Posted by Bob Greenberger on December 10, 2013
This week, weather permitting, the students will be receiving their second quarter interim grades, a chance for them to assess how well they’ve progressed. It’s also an opportunity for me to see if I am actually teaching them anything. Every now and then, I ask the kids one-on-one if they’re learning and they assure me they are.
Then I grade their work.
This weekend I was finally grading the 11th graders’ major project which straddled the quarters. It required them to take a scene from The Crucible and rewrite it in another era. I provided them with a ton of graphic organizers and materials on how to research eras, how to adapt the story, how to write a script and even provided them with a model script.
Just under a third of the students delivered a script and those who did, largely missed the point. I could barely recognize what scene was being adapted but worse, I was horrified at the lack of genuine research went into their efforts. One had Nazis try to convince Hitler his goals were wrong but it was clear the student didn’t look into what arguments Germany’s Chancellor used to convince his people the Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, etc. had to go. There was the one who thought Pennsylvania was a target during 9/11 and that bombs were used. I was so frustrated that when I got to the script where two college students were busted for smoking $500 worth of pot, I did an exercise. I went online and in five minutes found out the going rate of low grade pot in Maryland and an approximate weight per joint, did some math and figured out the college students had smoked 40 joints apiece. Let’s not even go into the lack of understanding about illegal search or how the court system works. It was sad. WAIT! There is more to read… read on »
Posted by Bob Greenberger on December 1, 2013
It’s been way too long since I’ve posted and with good reason. I’m busy. Nothing new about that, I like being busy but this is really a different schedule and set of commitments that is threatening to become all-consuming.
The best things my department chair says to me are “don’t stay too late” and “stop working and have a life”. I arrive around 7 each morning and since I would rather not bring work home, I stay until 4:30-5 p.m. most days. By the time the final bell rings at 2:05, I need a few minutes to collect myself and before I know it, I’m rushing headlong from task to task, always trying to prep another day or two out. Most afternoons, though, I am entering data into the system from period attendance to grades to discipline reports. I’ve also had to step up calls home, which adds to the time being used. Fortunately, I am making calls that are good news along with the bad news calls. Parents and their students sound genuinely surprised when I say I notice improvement or comment on how hard they’re working.
I notice. I notice a lot and trying to process it all can be part of the time consumption. There really isn’t enough time available to reflect on each student in all five classes but I do know I am getting to know them bit by bit. Obviously, it starts with the louder and more disruptive ones, but I am trying to make a point of checking in with everyone at least once every few days. It’s when I notice a book they might be reading, or song they’re listening to, or even comments about the work we’re doing. I bring something up and they look stunned, unaware I heard them mention it a day or two earlier. Or that they wrote about it in their letter to me the first week of school. My awareness of their interests and lives, I think, helps me connect with them. WAIT! There is more to read… read on »
Posted by Bob Greenberger on November 20, 2013
I remain utterly fascinated and impressed with how successfully Marvel Studios has adapted their comic book heroes and villains to film. They are certainly not without flaws, but they are never less than entertaining and are doing worldbuilding in ways we’ve never seen in feature film before.
The comic book tricks of the trade, I knew, could work really well for television which is serialized like comics. But subplotting and seed planting across a variety of franchises is unheard of. The delicate balance has to be maintained between servicing the individual franchise as well as the larger universe. Thor: The Dark World builds nicely off both Thor and The Avengers while leaving threads for the next chapters in each series. But, does it work well enough as a Thor story with beginning, middle, and end? Yes, for the most part.
It has been two years since Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) saw Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and she and Darcy (Kat Dennings) have busied themselves with scientific work. When we first see her, she is on her first real date since meeting the Norse God and she’s preoccupied, still pining for him. When Darcy provides her with a distraction, she bolts, and in the process winds up absorbing something called the ether, an ancient power that predates the universe and is loose because the once-every-5000-year alignment of the nine worlds is coming.
But not only is the ether released, so is Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), the Dark Elf whose sole goal is to plunge the universe back into its primordial darkness. He was last defeated by Bor (Tony Curran), Odin’s father, and hungers for revenge. Obviously, you see where this is going. Thor, meantime, has been protecting the realm, hammering out justice as needed, although appears to be arriving as the closer, letting the Warriors Three – Fandral (Zachary Levi), Volstagg )Ray Stevenson), and Hogun (Tadanobu Asano) – along with Lady Sif (Jamie Alexander) do most of the fighting. He can no longer enjoy their post-battle revels and broods in the company of Heimdall (Idris Elba), thinking of Jane. Right there, we have a weakness in the film.
