'm kind of embarrassed to admit it, but I just now finished reading Blink by Malcolm Gladwell. I had read bits and pieces of it since September, but I finally took it home and read it through. Like Tipping Point it was both fun and interesting to read. However, as I got to the end, I got to thinking about all of the snap judgements I make during the day as a teacher. On Wednesday I was giving an in-class essay that, for a lot reasons, my students were not fully prepared for. So, during the test students in one of my classes were asking questions left and right, and I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off trying to help. Often in this same class, when students are working on something they will hold up a paper in my face and say "is this good?" Unfortunately, this results in a miscommunication that has not been fully corrected no matter how much I qualify my answer to them. I will give it back to them and tell them what they need to improve on the area we are working on - for example, how they introduce evidence. My comments on the strength or weakness of this aspect may have nothing to do with the strength or weakness of their analysis, grammar or other areas of writing. But often my students see my answer as either good or bad. They also seem to think that they will get either an A or F on the assignment - and if they just "do as I say" they deserve an A.
This is a new problem for me, and I have gotten better at dealing with it, mostly by creating tools that force students to measure and evaluate their own work. But reading Blink made me think about how I evaluate student work, especially on the spot like that. My evaluation of students' work, in the moment, often has less to do with their actual work than it should. My judgement is often colored by the student's tone, behavior, the behavior of the people around them, the time of day, etc. In addition, I am being influenced by my feelings towards that student (have they annoyed me recently?) and my perception of how much effort that student put into their work. All of this makes it difficult to really focus on the words on the page, especially in short time. Although, in reality, these factors also influence my real grading, albeit to a lesser extent.
So, how do I solve this problem? I'm not going to get rid of all those factors. I don't teach in a blind environment and rely so much on my interpersonal knowledge in my everyday life that it is virtually impossible for me to separate myself from it. But what inspired me about the end of Blink was the idea that, even though we have factors that effect our judgment (sometimes for the better, sometimes for worse) we can find ways to use both the rational thinking and the unconscious to make a decision. One goal I have for myself next year is to go back to doing something I was good at before - deciding what, exactly, I wanted my students reading and writing to look and sound like at the end of a unit, and then focus all of my energy on doing that. I need to narrow the field of what I am looking for in their work, and then focus all of my energy (and theirs) on improving their work to meet that ideal.
While I know that I am picking up on just one idea from Blink and making it into something that Gladwell may or may not have meant, I did find the idea that we need to narrow the information we use, rather than broaden it (sometimes) to be helpful and empowering, especially in the land of reams of data and excel spreadsheets. As I plan for next school year I look forward to focusing my attention and limiting the information I look for in student writing while miscellaneously developing a clearer model of writing so that I am less distracted by other factors that influence both my judgement and feedback.

Yummy Stuff
So, I've been trying to stick to the Eat to Live diet - and its been difficult in some ways and great in others. I've enjoyed salads at lunch, but I have to have a snack at 4 (since I have to eat lunch at 11am). But, I've been cutting out more and more oil, and have worked hard to eliminate sugar - the worst villains in my quest to lose weight. However, I also know myself, and if I plan a special treat once a week, it gives me something to look forward to and keep myself eating right the rest of the time. My treat last week was eggplant peanut stew, adapted from Veganomicon's Spicy Peanut and Eggplant Soup. While this dish is not low-fat by any means, it is certainly not the worst thing you could eat, and, considering that my usual cheat would be a bagel with tofutti, followed by a vegan chocolate chip muffin from Diesel, this is downright healthy! Beware - you should plan on serving this on top of a grain to soak up the yummy coconut milk and peanut butter - its GREAT on top of quinoa!

1 pound eggplant (It doesn't matter to me, but the G-man swears by Japanese eggplant and complains when I use regular eggplant. So, if you are an eggplant snob like him, go for Japanese).
5 large shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1-2 jalapenos, seeded and minced (change the number depending on your hotness preference)
1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. ground cayenne
2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1/3 cup tomato paste
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes with juice
1 1/2 cups veggie broth (plus a 1/4 more for sauteing without oil - if you want)
2 cups (1 can) of coconut milk
1/4 cup peanut butter (I use chunky, but you could go chunky or smooth. But use natural peanut butter - no Jiffy crap allowed!!)
1/2 lb green beans, ends trimmed and cut into 1 inch pieces
2 TB lemon juice

1) In a large stock pot over medium high heat, saute the shallots in about 2 TB of olive oil (or veggie broth) for about 20 minutes until very soft, browned and slightly caramelized. Scoop the shallots off the pot into a large bowl.
2) At 1 TB of olive oil (or veggie broth) to the pot and add the peeled and cubed eggplant, stirring to coat with oil/broth. Stir and cook eggplant for 12-15 minutes, until slightly tender. Then, transfer to the same bowl as the shallots.
3) Add 1 TB olive oil (or veggie broth) to the pot and allow it to heat, then add the ginger and jalapeno(s) and fry for 30 seconds
4) Add the cumin, coriander, turmeric, and fry for another 30 seconds, then add onion. Stir and fry until onion is slightly soft and translucent (about 5 minutes).
5) Add the tomato paste and stir fry for 1 minute.
6) Add the diced tomatoes, veggie broth, eggplant, shallots and string beans to the pot. Stir well and then add in coconut milk. Bring to a boil and then lower the head to a simmer.
7) Once the mixture is boiling, take out about 1/3 cup of liquid from the pot and pour it over the peanut butter in a separate bowl. Stir until the peanut butter is completely emulsified and mixed in. Pour this mixture back into the pot and cover and simmer for 45 minutes, stirring once or twice.
8) Remove from heat and add the lemon juice. Serve over quinoa (or other grain of your choice)

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Food Pictures!!

