A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Tunesday 10: Aimee Mann, @#%&! Smilers

Aimee Mann, @#%&! Smilers

Aimee Mann is one of my very favorite artists, for a variety of reasons. She's the most indie rocker I know, an artist (and student of boxing) who has gone fifteen rounds against the mediocrity and pablum that is shoved upon us by the American recording industry. As an independent artist, she took the bold, iconoclastic step in 1999 by starting her own record label, SuperEgo Records, and releasing her third solo album, Bachelor No. 2 (Or the Return of the Dodo), all by herself, and in doing so she showed that trusting her own instincts rather than kowtowing to industry talking heads produced an amazing piece of art, and I recommend this album to you as well. Mann's work is TRUE. I think of her as the Joni Mitchell of her generation, which is, for me high praise indeed.

As a songwriter, if she had stopped after "Voices Carry" back in 1985 when she was with 'Til Tuesday, I would have been satisfied, but over her career she has created a body of work that demonstrates an amazing ability to create characters and situations that are fully realized in just a few words, much the way that Lucinda Williams does-- with the prime difference being that Aimee Mann can sing (sorry Lucinda, but, really!). Not in the Carrie Underwood, American Idol kind of way, but as a mature woman who has lived through life taking responsibility for her fealty to her artistic vision. An example of her craft is the brilliant "Little Tornado" from her current album, which makes me think of people that I have known who have whirled their destruction through the lives of those around them without any concern for the consequences. Then there is this gem, "31 Today," capturing the panic of regret as it begins to settle over us even before we've lived long enough to really gain perspective on the mistakes that we have made:

Thirty-one today
What a thing to say
Drinking Guinness in the afternoon
Taking shelter in the black cocoon

I thought my life would be different somehow
I thought my life would be better by now
I thought my life would be different somehow
I thought my life would be better by now
But it's not, and I don't know where to turn

Called some guy I knew
Had a drink or two
And we fumbled as the day grew dark
I pretended that I felt a spark

I thought my life would be different somehow
I thought my life would be better by now
I thought my life would be different somehow
I thought my life would be better by now
But it's not, and I don't know where to turn
No, it's not, and I don't know where to turn
No, it's not, and I don't know where to turn

Easter comes and goes
Maybe Jesus knows
So you roll on with the best you can
Getting loaded, watching CNN

I thought my life would be different somehow
I thought my life would be better by now
I thought my life would be different somehow
I thought my life would be better by now
But it's not, and I don't know where to turn
No, it's not, and I don't know where to turn
No, it's not, and I don't know where to turn
No, it's not, and I don't know

Here she is doing a live video of the above song. Enjoy!

And now, if all of this hasn't convinced you, consider this: she played one of the German Nihilists in the Big Lebowski, one of my favorite Coen Brothers films! She was the one whose little toe was used to try to complete the con-- if you saw the film, you know what I'm talking about!

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Friday, March 27, 2009

Yes, darn it, now turn that phone off!

Train Horns

Created by Train Horns

I HATE that sound! Our students like to use it as a cell phone ringtone. The last time one went off in my classroom, I nearly rocketed through the ceiling tiles.


Thursday, March 26, 2009

This space for rent

Note: This is my 1,000th post! Whoa!

Here's the situation: You're a classroom teacher, and you do not have enough supplies provided to you for your classroom. In particular, you don't have enough paper. So what do you do?

Many of us face this situation every day. I remember when I taught in the parochial school, and we were all given one box of paper to use all year long. A teacher resigned in midyear. Before her car had even pulled out of the parking lot, I slunk into her room and nabbed the three-quarters of a ream of paper she had neglected to use. Score!

But there's another reality that needs to be acknowledged. Sadly, many of us dip into our own meager, threadbare pockets and buy the paper ourselves, recompense being a starry-eyed dream that died with belief in the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and the fantasy that Viggo Mortensen would someday see you across a crowded room and realize you were the realization of his every dream and the woman for whom he's been looking all of his life.

Or, there's another option some teachers have decided to try. How about selling ad space on tests, quizzes, and handouts?