The Warriors and Sif have expanded roles, as do Frigga (Rene Russo) and Odin (Anthony Hopkins) that means Thor is left unexplored. We’re given glimpses of his internal struggles but never really get below the surface, close to his raging heart. Similarly, when Thor finds Jane and brings her to Asgard to deal with the ether, her reactions to her surroundings and his parents are appropriate but all too brief. There needed to be time for her to be with them.
And then there’s Loki. Tom Hiddleston is so good as the trickster god that he threatens to steal any scene he is in, even just by watching from afar. His character ark is fascinating and worthy of further explanation but is also slight. The evolving relationship between foster brothers is fascinating and I wanted to see more. Instead, we have to worry about Malekith and his own strongman, Algrim (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje). In Walt Simonson’s telling, it was all about the Cask of Ancient Winter, but in Hollywood that’s not big enough so all of reality has to be threatened. And despite their inaction over five millennium, the elves are way too successful at attacking Asgard.
As envisioned by Jack Kirby, Marvel’s Asgard has always been a gleaming place where magic and traditional hold forth but with just enough science fiction to make it unique. Here, as adapted by screenwriters Chris Yost and Stephen McFeely and director Alan Taylor, the elves and Asgardians have projectile weapons, high tech flying vessels and other accoutrement more appropriate to a space opera than Norse myth. It proved irksome throughout the film. Of course, Earth is the focal point for the climax and interestingly, it’s the humans who truly save the day. Much as it fell to Black Widow and Professor Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) to shut down the dimensional rift in The Avengers, it’s Selvig, Jane, Darcy, and Intern Ian (Jonathan Howard) to really stop Malekith. It’s a nice message from Marvel to its audience.
Overall, the story is epic and worthy of the source material and as the end credits rolled, I was left wanting more character moments, but was pretty happy. The second end credit sequence, also nicely mixed romance and humor, putting a button on the series for now (with no date scheduled for a third installment, it’s not happening any time soon). The first sequence, though, sets up the meta-arc of Thanos and the Infinity Gems, nicely turning the jewels into artifacts (the Tesseract/cosmic cube and the box containing the ether) and leads directly into next summer’s Guardians of the Galaxy. Sif and Volstagg turn the box over to The Collector (Benicio Del Toro) and it’s too bright, too cluttered, and feels off so I can why Taylor has carped to the press about it. I remain entertained and thrilled to see superheroics handled with deft action, good performances and a wink and nod to the fans with surprise cameos and references. It makes next year’s films all the more eagerly-anticipated.
Posted by Bob Greenberger on November 17, 2013
While I am getting into the rhythms of actually teaching, two other areas are of some concern to me. First, as I’ve mentioned before, is the classroom management. Some seem utterly incapable of keeping their mouths closed and others are just rude. Many can’t seem to contain themselves so they’re popping out of their seats with amazing regularity. One class is incredibly needy, swarming me with questions or requests rather than just sitting down and doing the work.
And each class’ personality has become apparent. This week, I gained four new students scattered over three of my ninth grade classes. One joined my quietest class and has been a nice addition, making solid contributions already and bonding with the previous newest student, which has raised the quality of classroom conversation. Two joined my most boisterous class and one is quiet, the other joined right in with the chatting and ignoring direction.
My department chair dropped in unexpectedly at the end of one period this week and we wound up team teaching the last few minutes, which was fun. First of all, the kids quieted down and second, we bounced off one another very nicely. On Friday, our assistant principal visited the class to lend some weighty support. She took five of my most troublesome kids out for a chat and we’ll see if it pays dividends tomorrow.
Since the second quarter began, I’ve tried to get tougher with discipline so the detentions have been flying as have the calls and emails home. I need to keep maintaining the pressure so they understand there are consequences to their actions. WAIT! There is more to read… read on »
Posted by Bob Greenberger on November 9, 2013
The second quarter began on Monday and I spent a fair amount of time reviewing my policies, rules, and procedures. I wanted to start with a clean slate, correcting the misconception that everyone was starting with an A. I said they’re beginning with a void and would fill it with each assignment.
Unfortunately, the chat didn’t sink in and by Thursday all the usual habits were on display, making teaching classes challenging. I began to notice that I got less taught in my two afternoon English classes than the two morning classes. I also took note that my 11th graders were working on two major projects that would shape their second quarter grade and few seemed to be taking it seriously.
Atop all this, I had to prepare to gain three new students while I dealt with others getting suspended and one of my favorites returning to Uzbekistan. The churn can be dizzying some weeks.
All of this made it somewhat dispiriting. Then, my Consulting Teacher was in to observe one class for content and came back to watch another focusing, at my request, on management. I got her constructive feedback on Friday which I appreciated but the timing could have been better.