I hesitate to give these pictures the dignity of being called food porn - I'm still working on my food photography skills. But, here is a first round of my food pictures - dedicated to anyone who has ever said "you're vegan? What do you eat?"

Caramelized Onion Tart with Vegan Gourmet Mozzarella (yes, it melts!). On the side is Swiss Chard sauteed with garlic.

Mango and Avocado Salad on Spinach with
Portabello and Bell Pepper Fajitas (with
Avocado, of course!)

Spinach sauteed with tomato (and a side of bread)

Nuzzle - our cat (we have more pictures of our cat than of us - I couldn't help throwing one in)

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Sphere of Sustainability

Teacher musings:
Like some other teachers I have met, I have a tendency to ride an emotional roller coaster through the school year. I have been struggling this year to get used to a new school, and I am still adapting to a new city after living in California for 25 years. So, with that in mind, I have experienced moments of extreme frustration and feelings of intense discouragement at various points throughout this school year. It should be noted that I have also had feelings of elation and excitement - I have always said that teaching means having both the highest highs and the lowest lows - they are a packaged deal. But the subject of today's post is those lows, especially the ones that leave me feeling totally overwhelmed by work and witht the feeling that I am not "good enough" when compared to other people in my school.

When I was venting to one of my colleagues (who was kind enough to put up with me on a Friday afternoon) he was helping me sort out why I was feeling so overwhelmed and frustrated. In our discussion he described something he called a "sphere of sustainability" - essentially the roles, responsibilities, etc. that one could take on and still be able to be "sustained." I appreciated this comment especially at a time when I felt that I should be taking on roles that I wasn't sure I should take on. But on my walk home later, I got to wondering about not only what that sphere of sustainability looked like, but how a teacher like me could become aware of what her/his sphere's limits were.

This brings me to a topic that is much discussed among people I interact with since many of my friends are teachers who are at the point of deciding if teaching is a career or stepping stone in their lives. The question is this: How can teaching be sustainable for the long term? While I have many, many ideas for what could be changed systematically to making teaching more sustainable (for interesting ideas on this, see the issue of Educational Leadership from February) I have recently had to take on the task of figuring out what I can do and still have a life outside of school. This is not the first time I have done this. During my first year teaching I remember leaving papers ungraded and planning not fully done just so that I could get at least five hours of sleep. At that point in my life, that was my idea of sustainability - without sleep I would most certainly not get through the week, but with some sleep I might make it to Friday. As I have gotten older, and been teaching longer, my idea of what is reasonable and sustainable has changed. I am currently pursuing a master's degree, and I am finding ways to deal with the extra work-load by finding creative ways to grade, combining my work-out with my commute (a la bike) and otherwise open up time for classes. While my definition of a reasonable amount of work to do and my husband's differ, I am at least able to make time to be home 3 nights out of the week so that we can have dinner together. This has become a non-negotiable.

Part of the definition of sustainability is that something is lasting over a period of time. I am at the point in my life where I want to stay in teaching for the long haul. But staying in teaching for the long haul means not ever being the perfect teacher or teacher leader, because the amount of work that would require would drive me out of the profession. This, to me, is the paradox of teaching - spending the time required to reach the ideal of a Jamie Escalante or Erin Gruwell model almost certainly means early burn out by people who might be pretty decent teachers if they stuck around. However, in order to be fulfilled in this profession, I also have to be at some level of peace with the fact that I have to let go of somethings that might make me a better teacher, but that drain me of time and emotional energy. Ultimately I'm not looking for a solution. Making teaching sustainable is a delicate dance in which the teacher is constantly negotiating between relationships with others both personally and professionally and with a sense of self that is constantly changing and adapting - or at least this is how it is for me.

Yummy Stuff:
Go G-man! He has been rockin' the side dishes from Tropical Vegan this week, making Avacado and Mango Salad with Spinich and Red Onion to go with fajitas, and then making Hawaiian Sesame-Cabbage Salad to go with our black bean and tomato soup tonight. We also had a night of Black Bean Burgers where I finally got a chance to try out my mom's "veggie" burger recipie - and it was great!! So, here is the low-down:

Black Bean Veggie Burgers
1 1/2 cups cooked black beans
1/2 green bell pepper, cut innto 2 in. pieces
1/2 onion cut into wedges
3 cloves of garlic peeled
1/2 cup silken tofu (my mom uses eggs - my parents veganism is a work in progress)
1 TB of chili powder (I would use more next time to give it a kick!)
1 TB of ground cumin (more cumin too!!)
1 tsp Thai chili sauce or hot sauce
1/2 cup bread crumbs
about 2 cups cooked brown rice

In a medium bowl, mash black beans with a fork or potato mashwer until thick and pasty.

In a food processor, finley chop (don't liquefy) bell pepper, onion and garlic. Strain to get rid of excess liquid and then stir the veggies into the mashed beans.

In the food processor blend the silken tofu wit the chili powder, cumin and chili sauce. Stir that mixture into the mixed beans and veggies. Mix in bread crumbs.

(here is where you know its a family recipie) Throw in about 3 handfuls of brown rice and mix really, really, really well until the mixture is sticky and holds together.

Divide mixture into patties (about 6). When the patties are really solid (freezing them helps) bake them on a baking sheet in a 375 oven for about 15 minutes on each side.