In a cash-strapped Idaho high school where signs taped near every light switch remind the staff to save electricity, an enterprising teacher has struck a sponsorship deal with a local pizza shop: Every test, handout and worksheet he passes out to his students reads MOLTO'S PIZZA 14" 1 TOPPING JUST $5 in bright red, inch-high letters printed along the bottom of every page.

"I just wanted to find a way to save money," said Jeb Harrison, who teaches history and economics. "We have to sell ads for our yearbook, for our school newspaper. I don't think this small amount of advertising will change my classroom."

School officials were not wild about the idea, but Pocatello High School Principal Don Cotant relented after Harrison explained the advertisements could help illuminate such topics as the Great Depression.

"I had concerns. I didn't know what this would open up for us," Cotant said. "But we've let this happen because it makes a point about what economic hard times can force people to do."

As school districts across the country face the worst economic outlook in decades, educators who have long reached into their own pockets to buy classroom supplies are finding creative ways to cover expenses. But selling ads on schoolwork is practically unheard of.

The 12,000-student school district in and around Pocatello — an old railroad town of about 55,000, where Idaho State University and a semiconductor plant are among the biggest employers — is looking at a shortfall of up to $10 million next year because of expected cuts in state aid. A tax increase was voted down last month, and school officials have frozen spending on field trips, teacher training and basic supplies such as paper.

Molto Caldo Pizzeria, about a mile from the high school, agreed to supply paper for Harrison's five classes — 10,000 sheets, valued at $315, and imprinted with a pizza ad. That should be enough paper for the rest of this school year and all of the next one.
On a recent day, Harrison handed out photocopies of Dust Bowl images, emblazoned with the pizza ad. The ad also appeared on an economics test he gave last week on the Depression.

"I thought it was a great idea. I mean, the levy didn't pass. We can't get enough money from the state. We've got to find some way to get it," said one of Harrison's students, 17-year-old Benjamin Simms.

Marianne Donnelly, chairwoman of the school board, said the ad apparently violates a district policy barring schools from directly promoting businesses. But she said the board considers the ad harmless and is not making an issue out of it.
"Give the teacher credit for creativity," Donnelly said. "There's no question we're in desperate financial straits."

Elsewhere, nonprofit organizations are helping teachers obtain free or discounted classroom supplies, and Web sites match educators with benefactors willing to buy materials. But Harrison's approach has at least one critic worried the idea will spread.
"It crosses a line," said Susan Linn, a Harvard psychologist and director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. "When teachers start becoming pitchmen for products, children suffer and their education suffers as well."

Earlier this school year in San Diego, Rancho Bernardo High School math instructor Tom Farber allowed students' parents and local businesses to pay $10 to print messages on quizzes, $20 for space on tests and $30 for final exams. Most parents printed inspirational messages, some started plugging their businesses. He raised $625 in one semester.

District administrators expressed concern that the practice could lead to legal problems if an ad were ever rejected, but Farber ended the practice before they could intervene. He sold his last ad in January, after making enough to get through the rest of the year.
"If the district says I can't do it, then they need to provide the money necessary for me to do my job," Farber said.

So how about it? Good old' American ingenuity always finding a way? Or just another slip down the slope to renting out the inside of your eyelids?

On the one hand, school districts are already far from ad-free zones. There are Coke machines, and ads in the school paper, and ads in the yearbook, and ads in the stadium and in the sports programs. Some years ago there was Channel One, which provided free equipment and news programs in exchange for allowing students to watch a couple of minutes of ads.

But on the other hand, why is it acceptable to expect teachers to pay for supplies out of their own pockets? We are already grossly undercompensated in most parts of the world. My husband doesn't buy dozens of pens, staplers, reams of papers, dry-erase markers, or spirals to take to his job at Mega-Defense Corporation, but every year I have to make far less than $100 buy all the supplies, including scantrons, that I will need through the school year. Is selling ad space any more morally appalling than refusing to provide supplies?

What do you think?

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

How can this be?

A wounded warrior is just that-- a wounded warrior, someone who has placed everything dear to them on the line to protect our country.

So how can THIS happen?