There was no full moon Thursday night, nor was one due on Friday. And yet, it was an exceptionally challenging day for faculty and administration alike. In my case, I got a double whammy. In my first class, I had two students bicker at the beginning and I shut it down. A little while later, as everyone should have been defining words through context clues, a vital skill, they got into it again, this time off to the side and with increasing volume. I dashed over and interposed myself between them because it looked like it was about to get physical. While I kept them from one another, my next door teacher came in to help and our instructional assistant called the administration. I stood in front of the screaming girl, who was so agitated her gum popped out and wound up atop my shoe. Both finally were taken from the room and eventually sent home. I had all three assistant principals and our School Resource Officer on hand which helped to rapidly restore order.
Okay, my first classroom fight. Something to remember. WAIT! There is more to read… read on »
Posted by Bob Greenberger on November 5, 2013
After reviewing the DC documentary Necessary Evil, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to villains of all stripes. It’s also been on my mind given my frustration with overly-long story arcs on some television series.
A good hero, we’re constantly told, is defined by the quality of his opponent. Also, we’re told, everyone thinks they’re the star of their own story. It’s when those stories come into conflict do we get an interesting tale.
Over at ComicMix, I wrote in my review for Bones season eight that I thought the threat of Christopher Pelant was being overplayed as he appeared too perfect, too prepared and too perfect. Somehow he managed to drain all of Hodgins’ wealth without any way for uber-tech Angela to trace or retrieve the money (and apparently FDIC insurance covered none of his wealth, leaving him broke,. A thread they’ve ignored). This season, Pelant’s actions have hovered over the opening episodes until recently when he took center stage eliciting groans from me and Deb. He was once more overly prepared and overly good at what he does until Booth finally killed him to save Bones’ life.
But, all along, he was a fairly boring character. Despite his genius, his motivations were murky until the final episode, and his stories may have been dramatic but they failed to engage the audience. Instead, they highlighted how tired the series was getting and that the plug should be pulled sooner than later.
Over on the fresher Person of Interest, the threat of Root, well played by Amy Acker, has been an interesting thread, in part because she’s a complex, interesting, and flawed personality. She’s made enough of an impression to be upgraded to series regular and after a slow start, she is being integrated into the overall storyline so that’s something to cheer. WAIT! There is more to read… read on »
Posted by Bob Greenberger on November 2, 2013
Halloween gets everyone excited, whether you’re in costume shaking down the neighbors for candy or girding yourself for the onslaught of candy-crazed kids. At the high school level, most kids have decided they’re too old and too cool to dress up and collect fun sized pieces of chocolate. Still, it reminds them of childhood and this year, it happened to coincide with the final day of the first quarter with the promise of a day off to follow. Maybe that’s why just about every member of the faculty noted what a stressful day Thursday was.
For me, though, it was a chance to look back and realize what has transpired in just under three months. In early August I was hired and had to acclimate myself to the curriculums of two grades, find my way through a new bureaucracy plus navigate a new building. I had to figure out how to organize and decorate a classroom, plan out my lessons and pace myself to get through each seven period day.
Yesterday, while the kids slept in, I was in the building for professional development, grading and planning. (There was also a chili cook-off but my entry didn’t place, but it was fun anyway.) I have developed a wonderful working relationship with my fellow 9th grade teacher and even though I am still largely following her experienced lead, I am still contributing ideas and work so it’s really a partnership. The other four 11th grade teachers have all been generous with answering my questions and helping me figure out how to get my kids to work through the more challenging material. At the faculty meeting yesterday, my work on a Performance Based Assessment was recognized as a major help, chunking it for the students and contributing a model script to show the students. My chair proudly described by efforts resembling that of a 20 year veteran not a raw rookie.
I’m definitely into a rhythm, creating lessons and PowerPoints, and learning which kids need a kick, which need cajoling and which need me to just let them be. It’s not dissimilar to my coordinating the freelancers at DC and Marvel, each of whom needed something different.
Still, I’m struggling with managing their rambunctious behavior. For a variety of reasons, my seventh period class is proving the most challenging. We’re all tired at day’s end so my buttons may be more easily pressed but they also bring a set of issues with them that have proven to be combustible. It got bad enough on Thursday that I got loud enough to attract my chair’s attention. She waded in and calmly read them the riot act for five minutes while I cooled off in the hallway.
Several commiserated with me and noted they all struggled with all the same issues their first year. It’s great to know I am far from alone but my ego has taken a bit of bruising.
Monday we begin the second quarter and my classes will begin with a restatement of policies and procedures. This time, though, there will be swifter and harsher consequences for their actions. More calls home, my first detentions…whatever it will take to show them they should not ignore the rules. Maybe when they see their first quarter grades the ninth graders will be shocked into taking things more seriously. Or, more likely, when their parents see the grades, their behavior will be properly modified.