Avocado and Mango Salad with Spinch (subbed for Arugula) and Red Onion:
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp garlic salt
1 large mango peeled, pitted and chopped
1 ripe avacado, chopped
1/2 cup thinkly sliced red onion, soaked in cold water to cover for 10 minutes, well drained.
2 TB fresh lime juice
4 cups of baby spinich

In a small bowl, combine the cumin, chili powder, and garlic salt. Mix with a fork until blended and set aside. In a medium bowl, toss together the mango, avocado, onion, oil and lime juice until combined and set aside.

Divide the spinich (or arugula) among four salad bowls (or 2 in our case). Top with equal amounts of the avocado mixture. Drop pinches of the spice mixture on top to taste.

Hawaiian Sesame-Cabbage Salad
1/2 head of cabbage shredded
6 scallions, white and green parts thinly sliced
1 cup frozen green peas (we left this out because Gary is a pea hater. You could use edamame with yummy results)
1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
1/4 canola oil
3 TB cider vinegar
2 TB sugar (we use agave)
1 TB sesame seeds, toasted if desired
1/2 TB of sesame oil
1 cup egge-free fried chow mein noodles

Mix all ingredients (except chow mein noodles) until well combined. Cover and refridgerate a minimum of 3 hours or up to 1 day. Just before serving, toss with the chow mein noodles.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Elephant in the Room

Teacher Musings
Last year I had an experience that was a wake-up call for me. I had been laid off from one position and was attempting to get a different position in the same school I was currently working in. It is important to note that I was not laid off by the principal of the school, but by the higher-ups in the district due to budget concerns. However, when speaking to one of the administrators in a school about the possibility of becoming a teacher at that school, the "d" word came up. One of the administrators concerns (which I agree with) was that the majority of the teachers in the school were white (like me) and most of the students were not. The way I remember it was told that, while they would like to hire me, the reality was that "diversity was an issue." I reacted as I often do in uncomfortable situations - I tried to make light of it and said something along the lines of "yeah, the last thing you need is another white woman teaching English." The strange thing is, I wasn't being bitter - I actually believe this. I have always struggled with the tension between my belief that there is a huge gap between the number of students of color and the numbers of teachers of color. But I also don't agree with some people who think that only people of color can teach students color. I think that in the ideal world there would be racial diversity of teachers in all schools, no matter what the racial make-up of the student body is (although in my ideal world students would not be segregated by race as they are now). However, I also tire of the "we should all be color-blind" argument, because thats not helpful to us or our students - we not only need to be aware of the role race plays in all our lives (especially with the "invisible" privilege of whiteness) but I believe it is important to incorporate that nuanced awareness in our work with students.
For all these reasons, I agree, wholeheartedly, with a school that attempts to recruit and retain teachers of color, and doesn't hide that fact. I really respect the administrator was frank with me about why I might not be the first considered for the position. It turns out they not only hired a teacher that was a person of color, but that that teacher was more highly qualified for the position than I was - there is no question that this teacher was the better person for the job regardless of race. Yet knowing all of this, it still stung when I found out that at least one of the reasons why I might not get the job (or not be one of the finalists considered for it) was because I was white. And it bothered me to be bothered by it because I wanted to just agree with the decision and move on. As I sorted through my feelings over the next few days I realized that part of me feared that the fact that this exchange bothered me meant that I was, at heart, not as anti-racist (or worse, was more racist) than I thought I was. This reflection also led me to really stop and wonder how many jobs, interviews, and other opportunities I had gotten at least in part because I was white, even if I didn't realize it at the time. By the time I came to terms with the whole thing, I realized wasn't be treated unfairly, even though the gut emotional reaction that bothered me so much was "this isn't fair!" Instead, I was being told, honestly, about my prospects (which I fully respected and appreciated) and I was simply made even more aware of a problem in schools that I knew existed but, up until then, had not seemed to be directly effected by.
I'm writing about this touchy subject (even when I worry about doing so) for one simple reason - I have been thinking about the fact that, being another white woman teacher in some ways makes me part of the problem. But I have no intention of changing my career or teaching in a predominantly white school because of this. I still think I have something to offer, even though it may not be as valuable as what someone else has to offer simply because there are a fair number of people in my field who bring a cultural understanding similar to mine to the table. What I have learned over time is how important it is for me to stop and think about my reactions and assumptions and to consider the fact that, as a teacher, I am often surrounded by people who have a similar cultural background and social experience as me and that makes us susceptible to "group think," especially where there is a significant lack of voices from outside that (unfortunately) dominant cultural experience.
I'm sure that some people who read this post will feel I have said something wrong, or have some problematic ideas, or am just clueless about some important issue. And they would be right, because I'm still trying to figure this issue of race in education out - especially my place in both the discourse and the action. Like most of my thinking, this is just a snapshot of a moment in thinking where developing my ideas is always a work in progress.

Yummy Stuff:
Its been a busy few weeks of house-buying, term papers and, oh yeah, working. However, last weekend the hubby and I celebrated the signing of our big housing contract with a celebration dinner of vegan lasagna (its the closest I've ever gotten to my mom's!!), foccacia (a la bread machine) and a spinach and mixed-greens salad. One of these days (possibly in summer) I want to take some pictures of some of my favorite dinners, but for now you'll have to do with using your visualizing skills!

Vegan Lasagna (from Vegetarian Times):

2 tsp. olive oil

2 medium onions, chopped (2 cups)

3 cloves garlic, minced (1 Tbs.)