Outrageous. Please pray for Dragonlady and her husband.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Tunesday 9: Christine Lavin, Attainable Love

Christine Lavin, Attainable Love

If you have never been introduced to the work of the amazingly talented singer songwriter Christine Lavin, poor you, we are here to rectify this situation. Christine is one of the leading artists in the genre known as modern folk, and this album is from 1990 or so. Even though that was an eternity ago, before Hilary Clinton was anything other than the first lady of Arkansas, Lavin's work stands up well here. "Victim/Volunteer" is a song that contains a metaphor I have used many times in critiquing our culture's well-established tendency to excuse any sort of egregious behavior based on mean things that have happened to you in the past.

Lavin has written some beautiful songs in her career, like "Castlemaine" and "Yonder Blue," which are particular favorites of mine from this album. But she is especially renowned for her ability to observe situations with a sharp wit, which ranges from either gently mocking to biting satire. A brief little gem is "Fly on a Plane," which just goes to show that Ms. Lavin absorbed a love of ironic endings somewhere in her early life. Then there's the completely unique "Shopping Cart of Love: The Play," which is a musical play about a clash with an unsympathetic grocery cashier, solipsism, references to "American Pie," and ends with the last laugh for our intrepid heroine as she deals with being dumped by her roommate and her fiance.

Probably one of her funniest songs ever is this one: Sensitive New Age Guys. Enjoy!

And just to show how some people sit around and combine really weird things on YouTube, and sometimes it works, here's this little bonus piece: Christine singing her classic "Regretting What I Said..." animated with clips from the Nickelodeon cartoon Jimmy Neutron.

And if you get the chance, go catch a show of hers live. She may even teach you to knit at intermission, or you'll get to watch her twirl florescent batons. I was lucky enough to see her with one of the incarnations of the Four Bitchin' Babes, a quartet of folk babes that Lavin originated years ago from the New York folk scene.


And if you have a science teacher you love, consider buying a copy of the book "Amoeba Hop," which is an illustrated kids' book about amoebas that is just priceless. I have a signed copy that my kids just loved.

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Open thread: What does YOUR school district do?

Does your school district have a policy on school board members intimidating staff and demanding outrageous favors and special treatment for their children?

Does your school district basically just accept egregious behavior such as this as part of the reason why people try to get on school boards in the first place?

What about teachers or administrators who engage in the same behavior?

I'm expecting a LOT of anonymouses on this one.

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Monday, March 23, 2009

Encouraging kids to fight in school, parts 1 and 2

Our latest Educational Numbskull Award goes to the nutcases running this place:
AUSTIN, Texas – Nine employees are under investigation over allegations of new fights among mentally disabled residents of the troubled Corpus Christi State School, a state lawmaker said Saturday night.

State Rep. Abel Herrero said the workers are on leave while officials look into complaints that the staff members did nothing to intervene in the fights involving residents Wednesday and Thursday.

The new allegations follow six staffers being charged earlier this month with injury to a disabled person over separate fights allegedly organized for the staff's entertainment. Videos of those fights were found on a cell phone.

"Appalling," said Herrero, a Corpus Christi-area Democrat. "Completely unacceptable. It's important that the state exhaust every resource to once and for all ensure the safety and well-being of our state's most vulnerable population." Herrero had few details involving the new incidents but said one of them involved accusations against six staff members and the other involved three workers. At least one of the incidents was reported in a phone call to state investigators. The workers were accused of having been nearby when fights occurred but not intervening.

Jay Kimbrough, chief of staff for Gov. Rick Perry's office, told the Corpus Christi Caller-Times that the recent incidents don't include allegations that fights were encouraged by employees.

On Friday, video of the earlier fights were shown at a Corpus Christi bond hearing for a former employee accused of staging the bouts. State officials, local police and the FBI are investigating the allegations of staged fights.

The videos from Timothy Dixon's cell phone included two residents repeatedly punching each other while staff members cheered. The residents tried to choke each other before one threw the other to the floor. An employee then kicked the resident on the floor. Dixon, 30, is among six facing charges of injury to a disabled person.

