Friday, December 31, 2010

Goals for 2011

Date a Korean
Study Korean and travel to South Korea this summer
Learn some basic Italian
Buy a pet fish
Stop biting my nails (for realz)
Move into an awesome new apartment
Finish my first year teaching happy and satisfied with my choice

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Adieu 2010

Another year down, but I have to say that 2010 was probably one of the better years I've had and was a perfect end to the decade. A lot of big changes occurred this year, but also a lot of fun times and experiences.

Began the year ringing in 2010 with some of my great friends I had stayed in China with. We watched the ball drop at some bar in Brooklyn and the following day I traveled up to Toronto and stayed with my friend for a week.

Spring was full of my last semester as an undergrad at UMass and was a dizzying blur of great memories, fun times with friends, and finishing up all my ties in Amherst. Had amazing memories with Christine and Shiri, road tripped to Baltimore, took some great classes, spring break trip to Disneyland in Florida, enjoyed my last semester in Phi Sigma Pi, and enjoyed all the time I spent with the first graders at Marks Meadow, where I volunteered as a teacher's helper three days a week. I really miss those kids!

Summer came in full force and began with a road trip with Cade and Courtney to Cedar Point in Ohio. I still have some queasy feelings in my stomach when I think back to some of the roller coasters I went on. Enjoyed my half summer in Boston before I headed down for Teach for America training in Philadelphia.

Training was probably the worst month of my life: hot, humid, boring, lots of work, and a lot of stress. At the time I was rather fine with it, but looking back I really want to block out that whole month. Post-training I came back to Boston for a week before the big move down to Philly.

Philadelphia brought some big changes: my first actual apartment, my first full-time job, and a lot of work and responsibility. At first I didn't think I would like the city, but I quickly became excited about work and got on board. Overall I do enjoy living in Philly and I've gotten used to the city. While I find teaching to be more work than enjoyment (which in my personal beliefs it should not be - or at least an equal mix), I do enjoy what I do.

A lot of 2010 is still swirling in my head and needs to settle before I can properly reflect back on it, and with the new year about to begin, hopes and goals for 2011 are coming to the surface as well. Once I sift through all of this I will post a little blurb about what I hope for the new year and what I want to get out of it, and possible some resolutions that I will never follow.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Snow Madness

The storm came and left, and it didn't seem as bad as the media predicted. Actually, I became pretty annoyed by the media and meteorologists the other day. All of Saturday the news was hyping up this storm, getting everyone all worked up and nervous for the snow. Of course, it did snow a lot and there was a lot of bad coastal flooding, but the roads were not as bad thanks to advanced plowing and salting. The snowfall was high but it wasn't anything that I haven't seen nearly every year of my life living in New England...

But I digress, the purpose of this post is actually two-fold: to introduce a hilarious blog I stumbled upon, and to share another China news story that shows how fragile and insane the Chinese are.

First, the blog: Black Out Korea - a blog that posts images of passed out Koreans. I forget how I found it, but I can't stop laughing at some of the pictures. I mean, some of these people are passed out in the most ridiculous places, and in some hilarious poses. I highly suggest a browse if you are in need of a good laugh.

And on to the news: China Cracks Down on the Use of English - apparently the Chinese government is trying to stop the amounts of English used in everyday Chinese language, including acronyms. The government was quoted as saying “such abuse of language … destroys the harmonious and healthy cultural environment and causes an unhealthy social impact.” This is where I wish my Chinese were better, because I always find the language used in Chinese government responses to be flowery and in a sense, ridiculous, and I'm always curious if it comes off the same when read in Chinese.

The most interesting aspects of the article I find come from the response this decree has had on Chinese:
Another said: “Dear Administration, can you tell me how to say ‘iPad,’ ‘iPhone’ in Chinese?”

Some commentators seemed to take the issue a bit more seriously: “Tell me, in modern science, which word comes from Chinese? They are nice enough to let you use their words, and now you want to protect your ‘language purity’?”


Authorities’ obsession with power is at the root of the decision to ban English, one commentator says.


To me, it all just seems completely ridiculous to me. If anything, I find words mixing between languages to create a more cultured society. If you think about it, there are plenty of words in English that come from German, French, and other European languages.