1 10-oz. bag fresh baby spinach

2 12-oz. pkgs. firm tofu, drained

1 8-oz. pkg. vegan cream cheese (I use tofutti)

½ cup chopped fresh basil

¼ cup nutritional yeast
(The G-man and I aren't big nooch fans, so I just put in 2 TB)

5 ½ cups Speedy Red Sauce (or you can used canned sauce - I make my mom's marinera, which I'm sure I will post the recipie for at some point!)
12 uncooked whole-wheat lasagna noodles (the reciepie says you don't need to pre-cook them - I swear you don't!!
12 oz. vegan Italian sausage links, cut into thin rounds, or soy sausage crumbles, broken apart (I grew up with vegetarian lasagna, and so we just leave out the fake meat - but if you like it, go for it!)

1 cup shredded mozzarella flavor rice or soy cheese (3 oz.) (I love "Follow your Heart")


To make Filling: Preheat oven to 375°F. Heat oil in skillet over medium-high heat. Sauté onions and garlic in oil 4 to 5 minutes, or until golden. Add spinach, and cook 2 to 3 minutes, or until wilted. Transfer spinach mixture to bowl of food processor. Add tofu, cream cheese, basil, and nutritional yeast, and purée until mixture is thick and smooth. Season with salt and pepper, if desired.

2. Spread one-quarter of Speedy Red Sauce recipe on bottom of 13- x 9-inch baking dish. Cover with one-third of noodles (4 or 5 noodles), then half of Filling, and ladle on another one-quarter of sauce. Repeat layer of noodles and remaining Filling. Spread sausage evenly over top, and top with one-quarter of sauce. Finish with final layer of noodles and remaining sauce. Sprinkle with shredded cheese.

3. Cover lasagna with foil, and bake 30 minutes, or until bubbling hot. Uncover, and bake 15 to 20 minutes more, or until noodles are tender and topping is melted. Remove from oven, and let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Its a Control Thing

Teacher Musings
My family has so many control issues that we have a special name for it: LCF (Levey Control Factor). LCF is simply the reason why my sister, my dad or I get stressed out and frustrated when we can't control something that we crazily think we should be able to control. LCF is the reason my sister gets spitting mad whenever she is injured and can't work at full capacity (which is an issue when much of your work is physical). LCF is why my dad can throw down an f-bomb when people around him act like morons. And LCF is why I got so frustrated that my face turned red when my students wouldn't listen to me last Thursday. This was all aggravated by the fact that I had another teacher, whom I greatly respect, watching my class.
The idea of "control" in the classroom is one every teacher faces. On one hand, not having control in a classroom can have drastic consequences for you and the students - just ask anyone who has ever had a fight break out in their room. Like most things in teaching, this idea of control is not simply something you have or you don't - you might control some things and not others. Which begs the question - what are teachers expected to be able to control and what should they be able to control? On Thursday, I was attempting to get my students to have a whole class discussion about the main idea of an excerpt from "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass." I had some students listening and contributing, others who were frustrated with the process in a way that I can live with (they were frustrated that there was no "easy" answer, something I want them to grapple with), a few more who were tuned out and moving along with other work and at least one who was flat out asleep and snapped at me when I shook her arm to wake her up. In some ways I had control of the class- no one was wandering around out of their seat, or starting a fight, or trying to have a loud conversation with someone else across the room (all of which have happened to me before and I'm sure will happen again). In other ways, however, I felt the control slipping away bit by bit as the process continued. Every moment that passed I lost more students' attention, and I had that brief moment of panic wondering if I was going to get it back. We eventually moved on to another activity where they were all more engaged and I was able to circulate and help more one on one. In the midst of that circulation I had a student, in her very nicest voice, tell me that my butt was big. I have since decided to take that as a compliment and move on with my life.
At the end of that period LCF reared its ugly head. I was "amped" (as my students would say), frustrated and mostly angry at myself. Why couldn't I capture all of their attention while I was up at the board? Isn't that something I'm supposed to have control over? On reflection this begs the question - how much of another human being's behavior can we be held responsible for? Its a dangerous question in teaching, because it is always tempting to say that its the students' fault that you taught something and they didn't learn it. I not only believe the opposite, I think it is imperative that all teachers believe the opposite - we are there to get students to learn, by any means necessary. But how much should I be blamed, or blame myself, for the student who was sleeping in my class? How much should I blame myself for the side conversations? Sure, I can reflect and problem solve and try to find ways to create more systems in my class that minimize that behavior (as I have) but how much of it is actually in my control? Isn't it a bit egotistical to think that I can be responsible for and control the behavior of 25 teenagers for one hour when their lives are out of my control for the other twenty-three hours of the day? This moment was a good reminder that "controlling" my class should not always be my goal, but perhaps "managing" it and creating systems for it should be.
On this note, I read a wonderful article by David Cohen called "When Testing Fails" around this issue of control in the context of testing. Check it out at
Basically, he points to the fallacy that a test (the way they are done now) can be a measure of a single teacher's performance. What I like his article is how he shows that we can't blame or congratulate one teacher for a students' success, but that teachers do make a difference - we are just a piece of a giant puzzle as opposed to the sole motivator for any single student.