Four of the six current and former employees have been arrested. Two others were believed to have moved out of state before the investigation, police said. Herrero said Friday that at least two staff members were being investigated over the new fight allegations.

There's so much to be disgusted over, but looming largest to me is this one: Who hired people who think that encouraging mentally disabled people to fight is a form of entertainment? Any time the decision is made that someone, no matter how morally bankrupt they are, is better than no one, then the person doing the hiring needs to take a vacation or find a new line of work.

But wait! There's more from the Lone Star State! Pay special attentian to the boldfaced sentences I have included:
DALLAS – The Dallas school system was rocked by allegations Thursday that staff members at an inner-city high school made students settle their differences by fighting bare-knuckle brawls inside a steel cage. The principal and other employees at South Oak Cliff High knew about the cage fights and allowed the practice to continue, according to a 2008 report by school system investigators.

"More than anything, I'm in shock and disbelief — shocked that this could ever occur and shocked that it would be condoned by a professional administrator," said Jerome Garza, a member of the Dallas school board. The report, first obtained by The Dallas Morning News, describes two instances of fighting in an equipment cage in a boys' locker room between 2003 and 2005. It was not clear from the report whether there were other fights.

Superintendent Michael Hinojosa told the newspaper that there were "some things that happened inside of a cage" and called the fights "unacceptable."

No criminal charges were ever filed, and there was no mention in the report of whether anyone required medical attention or whether any employees were disciplined. A district spokesman would not comment. The allegations came to light during a grade-fixing investigation that eventually cost the high school its 2005 and 2006 state basketball titles. School officials were suspected of altering students' grades so that they could remain eligible to play for South Oak Cliff, a perennial basketball powerhouse in one of the poorer sections of the city.

The newspaper reported Thursday that Angela Williamson, a parent, said she was ignored when she attempted to bring the matter to the attention of district administrators after her son, Cortland, told her that students stood around clapping and screaming while watching a fight he participated in. He and another student fought for five to ten minutes in the cage in 2004. She said the students acted as if they were in an arena.

Williamson said she took her son out of the school and moved to another district shortly after he came home with a swollen hand. "I said enough is enough, and we just left," she said. "This was the norm. My son said this is what they do — let them fight in 'the cage.'"

She said she met with a football coach who had encouraged the fights.

"He told me this is how they settled disputes in his day," she said.

In an interview with the Morning News, Donald Moten, who retired as principal last year, denied any fights were held.
"That's barbaric. You can't do that at a high school. You can't do that anywhere," Moten said. "Ain't nothing to comment on. It never did happen. I never put a stop to anything because it never happened." In the report, a teacher was quoted as saying Moten told security personnel to put two fighting students "in the cage and let `em duke it out."

The report said a hall monitor, Gary King, told investigators he witnessed the head of campus security and an assistant basketball coach place two students in the cage to fight. Another hall monitor, Reno Savala, told investigators he came upon two students fighting in the cage "bare-fisted with no head or eye protection." Savala said the assistant coach was watching the fight and broke it up when Savala told him to.

"It was gladiator-style entertainment for the staff," Frank Hammond, a fired counselor who has filed a whistle-blower lawsuit against the district, told the newspaper. "They were taking these boys downstairs to fight. And it was sanctioned by the principal and security." Hammond did not actually witness any of the fights, according to the report.

Garza, the school board member, said the board should look into whether criminal charges should be filed. Dallas police said they have no record of any investigation by the department. The district attorney's office would not comment.

The allegations come about 10 days after law enforcement authorities reported that careworkers at a Corpus Christi institution forced mentally disabled residents to fight each other and recorded the brawls for their entertainment.

Now look, "back in my day," kids did fight each other on occasion, but rarely were the fights at school and rarely did anything worse than a bloody nose occur. Then, the fight was over when it was over, and other people didn't jump in. It still didn't make it right-- but I am never going to apologize for punching the neighborhood bully after he tried to hurt my baby brother --repeatedly. Of course, we ended up as friends, eventually. And yes, I have to admit that there have been a few students that have passed through my classroom in which I knew that if he had had an "attitude adjustment" from a peer at an early enough juncture in his life, he would have probably been much less of a scaly little reptile.