...wait the news just said Natalie Portman is engaged and pregnant!?

Saturday, December 25, 2010

China News Drone

I was reading this article on BBC News this morning about further traffic problems and regulations in China. Seems as though the government in Beijing is going to start capping the number of new cars registered each year, trying to slow down the number of new cars on the road. To me it seems like another last-ditch effort to fix a problem way after the fact.

In China, where the middle class is growing rapidly, a new car (or two) is more than just a utility - it's also a symbol of wealth and status (not-so much status anymore, but the brand can symbolize status). I always found it so interesting to see people biking to work/shops alongside the highway while these luxury cars whizzed by them.

I'm also skeptical because I'm sure this will increase corruption on some level. For example, I forsee those working in the registration department hoarding or sneaking registry numbers for their family or friends, etc. It obviously will not run smoothly.

What stuck out to me from the article was this quote:
"Everything in China now happens so quickly, and the government always fails to anticipate what's coming, and as a result normally policies are only introduced when things are already out of control."

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Dog Days Are Over

Teaching through Teach for America or at my school in general brings about a bunch of people observing my classes. Sometimes, they sit in on one of my better classes, where the lesson is pretty decent, the kids are behaving, and I have things under control. But (more times than not) they observe me during a class that is a bit out of control. I mean, kids are not arguing, fighting, or going crazy, but they are slouching, talking when I am at points, disengaged, and calling out. When this happens, and I see someone in the back of my classroom watching everything unfold, things actually become worse and I shut down as a teacher. It's pretty difficult...

But then I have to reflect, and realize that I am in my first month of teaching. I have no teaching background and very limited teaching experience (that ESL bit in China), and I am (for the most part) holding my own. Sure, my lines in the hallways aren't the best, and my students are not always 100% engaged, and my lessons are not always planned and executed successfully, but I try my best and I think I owe it to myself to at least feel some pride in that. 

I think what intimidates me is that I am surrounded by excellence. My school does not settle for anything less than, and then here I come, with no experience, and procedures that are not tight. The school and admin expect from me what the school expects from all teachers. It's just that, how can I measure up to these metrics of 100% of students being on task, lessons that are aligned, and a sound management system when I just don't have that kind of experience that can bring these things to life. Sure, I try and achieve these metrics, but no matter how hard I try or how much time and effort I put into my teaching, I don't think I can get there with only four months under my belt. 

I feel as though I'm in this "disconnect" phase of work. I don't dread going to school each day, but I think I lost some of the excitement I had in the early fall. I think I can revive that after the holiday break when I can reflect on some things and try to incorporate new systems into my class (they say it's best to make chances after the break and bring a fresh start for the new year). So, there is a new hope after all!

Robotism

I felt sadness twice this year. I guess that means I'm human after all...

Monday, December 20, 2010

Clean Up on Aisle 21

My life is one giant glob of mess right now.

I feel like I spend so much time planning lessons that can be interesting and fun, and either they don't turn out that way to the students, or I can't stop the little nit-picky behaviors of kids to allow the lesson to run smoothly. Everyday it's the same few kids chatting in each class. Either that or I have to constantly tell students to stop leaning on their arms, or to put their feet flat on the floor, or to take their arms out of their sleeves (the heat in my room is very sporadic this month). But then in the back of my head I wonder, how reasonable is it for third graders to sit flat in their seats for the whole day? Even at twenty three I still always put my leg on the chair and sit over it. The punishments don't seem to phase them and most call homes bring about no answer, because no one seems to answer because of my unknown Boston area code.

Not only is work not going as smoothly as I think it should go, I'm also sick on top of it. My voice keeps going in and out, partly from having a cold and partly from talking loudly all day to students.

I have a giant suitcase of laundry I have to do and no desire.

I have to run out and buy a boatload of secret Santa gifts when I have no ideas on what to get anyone. On top of that, I never have cash for the stupid subway, making me immobile...

I have to take the god-awful bus back to Boston on Thursday afternoon and it's probably going to be stuck in traffic the whole way. I'll be lucky if I get back by midnight I bet...

My fridge is so empty I might as well unplug it and save on electricity.