I’ve come quite a way since I was hired and recognize there’s so much more to learn, much of it coming through experience. I continue to treat this year as a 10 month laboratory as I try techniques and practices to see what will work and what won’t. I’m constantly being told I need to develop these tools for my teacher’s utility belt so when something doesn’t work, I have the next one at the ready. Of course, I keep thinking I’m a seasoned professional who should know how to handle these situations but of course my seasoning was in publishing where I was dealing adult to adult, not adult to still-developing adolescent. They cannot really be compared.
Posted by Bob Greenberger on October 30, 2013
I have no recollection of who my father met while a salesman for IBM, but one day he announced that he arranged a tour of the DC Comics offices. I flashed back to that sense of wonder as the news spread across the Internet that after 75-plus years, the comic book publisher was going to be following the Dodgers to Los Angeles.
Carol Fein was immortalized in this sub ad.
At the time I visited in 1971, the company was still at 909 Third Avenue and I was shown around by Carol Fein, who was then a secretary for Carmine Infantino. She did this so often through the years that by the time I joined staff in 1984 and she worked for Jenette Kahn, there was no way she could recall this one incident. But I remember it. I must have been 14 and the corporate offices looked unlike any place I had seen before (and I never did visit Dad at IBM so had no basis of comparison at the time). It resembled offices I saw on television shows, with comic books replacing flow charts and spreadsheets covering the desks. As we stood in Robert Kanigher’s office, Infantino himself brushed by, cigar leading the way. I got a quick nod and he kept going. In a spare office, Neal Adams was hunched over a drawing board, pencilling the cover to World’s Greatest Super-Heroes. The highlight though was being taken into the austere library where Mark Hannerfeld made my eyes pop by casually grabbing a volume from the drawer and let me thumb through the first few issues of All-Star Comics – from the 1940’s!
The company moved to 75 Rockefeller Plaza soon after and I would visit there a few times during the years. The coffee room that was the hub of freelancer life at 909 was gone and the place always felt on the tight side. But when I was hired in 1980, the company had grown and it was definitely tight. I was summer help that year, stuffed in a small, glassed-in office with Andy Helfer. The best part of working in such tight space was that we were across the hall from Murray Boltinoff and heard him and Kanigher plot, yell, debate, and argue with one another. We were visited regularly by Bob Haney, in his final years as a writer, and he’d regale us with stories. Newcomer J.M. DeMatteis would also hang with us while waiting for editors to be free and I think we both envied his early success. WAIT! There is more to read… read on »
Posted by Bob Greenberger on October 20, 2013
I seem to be getting the hang of teaching. On the other hand, I am still struggling with wrangling the kids and not wasting time endlessly repeating myself or trying to keep them quiet and focused. To that end, this past week an in house professional development resource and I jointly observed my fellow ninth grade teacher. Later in the day, he then observed me with my most boisterous class. Afterwards, he had pages of notes and many constructive ideas. With luck, I can practice with some of them, and slowly integrate them into the overall lesson.
Baltimore County has been added several layers of support for new teachers which I find smart and useful. In house we have one man dedicated to working with all teachers one-on-one in addition to making certain our professional development days are relevant ones. Additionally, a new position was created so I also have a mentor. Even though she’s based in Newtown High School, she covers four buildings and a handful of teachers. We’ve met several times and she will be doing several unannounced drop in observations which will give me fresh perspective. Meantime, we’ve discussed areas that work for me and where I’m still coping.
Additionally, our ESOL chair and I have been discussing the large number of ESOL students in my period 7 class, the boisterous one. As she placed one more student in there the other day, I cried uncle so she too will pay a visit and see what she can suggest. WAIT! There is more to read… read on »
Posted by Bob Greenberger on October 18, 2013
I was 22 when I was lucky enough to marry Deb. I’m 55 now and today we celebrate 33 years of life together. Although I cannot usually perform any math, I came to realize that we have been together a long time.
Looking back, the odds were certainly not in our favor. We were young, her family had their objections to me, my career prospects compared to hers were questionable. But, we entered into this together and have stayed that way.
Along the way, there have been the layoffs, the job switches fraught with complications and stresses. We’ve moved a few times. We’ve had various and sundry pets enter and leave our lives. And of course, the crowning achievement was successfully raising Kate and Robbie. Even though he is no longer with us, I continue to take pride in what we accomplished.
We are incredibly comfortable with another, still supporting each other’s disparate interests along with all that we have in common. I truly thing it is that blend of mutual and separate interests that helps keep our individual identities while still forming a team.
All through the years, we’ve talked about being together and planning a future together. As retirement begins to enter the conversation more and more (even through it’s a good 15 years away), we dream about things we want to do and places we want to go. Key through it all is that we want to be there together, sharing those days to come.
Tonight we’ll go out to dinner and celebrate all that has come before, but really, it’s all about the days to come and sharing those experiences side by side.