Yummy Stuff
Its been a while since my last post, and we've been making a lot of great stuff! I have been reading "Eat to Live" by Joel Fuhrman and I'm finding it fascinating. As a result of this, I have been cutting out sugar and oil and trying to add way more beans and greens to my diet. The result has been some really yummy stuff! I made a white (navy) bean casserole from "Easy Beans" a few weeks ago, but of course it got changed and veganized. So, here is my version of it:
Gratin of White Beans with Herbs
3 1/2 cups of navy or Great Northern beans (white beans)
1 TB olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 fresh tomato chopped
1/4 cup veggie stock
1/4 cup unsweetened soy milk (with 1 TB of cornstarch added)
3/4 cup panko bread crumbs
2 green onions finely chopped
3 TB olive oil
1 TB fresh rosemary
1 tsp dried thyme
1/4 cup parsley chopped
1) Sautee the onion and garlic in olive oil over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add tomato and cook 10 minutes more, stirring frequently
2) Add stock, soymilk and cornstarch (already dissolved in the soymilk) and stir for 2 minutes
3) Pour the veggie mixture over the beans in a casserole dish and stir gently to mix
4) Mix topping ingredients together and sprinkle on bean mixture. Bake at 375, uncovered for 30 minutes

We also had a delicious black bean and greens soup from "More Easy Beans" that I also messed with a bit. Here is my version of that:
Black-Eyed Bean Soup
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cans of black-eyed peas
28 oz can of diced tomatoes
4 cups veggie stock
2 TB of "Chili 3000" powder from Penzay (or 1 TB + 1 tsp chili powder and 1 tsp oregano, 1tsp cumin seasoning)
1 1/2 tsp each oregano and basil
3 bay leaves
1 bunch kale, roughly chopped
1) Sautee onions, garlic, celery and pepper for 5-7 minutes
2) Mix in all the other ingredients, mixing in spices well
3) Bring to a low boil, then turn down and simmer for 35 minutes, or until kale is tender
Easy and delicious!!

Finally (because we've been making some great stuff!!) here is the Eggplant Cacciatore recipe from Vegan Italiano - I've made it twice, and its amazing!!! Of course this is tweaked a bit, as usual. Gary's not a fan of eggplant and so he didn't really like it as much - just a warning to the eggplant haters out there!
Eggplant Cacciatore
1 large eggplant peeled and cubed (you can salt it if you want - I usually don't bother)
1 large onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
3 large cloves of garlic, minced
About 4 1/2 cups spaghetti sauce (I use my own that I make in large batches and freeze. You could easily use store bought!)
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp dried basil
12 oz pasta (the book says linguine, I used whole wheat rotini last time and really liked it! We are also going to put leftovers over polenta tonight!)
1) Heat about 2 TB of water over medium heat (you can use oil you want - I've been trying to cut down on it). Sautee the onion and bell peppers for about 3-5 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute
2) Add the sauce, herbs, and salt and pepper to taste.
3) Bring to a brisk simmer. Reduce heat and simmer gently, partially covered for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally
4) While the sauce is simmering, heat 1 TB of olive oil (or water - see earlier note) over medium high heat in a large sauce pan. Cook the eggplant for about 5 minutes, until it begins to brown. Add it to to the sauce mixture and then simmer gently for another 10 minutes or until the eggplant is tender. Server hot over pasta of your choice!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

"You doin' too much!"

Teacher Musings:
"You doin' too much" was something my students in Oakland used to say constantly. Out here in Boston its "You forcin' it." These statements are usually uttered when I am assigning homework, or expecting them to do some amount of reading and/or writing during class. What they essentially mean is that I am expecting them to do a lot of work. Needless to say, I take it as a compliment when they tell me this - it means I'm pushing them to do and think more (or at least I hope so). But lately I've been feeling like telling my own colleagues and supervisors that they are forcin' it. I have been feeling entirely overwhelmed with the pressures of the MCAS, English exhibitions (a type of presentation done by students in all of their content areas), professional development opportunities and mandates and expectations that I manage all of this and continue to teach and have my students learn the same way at the same rate as when I didn't have all of these responsibilities. Its overwhelming to say the least.
Recently I have also been reading numerous studies that compare how teachers in America teach significantly more hours and have significantly less planning and collaboration time in comparison to their European and Asian colleagues. I also attended a roll-out of my district's latest collaborative professional development endevour. This latest roll-out is actually a way of leading inquiry groups that I personally prefer to how they are done at my school now, and that also have show stronger results. Yet when I was talking to my assistant headmaster about how these would look in our school, we got to the point where we were talking about what else had to go. Because, frankly, in my opinion, at my school we are doin' too much. We have at least three different types of meetings that we use our Friday whole-school PD time for. We also have a leadership team, a governing board and department time build into our day. Yet almost every single one of these meetings is doing something different. What is frustrating to me as I really think about it, is that every group is made up of dedicated people and every meeting has some value to it. Its not that we are doing useful things at my school, but we are trying to do far too many of them. More and more is being published about the benefits of "deep" rigor where learners focus long and hard on understanding and applying one important core idea. And I think that we, as teachers need to be allowed to do the same with our learning. You could pick almost any one of the many initiatives in our school, say we as a staff are just going to focus on that, and I could guarantee some successful and noticeable outcomes. But when we try and do it all we do none of it well. Just as I have to pick a few main objectives that I want my students to meet by the end of the year, shouldn't teacher development also have a few measurable outcomes for teacher learning every year? And just as I have to constantly re-focus both my students and myself back to our "Big Goal" I know I would learn more if I know what my own "Big Goal" was.