And I made big, sudden movements and ruined a good thing!

I'm trying to just take each day at a time until I get home Thursdays. So, three more days of work. Three more days of no food. Three more days to do laundry. Three more days to fix everything. Three more days for another chance. And most importantly for the moment: two more classes this afternoon until I am home free.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Earl Grey

I really miss New England, especially in the winter :/

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Things Bothering Me...

My life has been on the fast track for the past four months and it just seems that my mind races all day, every day with things to do, random thoughts, and speculations about life. In terms of what is bothering me at the moment, I decided to make a quick list:

1. How to get over the speed bump between being a teacher and being a good teacher with engaging lessons that get students to learn because they want to, not because they have to. My next big move in improving my teaching...

2. How the holiday season never excites me anymore.

3. Wanting to be with someone and initiate a relationship but not wanting to take that first step because you're not certain that the feelings are mutual.

4. An apartment that never fully becomes warm.

5. Lugging a giant suitcase of dirty laundry back to Boston with me this weekend.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Ring in the New Year

New tradition for the start of the work week: Giant Glass of Wine Monday!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Deep End

Went to a karaoke dive bar last night in South Philly for a friend's birthday and had a blast. Being the always punctual one, I arrived to the bar (which was a small hole in the wall) about forty minutes early and took upon the role of being the quiet, mysterious guy sitting at the bar surrounded by chatty regulars. By the time my friends got there I had a buzz going - mostly because it was all that was keeping me from running off. The only thing that irked me, and I still don't think it's allowed in Philadelphia, is that everyone was smoking in the bar. I think that's partly the reason why my head is spinning a bit today, that I was inhaling so much second-hand smoke! And I hate when you wake up in the morning and your body and clothing just reeks of smoke.

Aside from me starting to drift off into sleep a few times, it was an awesome night. Belted out some 'Love Shack' and Destiny's Child, sang along with some really good karaoke renditions, and became bitter at those who chose to sing songs that no one knew. It was a great mix of Teach for America and co-workers from school. At one point, and I'm still not sure how this happened, I had someone else's blood on my fingers? Seeing as my hand has no wounds on it right now, I can only guess as to where it came from...

Afterwards we went next door to Geno's Cheese Steaks and I wolfed down a cheese steak at 2am. Apparently Geno's is one of the best places to get a cheese steak in the city and it's supposedly very famous and well-known, but at 2am I'll be honest that I wouldn't have been able to tell a Geno's cheese steak from a cheese steak that came from a local sub shop. But it was delicious!

So yes, the purpose of this post was just for me to admit (mostly to myself) that I am enjoying my time here in Philly and that I am grateful for all of the friends and amazing co-workers I have. Now, I'm off to a friend's for a pancake breakfast :)

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Worst Mistake

Mark it down, ladies and gentlemen: the worst night of my life is now over - the night I buzz-cut my own hair. Two hours. Two buzz sets. Two mirrors. A lot of frustration.

Typical

Another typical Thursday adventure at school:

8-8:50: co-taught an impromptu Spanish class with a fellow third grade teacher while awaiting the late arrival of our Spanish teacher
8:50-12:10: taught four blocks of social studies (the last of which contained the live coaching, which was just plain strange)
1:30: watched the vice principal of instruction teach one of my classes with an amazing lesson format which gave me a ton of planning ideas
2:20-3:10: finished up strong with my third grade homeroom

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Lee Canter

Tomorrow an expert teacher from Teach for America is going to come into one of my fifth grade classes and real-time coach me in classroom management and behavior tackling. Basically, she will sit in the back of my classroom with a walkie-talkie so that she can tell me how to manage my kids while I'm wearing an ear piece as I'm teaching. She'll tell me when to give a consequence to a student, when to really praise one, and when I should speak with a more commanding/clear/loud voice.

I am almost certain that this is going to bring about a good result, but I'm really nervous about it. For one thing, it starts with me basically giving this little speech to my students how I've let their bad behaviors go on for too long, and that in essence it's my fault - which I can agree to. But I'm also nervous that I will look strange with something in my ear, and not only that, it's proving to my students that I have weak areas and have brought in outside help to make it better. But on the flip side, it shows that I'm dedicated to helping them learn and improve the culture of my classroom.