But back then, parents would have never dreamed of suing over every little gust of wind that blows. Back then, kids did not bring weapons to school, except for the pocket knives we all carried as tools, but you certainly didn't use those as weapons.

Now? Now kids bring guns and knives to school in kindergarten. Now, there is no such thing as a common fistfight. Now, parents will sue over minor disagreements among kids. Now, kids react violently to being looked at wrong.

I think it's time for Coach "Back in My Day" to retire-- voluntarily, or better, forcibly. But being that he's a coach of a winning team in a part of the country where high school sports are taken WAAAYYYY too seriously, I doubt that will happen.

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Sunday, March 22, 2009

Never, NEVER give up!

It is NEVER too late to learn, as Alferd Williams is determined to show his third grade classmates.

Of course, he is about nine times as old as they are.
ST. JOSEPH , MO-- The 71-year-old son of a sharecropper, Alferd Williams is now a third-grader and has his own reasons for working hard in school.

“I don’t have a mother living, and I don’t have a father living, so it’s up to me how long I go to school and how well I learn,” Williams told a gymnasium packed with fellow students at Edison Elementary School.

Williams returned to first grade in St. Joseph when he was 68 because what he wanted most of all was to learn to read.

He’s in the third grade now at Edison, where he was honored Wednesday by the national Toys for Tots Literacy Program with the first Alferd Williams Literacy Award.

He accepted the award clad in jeans festooned with Fat Albert characters and a white T-shirt. He told the crowd that no matter how old, everyone has some kid in them.

His first-grade teacher, Alesia Hamilton, also received the award. The two have received much national attention for Williams’ efforts, including being on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and in People magazine.

“What we have to realize as a nation is there are 34 million adults in this country at the level Alferd was when he came into this school, and we really must do more to help them,” said Sharon Darling, president and founder of the national Center for Family Literacy.

The Toys for Tots Literacy Program provides disadvantaged children with books and other materials. It’s part of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Program.

Williams said that despite his age, school is so important to him that he plans to remain a student for “the rest of my life.”

How appalling that Mr. Williams had to go through his life struggling with a lack of literacy-- but how inspiring that he decided it was never too late to learn. It's a lesson we all could repeat to ourselves over and over again.

That's what I plan to tell myself when I see the same student walking the hallways of our school for the SEVENTH year in a row.

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Monday, March 16, 2009

Movie Madness Monday 137: Innisfree edition

Yes, I am pondering all things Irish this week, and remembering how beautiful the Emerald Isle is. What a heartbreak for my great-grandmama to leave and go to the middle of the dry, hot prairie. Thank God we carry home in our hearts even if we never get to return in person.

Leave your quotes from this classic in the comments section!

"I'll count three, and if you're not out of the house by then, I'll loose the dogs on you!"
"If you say "three," mister, you'll never hear the man count 'ten.'"

"America - ha! Prohibition! You see that over there? That's the ancestral home of ancient Flynns. It was taken from us by... by... by the Druids!"

"Two women in the house - and one of them a redhead!"

"Now I want yous all to cheer like Protestants!"

Have a Happy St. Patrick's Day!

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Sunday, March 15, 2009

Should I feel guilty?

Is it un-Christian of me to secretly rejoice over the news that the teacher who flat-out failed to contact me REPEATEDLY and contrary to school policy when my child was struggling in her class-- and hello? I am IN THE BUILDING and somewhat well known-- has decided that she will not return next year?

Because, you know, I am trying to keep a holy Lent, but I am restraining the urge to dance in a jubilant manner.

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Friday, March 13, 2009

How do you know it's the Friday before spring break?

Because three kids are having meltdowns, one kid just basically dared you to write him up in front of the entire class, while fifteen other kids have already left to go on vacation, that's why.

Then there's all the bodies who are here but their heads are already on break.


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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Tunesday 8: The Hush Sound

The Hush Sound, Goodbye Blues

You may have already heard the Hush Sound without realizing it if you are a fan of the tv shows Grey's Anatomy or House, both of which have featured the song "Medicine Man" in promotional materials. Very early in their very young careers (the band formed in late 2004) they caught the attention of members of Fall Out Boy and Panic! At The Disco, and share a label with both bands. Genre-bending pop/rock sounds and witty lyrics unite all of these bands, but the Hush Sound seems the most accessible to me and the most mature-- ironic, since they are the youngest of the three bands.