Yummy Stuff:
This last week, after getting back from vacation, our eating schedule got back to normal a bit. We had red curry one night, which is super easy and quick to make and is one of my favorite weeknight meals!
Red Thai Curry (makes enough for two, plus leftovers for lunch! Feel free to substitute your own favorite veggies!)
1/4 cup red curry paste (in the ethnic section of most grocery stores. Make sure its vegan by checking for shrimp paste!)
Two cans coconut milk
1 bell pepper, chopped
1 head of cauliflower, chopped
1 block of tofu (12-16 oz) frozen, thawed, (this helps soak up the flavor) and chopped in to small blocks
1. saute 2 T of curry paste over medium heat
2. Pour in coconut milk. Be sure to shake cans to mix it up first - it tends to separate
3. Stir in the rest of the curry paste well
4. Pour in the veggies and tofu. Stir to coat.
5. Turn down to simmer and cover with a pan. Simmer for 25-30 minutes or until the veggies are as tender as you like. Check and stir every 10 minutes or so.

I love to have this with brown rice, so I usually start the rice before I chop the veggies and tofu. Its quick, easy, and yummy for lunch the next day!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

It is wicked awesome when it works

Teacher Musings:
Its February break time and I'm south for the winter. Visiting my parents is always enjoyable because the live somewhere so different from Boston (and its so much warmer!!). It is also nice to be somewhere else with a different routine because it allows me to step back and reflect on my life and work. This is an especially opportune time for me because its the point of the year where all the work I've done so far starts to work - or not. I had a rough couple of weeks these past weeks with issues at work not related to my classroom. The stress of MCAS and massive changes at my school started to really take its toll. But what saved me is what always saved me - my students. In this case I experienced something that I have never really experienced before, even though I have been teaching for five years. I have been trying all sorts of different things with my students this year in terms of analytical writing. I have backed off of writing-graphic-organizers except for students who really need them, and I have spent way, way more time getting students to ask and answer their own analytical questions. I spent a week pushing them to read, re-read and really question the various meanings of various poems, even when they told me "I loved poetry before, but now you've killed it!" (true quote). I was a rewarded slightly when several students, in their weekly reflection, shared the fact that they felt they were learning how to really read poetry "deeply" for themselves. Yet the real reward was when they turned in their first 1-2 page poem analysis in first draft form. I had tried so many different things with this assignment. I had new ways to teach how to read a poem. I had a new way of running writer's workshop. I had a new way of conferencing with students. And the result of these in some form was some of the strongest independent analytical writing I have every done. Students who worked on their papers when they were supposed to and did all the assignments leading up to it (which of course wasn't everyone) really analyzed the poem they read with their own thoughts. Even students who struggled to wrote two of the body paragraphs and got a lot of help from me were able to synthesize their ideas about the authors' message and the time period the author lived in in interesting and insightful ways. What I loved about this, and what I saw for the first time in my teaching is that my incredibly smart and interesting students were able to translate their smart and interesting thoughts into their writing!! They weren't just filling in the blanks in a graphic organizer, they were really thinking!! Sure, not all their sentences were perfect grammatically, but when I read the essays I saw ideas develop and change and evolve. This is no small feat, as any writer knows. And when I saw my students do this, it was amazing, exciting and uplifting in ways that words can't capture. And it was why I struggle to find better ways of of doing things and fight through the cacophony of student voices that complain about thinking too hard - because it is wicked awesome when it works!

Yummy Stuff
So, again, it was a crazy week, so I didn't do much cooking. Thank goodness for Gary!! On Sunday we decided to make a huge pot of jambalaya to last as lunches during the week. However, we have been on the hunt for a good vegan sausage and it has been a struggle. So, last weekend, we made our own! So, we used the recipe from everydaydish for vegan italian sausage. It came out great!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Develop me!

Teacher musings:
I've been meaning to write this post for a week and a half now. It was prompted by a comment by one of my colleagues in reference to a professional development day at my school. We were discussing the usefulness of the presentations in our department and she said "I feel like I've been developed professionally!" I laughed, but I got what she was saying. I also felt that, for once, I had been part of a professional development opportunity where I really learned something of value about how to help my students learn.

Now, I have always been of the opinion that if I could find five minutes of value in a 90 minute PD presentation it was a win. I don't hold a lot of faith in people who tell me how to do my job, but who have never been a teacher. I am slightly more tolerant of people who have been teachers, but I still get tired of being preached to. But what I love most of all is time to talk and plan with other teachers. As a literacy coach this factored into much of what I did - my goal was less about making people do things my way and more about getting teachers together and giving them time to share ideas, insights, etc. Now I know not all teacher talk is productive. More than once I have worked in groups that were supposed to be developing instructional strategies but were derailed because of someone who was stuck repeating over and over "these kids can't learn" (what I now consider the most obnoxious phrase in the English language). However, I have been in way more bad professional development trainings than bad teacher groups. What I loved most about the work we did during this whole school professional development day was that facilitators presented us with some new materials, texts and ideas, and then let us work, discuss, plan, joke, enjoy and ultimately produce new tools for our classroom. That has always been the way I learn - through processing ideas with others, and integrating new ideas and knowledge into my own schema.

One of the things I do gain from any professional development, painful or productive, is a better understanding of how my students feel. It took me sitting through a two hour lecture last week in grad school to remember why my students are noisy and antsy after an hour of me talking at them, even when I think my words and writing prompts are engaging. The same holds with professional development. If working out ideas in groups, and jotting down notes and ideas works for me, it probably works for some of my students, even if I need to teach them what having a productive discussion looks like. Its a good reminder all around.

Now, I could end this post on the happy note from the last paragraph. But I have one more thing to say. It should be obvious now that I value and learn from groups of teachers working together towards a common goal of developing new instructional ideas. In most of the schools I have worked there has been little time for this happen. Either it doesn't exist at all, or the time is there but is very closely directed so that free teacher conversations aren't allowed to thrive. And this is what I think really is at the root of so much failed professional development. If you can't trust teachers to be productive adults on their own, how on earth can you expect that they can even be professionally developed, or even teach, in the first place? To me, this lack of trust has been at the root of all district and school sanctioned PD I have encountered. Even teacher groups often must have agendas approved by the administration. I don't know what crazy stuff these folks think is going to happen without their direction, but every informal teacher group I have been in has been far more productive and far more intellectually engaging to me than all PD combined. And I think that, until our educational system learns to trust its teachers, they will never be able to develop anyone or anything that can teach students.