It should be quite an experience.

Today I went to school in a more commanding way, and changed the tone of language I use in my classroom when students are doing things that show they are not on task. I saw amazing results from 3/6 of my classes, where students were all on task, silently working, and paying such close attention to the lesson. But then I think I started to teeter out and the repetition started to get to me, and I wasn't as strong in my last three classes, although they all went fairly well (except for one).

And with all the teacher time we had yesterday, I reorganized my classroom and it looks so much better. I brought in a new cabinet to keep me organized, hung up posters, put this huge US map in the front of the room, and stream-lined some of my weaker spots. Pictures may be coming soon :)

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Struggle Sessions

Hello. My name is Vincent Capone and I've been deemed a "struggling teacher."
Nice to meet you!

Report Period #3 is beginning tomorrow, which means that the school year is 1/3 over. My grades have been submitted and I'm going into the new term with my head held high, and a new view towards classroom management. I'm sure something will blow up in my face...

Monday, December 6, 2010

Hardwood

New and old relationships are coming out of the woodwork this week!

Optimism

This weekend for me has been a teaching revival of sorts. On Saturday, Teach for America had us go to this lecture about how to create a positive classroom environment centered around "no opting out" for students and how to ensure that all kids are on task and learning. And then with today's Mastery professional development I took away a ton of skills and ideas to work on classroom culture, management, and positivity for myself and my students. I hope this brings about a change for the kids who pass through room 307. As I see it, I'm failing in 3/6 of my classes by not having a classroom centered around positivity and achievement.

Teach for America is coming in on Thursday to do this "intense" classroom management coaching for my toughest class. I'm a bit nervous as to how it will play out, but I am optimistic that it will bring about some changes and new ideas and techniques for me to use.

Off topic from work, I am halfway through Mockingjay, the final book in the Hunger Games trilogy. The whole storyline is just insane and I am absolutely loving this series. But I hate when a series/book comes to an end, so I'm trying to drag reading it for as long as I can. Not to mention that my apartment is so chilly that reading for long periods of time acting causes my hands to freeze. This is going to be a long winter...

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Debt Monster

I'm a bit happy with myself, because in the past two months, I've cut my credit card debt in half by making payments. And to top it off, I didn't have to take any of the money out of my savings to do so. In fact, I haven't touched my savings account since September, something that used to be near-impossible for me to do.

Am I finally becoming an economically-minded adult?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Brief Updates

Coming back from an amazing Thanksgiving break in Boston and hitting the ground running did not put me in the best of moods. This week has been nothing but insane and it's only at the halfway point right now. Between work, children, and various papers due for my Penn classes this weekend, I've been overworking myself and multi-tasking like nobody's business.

But I do have time to take a mini-break right now and report on some news:

1. I am feeling a bit nervous about the climate in the Koreas. I'm not fully kept aware of the situation over there, but after the recent military activity, and the increased presence of US troops in that region to "aid" the South, things don't seem to be moving in terms of peace, and BBC news reports of "imminent attacks" from the North. I'm not sure that I believe a full-scale problem will follow, but it just makes me nervous to think of a military conflict in that area, especially with the US and China on opposing sides. I just can't imagine how that could shape the future of relations if a large-scale problem arose. And it boggles my mind to even think of China as having much in terms of military support - I mean, I know their strength is ample, but when I think of "military might" China doesn't seem to come to mind.

2. This WikiLeaks situation seems to be getting out of hand. Again, I'm not following this aside from the nmerous headlines that continue to pop up each day, but it just seems ridiculous and troubling for international relations. What I don't understand is a) where is all of this information coming from? and b) why is no one taking any course of action to shut this down?

3. Last, I just read an interesting article on BBC about China's dependence on coal and what it means for the future of their nation, people, and the environment. I can't imagine how dangerous it must be to be a coal miner, especially in a country such as China, but I think this article helped to put that into a better perspective for me.

I'll end on a positive note: the only positive thing in my life right now is that I brought back a nice heating blanket from my grandmother that I am going crazy over. I love slipping into bed at night when the sheets are all toasty and warm!