The Hush Sound produces a lot of sound for a quartet. Lead singing duties are shared by pianist Greta Salpeter and guitarist Bob Morris. Salpeter's vocals bring to mind Leigh Nash of Sixpence None The Richer, and she emits a silky, knowing alto which is all the more amazing considering she is just twenty years old. Her keyboards also emphatically anchor the songs with a jangly, hammered sound somewhat reminiscent of a ragtime or honky-tonk piano.

Morris's voice reminds one strongly of Brendon Urie of PATD. Morris's guitar work is also rather retro, evincing a strong Telecaster tone with a growly yet clean lyricism that reminds me of Walter Becker of Steely Dan. What sets this band apart from many of its label-mates in the versatility that they mine through the combination of male and female voices and their inventive rhythm section.

"Honey" and "Molasses" are both bouncy little numbers that echoes the vibe of Aimee Mann's "Momentum" from the Magnolia Soundtrack, while "That's Okay" is a more meditative number very much in the SNTR vein. "As You Cry," features Morris on lead vocals and whirls through several musical styles verging from a Smiths- like bridge to tight vocal harmonies. The version of the album that I have also includes a video to "Wine Red," from their previous album Like Vines, which is also a fine example of the Hush Sound's style.

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Saturday, March 07, 2009


According to federal law, students have definite privacy rights. However, teachers who work with students are allowed to know information regarding student discipline and behavior. Somehow this second part gets lost a lot among many administrators. I believe that this tendency is extremely counterproductive if not potentially dangerous not just for the teacher involved but for other students.

Case in point: A class was discussing youth law issues, and the school behavior guidelines and district policies regarding the possession of weapons was exhaustively discussed. In the midst of several hypothetical scenarios, a student wanted to know what would happen if, upon coming to school, he realized that he had his weaponry and ammunition from a weekend hunting expedition still within his vehicle upon arriving at school. He (and twenty-two other students in the class) was told that he should approach the school resource officer and immediately let that officer know that weapons had inadvertently been brought to school, and the officer would then secure the weapons so that the student would not potentially face severe consequences for his oversight.

One week later, this same student was caught with weapons upon school property. Oh, and drugs, but that is neither here nor there. His teachers were informed that the young man was suspended but not why.

One week after that, the teacher involved in the discussion was informed about why exactly the young man was suspended. This teacher then informed the assistant principal about the conversation. Here is the assistant principal's response:

"Why didn't you tell me about this earlier?????"

Let's see, because the teacher had no idea why this kid was suspended. Because the AP failed to follow the law. Because the AP treated her staff as if they are not professionals who should be kept informed because she didn't trust them as professionals. Because if teachers reported every single conversation held in class, nothing else would ever get done. Because there is obviously an adversarial situation being created by the AP in regard to her staff, rather than a cooperative one.

Credit the teacher with gently pointing this out.

By the way, this same teacher was berated by another AP for not disclosing that a kid who lives in the teacher's neighborhood who was suspended was thrown a party by her mother in celebration of said suspension.

Until school administration works with the teachers rather than against the teachers, the school will never function well. Administrators need to value teachers as colleagues and acknowledge that teachers spend far more time during the day with the students and have all kinds of knowledge that could be a resource for the administrators in the effective discharge of their duties.

It just requires reciprocity and respect.

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Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Boundary issues

One thing you must learn in education, kids, is that you have to have some logical, common-sense boundaries.

Have the kids call you by your last name or last initial if you have an unpronounceable name. Try to not be alone in a room with a student with the door shut. Do NOT NOT NOT become friends with your students on Facebook or MySpace. But here's a new one I learned this week:

Don't sit down. Because some kid may come over and just randomly sit on your lap. And what do you do? Raise your hands so it doesn't look like you are touching or holding that kid there and STAND UP while saying, "I am not comfortable with you doing that."


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