Yummy Stuff:
So, I did not do much cooking this week. Thank goodness for my husband, because it would have been a week of canned soup otherwise, since I didn't get home before 7pm any night of the week. However, on Tuesday I have grad school classes until 9:30 at night. Last semester I often stopped at a nearby spot for a bagel with tofutti on my way to class, but that got expensive and fattening really quickly. My new goal is to make my own easy-to-carry dinner and bring it with me. Last week I sauteed some leftover portabello mushrooms and then put them on a bagel with hummus. This week I tried to make a protein rich blend that was easy to throw together and would get me through the night. It came out great!
Quinoa and Lentil salad
1/2 cup quinoa
1/2 cup green lentils
1/2 cup chickpeas
2 TB lemon juice
1 avocado

1) Boil 2 1/2 cups of water.
2) Pour in quinoa and lentils. Bring the water back up to a boil, and then turn it to simmer and put the lid on. Let it simmer for 20 minutes or until all the water is absorbed. (I was able to take a shower and get dressed during this step!)
3) Mix in the chickpeas and lemon juice.
4) just before you eat it, slice up the avocado and put it on top!

Really easy, really boring sounding, but perfect at 7:00 when you are learning about cognitive psychology!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

What are we teaching them?

Teacher musings:
So all school year I've felt a conflict between content and skills like never before. Am I teaching my students to read, write and think, or am I teaching them to analyze literature? Of course I hope to do both, but the reality is something has to be a priority. By next Monday we will have finished two novels, that, honestly, only about 60% of my students have actually read all the way through. We have read 6 short stories and 2 non-fiction articles. My students are doing an amazing job asking deep, thoughtful questions about patriarchy, power, sexuality, etc. as we finish The Color Purple, and the fact that we read a summary of the book before reading the actual book really helped take the pressure of "what happened" so that we could talk about "what it means." But what am I teaching them? Yeah, they will have an understanding of cultural icons like Atticus Finch and Celie, but will they be able to research the root causes of the Israli/Palestine conflict? Yeah, they are learning to think more critically and to do stronger close readings of novels, but how will that help them wade through Obama's 14 page economic stimulus plan? Yeah, they are writing thoughtful essays about character development, but how will that help them express their frustration with lack of services they have in a letter to their state representatives?
Which brings me to the wake-up call I had this week. This content/skills debate has been raging in the English teaching world for a long time and it is not going anywhere anytime soon. It is something I discuss on and off with my colleagues as we all try to work towards including the best of both worlds. I know which side I fall on and which side my current school falls on, and they are not the same. So, I have been doing it my school's way this year to get some traction, try some new things, and to make sure I keep my job. But this week I heard about the BART shooting in Oakland (where I used to teach) and I started to cry. Because that could have been one of my kids. It could have been one of my kids who got shot. It could have been on of my kids who lost a father. It could have been one of my kids arrested while protesting. It could be one of my kids who gets harassed, beaten or killed by a cop acting out of frustration in the next few weeks. It might be useful for my kids to use literature to make meaning from their lives, but is it what they need, right this second? Or does literacy take on a whole new meaning when its a tool for survival, that lets you speak out when you need to, use language to make your voice heard, or that gets you in a position of power that gives you a change to fix this mess of world we live in? Which is why I could care less if my kids remember Atticus Finch's name so long as they remember how to use words to make a difference. I'm not saying that teaching my kids stronger literacy skills would prevent a situation like that from happening. But maybe we need to worry less about preparing kids for intellectual dinner conversations and more for the real problems they will face.

Yummy Stuff:
I almost didn't want to include a food mention in this post, but sometimes its nice to end on a lighter note. Cooking is often act of meditation for me. The chopping, checking the recipe, thinking about spice ratios, etc. has a calming effect, and I find that I sometimes can think more clearly and get beyond my anger and frustration when prepping for dinner. With that said, last night we had Broccoli Sesame Stir-fry from Vegan Planet - my go-to cook book when we get busy. In addition to broccoli and red bell peppers we put in some delicious bok choy to get our greens for the day. Speaking of greens, I have a new favorite way to cook kale, also from Vegan Planet. I rough chop the kale, wash it well, and then stick it in a large saucepan with the water still on in. I turn up the pan to medium heat and cover it and let it cook for about 10 minutes. I do this instead of boiling because it supposedly keeps more of the nutrients in, but who knows. Then, I mix together 1T of balsamic vinegar, 2T of tamari soy sauce and a couple dashes of cayenne pepper. I pour all of that in with the kale and continue to cook it, uncovered, for about 7 more minutes, untill most of the sauce is gone. The kale will be really wilted by this point, which might make it seem unappetizing to some, but is really, really yummy! Then I top it with a ton of pine nuts!! Pair that with some pasta or some soup and bread and you've got what Gary and I call a Levey-Pabst dinner.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Teacher musings:
Yesterday was the first day back from break. Its always a tough day for all parties considered. I was excited to go back and the kids weren't too wacko. I enjoyed seeing them and had fun catching up with them. It was a little hard to get some of them to get to work, and it was a bit of a struggle to remind them where we had left off, but overall it wasn't too bad. But at the same time, I felt myself struggling for a sense of urgency. We completed the vocabulary lesson (something that usually takes twenty minutes) and when I looked up, forty minutes had gone by - yikes!! It was a reminder that it was time for me to step up my game a bit. I was easily sidetracked yesterday by student comments and irrelevant (yet interesting) questions. Just a reminder that I have to get my head back in the game too!

Yummy stuff:
I am totally in love with roasting. Give me a veggie - any veggie you want and this month, I roast it. For dinner Sunday we had roasted butternut squash (mixed with evoo, salt and pepper - roast at 425 for 40 minutes) and roasted brussell sprouts (mixed with evoo, salt and pepper - roast for 20 minutes) with waffles. It was a great way to do "breakfast for dinner." Today I am at my sister's house helping her recover from surgery. She had some quinoa and a few veggies in fridge. I found half a head of cauliflower and - you guessed it - roasted it!! I cut it up and covered it with evoo, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes and roasted it for 20 minutes and then put it on top of quinoa. It was a great post-hospital meal, and it was exciting to make it as spicy as I like since I didn't have to share with Gary. Not bad for a vegan on the go!

Friday, January 2, 2009

Teaching is a Job

This is probably the first and last time I'll write two posts in two days, but as any teacher knows, when you have the time, use it! Today I was pondering what is worth missing a day of teaching for. My sister in D.C. is having surgery (routine, but still surgery) on Tuesday, and I am going to fly down for the day to help out, take her to the hospital, etc. To me its a no-brainer - my family needs me, I'm there. No questions asked. Of course, with my family, nothing is simple. We have to figure out which family members to tell about my sister's surgery and in what order. Will my mom fly out from Arizona? Will I take a cab from the airport or take the metro - and who will pay for it? Its all so complicated for no reason at all. What surprises me though, is my reaction to missing a day of school. It will be the second day back from the two week break that was already too long because of snow days. It is the day of the week that I see my students the most because of my school's wacky schedule. It was the day we were supposed to finish the novel, and so I will need to do some serious lesson plan adjusting. And yet, when I told my sister it was no big deal to miss a day of work, I meant it.

Having all of this going on reminded me of Gary's second lung collapse, during my first year of teaching. Then I had to take a day off to stay home with him since he couldn't really do anything for himself. That time I was seriously stressed about missing work even considering the context. I think I honestly believed that if I was gone for a day and left lame sub-plans (the students were left with busy work that only three of them actually did) then my students' learning would be seriously damaged. Now I look back and can't believe my arrogance. Yes, I am the teacher, and the students learn more when I am there (at least I hope so!) But having someone else cover for a day does not hurt them and it certainly isn't the end of the world. One of the main benefits to getting laid off last year, from a job that I worked insanely hard at, was the realization that, when push comes to shove, teaching is a job. It might feel like a calling or identity sometimes, but when my family or friends need me, the job takes a backseat. So, my students will be using a handout to aid in their understanding of the end of The Color Purple on Tuesday, but we'll get back to the discussion, deeper analysis and writing on Wednesday. And maybe putting family first isn't a bad thing for my students to see.

Yummy Stuff
Last night we splurged and ordered Indian food (Gary was not happy about it, but I really, really wanted samosas and I haven't figured out how to make them well myself). However, rather than pay ten bucks for chana masala, I made a quick version of my own to go with our appetizer plate. I sauteed a chopped up onion with 2 T of garam masala, some chili powder and coriander. Then I dumped in a cup and a half of chickpeas and a 14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes and 4 T of tomato paste. Then I just let it simmer until the delivery showed up - about 20 minutes. It wasn't bad for a randomly tossed together dish, and it tasted great with samosas!
Tonight, in the interest of getting back to being healthy we are making Southern New Year's Day Soup from Vegetarian Times with black-eyed peas, collard greens and veggies galore! I think I'll make some whole-wheat bread in the bread machine to go with it. That should counteract the greasy-goodness from last night.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

The Dawn of 2009

Now that '09 is upon us I feel a renewed sense of hope: Obama will be our new president soon, I am back to doing a job I love, the snow outside makes everything look new and fresh and it has been one year since I resolved to be fully vegan. Thats right, my 2008 resolution was to be an honest-to-goodness vegan (no more falling off the cheese wagon!) I made the resolution because it was something I had been wanting to do and I'm an all-or-nothing gal - it takes a big goal to make me change. But as I reflect on my place in the world today I honestly can't remember a time when I've been happier. On the surface, being back to teaching in the classroom (a change from 2008) and being vegan (also a big change) don't seem similar. In reality, they are both allowing me to "live my truth." I love teaching. I love the challenge, I love my students, I love the people I work with, and I love belonging to a community. I love being vegan. I love the fact that I am healthier. I love the fact that no creatures are harmed because of my diet. I love the food!!! I guess, when it comes down to it, I have entered 2009 living the life that seems to fit me, and it doesn't get much better than that.

Yummy Stuff!!
For our New Year's Eve dinner we made three-bean chili with what my hubby calls "Marie's willy-nilly spices" (it drives him nuts when I just put spices in without measuring or using a recipie!) The chili had kidney, pinto and black beans and tomatos and was seasoned with chili power, cumin, oregano, and a little bit of allspice and cloves. It was spicy and delicious topped with avacado!!
For our New Year's Day brunch I made Pumpkin Scones (with blueberries instead of cranberries) from Veganomicron and my own tofu-scramble with the potato-veggie medley from Trader Joe's. We didn't eat until 11:30, but hey, isn't that what Brunch is all about?