Monday, January 26, 2009

School-related Nightmares

I used to have nightmares, pretty often, about failing a college class because

a) I showed up one day and discovered there was a final exam happening that day, of which I'd had no clue or

b) I forgot to go to the final or

c) I forgot that I was registered for the class, and had neither attended any of the sessions nor withdrawn from the course at the registrar's office.

Often I'd wake up in a panic and have to remind myself that I already have my diploma, that I passed all my classes -- even the fourth-level Hebrew class that I took pass/fail and therefore didn't attend as often as perhaps I should have -- and that everything is fine. And also, from what I understand, this sort of nightmare is quite common among college graduates.

Then I started teaching at a public high school in the Bronx. Ever since, my school-related nightmares are not about failing a class, but about failing as a teacher. Specifically, they are about showing up the first day of school and being completely unprepared.

In some dreams, I'm back in the States, and I suddenly am back teaching on September 1st on no notice, and so I have to scramble around getting my class schedule and finding my classrooms (which are always miles apart), praying that I won't be late or, worse, miss a class completely (and still, deep down, knowing that my absence would be because the burden of teaching these classes had been placed on me in the last minute, NOT because I'm chronically late -- even though I am chronically late, but not for teaching! -- but I'd still feel horrible as if it were somehow my fault), and I face classroom after classroom of young, not-necessarily-eager faces, and I have to tell them something about what we're doing this year and what they should expect of me and of the class, but I got nothin', because I have no clue what the curriculum is, and I have no syllabus to hand out, and even though I'm an experienced teacher and can wing it well enough not to lose their respect completely, if only I'd had more time I could have prepared something really great rather than something mediocre or "not completely embarrassing" and I'm overwhelmed because I know that for the next few months I'll be playing a constant game of catch-up, and I'm angry at the system for not giving me more advance notice and for dumping all this responsibility on me without giving me the tools I need to do a great job.

Unfortunately, most of what I just described was reality in the New York City public school where I taught for two years. I didn't ever know until the last minute (ie, the day before school started) what grades or subjects I was teaching, and I did play catch-up every single day, sometimes not knowing when I went to bed at night what in the world I'd have my students do the next day. The feeling of mediocrity that I lived with for 2 years was horrible. So it's no mystery where that nightmare comes from!

I wake up in a panic, and have to remind myself that now I teach in programs where I know in advance what is expected of me, and where I teach all my classes in one room, and for which I already have course outlines.

I start teaching in six days. Three times a week I'll be teaching two sections of 11th-grade English classes (for American students here on a semester program). I've taught this course before and not only have a syllabus already, I even have my handouts ready for the first few weeks.

I'm also starting a second job in another, similar program for American kids. There, I'll be teaching three sections of 10th grade, twice per week. Half of the curriculum will be the same as that I teach in the first program, so those lesson plans are already done. And the other half will be a sort of Journalism mini-course, which I've never taught before but it is, after all, my professional field. I'm sure it will be fine and that the students will get a lot out of it ... and I'm also sure that, though of course there will be some snags in the lesson plans since they'll be new, I'll be able to work with the kids to keep things as smooth as possible, and I'll improve those lesson plans for next year. Consciously, I know that I'm a pretty good teacher and that everything will be OK.

But subconsciously, I'm apparently petrified, because last night I had a new teaching nightmare: that I showed up at this new program the first day, and I'd KNOWN that I'm teaching and I KNOW what the curriculum is, but I'd FORGOTTEN TO PHOTOCOPY THE HANDOUTS because I'd gotten confused between what I'd taken care of for the kids in one program vs. the kids in the other program. So I have to face the students and give them a syllabus, and I've got this student questionnaire for the first day which is very helpful...but both of those handouts are at home and really I got nothin' and I'm walking in there in 2 minutes and I have no handouts so what the hell am I going to do for 50 minutes? Aaaaaaaagh...

The human mind is really something! I'm trying to tell myself that this fear is useful only as far as it motivates me to stay on top of everything and get my materials photocopied far enough in advance that I feel everything is under control. But deep down I know it won't go away completely until the courses are finished at the end of May and I can honestly tell myself that it was a job well done.

Wish me luck!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Appreciation Wednesday

I want to express appreciation to all those English-language writers who helped in Israel's "PR War" during the recent Gaza campaign: the bloggers and letter-writers and op-ed writers, etc. etc. Many, many people did excellent work, and despite the tragedy which is CNN, I do think your work paid off, perhaps more than you know.

I know many of you have stopped reading The New York Times because of its bias (real or perceived) against Israel. But I read the New York Times every day. I read every single article, op-ed, and letter about Israel. When an article has invited comments, I read the comments.

And I can tell you that the coverage this time around was very fair. This does not mean that everything they reported cast Israel in a glowing light. Part of their job, as a strong newspaper, was to tell us what was happening on the ground in Gaza, and it was ugly. But they did a better job in the last few weeks of providing context than I've seen in years. The message of why Israel was doing this, Israel's goals and its attempts to minimize civilian casualties, came through clearly.

That message also came through, clearly and intelligently, in readers' comments and in the Letters section.

The New York Times isn't much of a barometer, but I've seen lots of great articles being sent around the internet from smaller papers around America, and the number of CAMERA complaints has been relatively low, given how much publicity this war receives. Overall, I think as a group we writers and media-watchers who want the world to truly understand what happens on our side of the Erez crossing were more successful in this war than we've been for ages.

There are still a lot of Israel-haters out there, and the PR side of Israel's struggles is a continuing challenge. But I do think it's important to step back and acknowledge when one's efforts have made a difference.

Kudos to all those who made their voices heard.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Air Raid Siren

The air-raid siren went off in Jerusalem today, scaring the bejeezus out of a lot of people.

Liza and I were both at home. As far as we know, our nearest bomb shelter is the Chabad center a block away. Not knowing what was going on -- did the Gazans get even longer-range missiles and we didn't know? Is this a drill we didn't hear about? -- we bunkered ourselves in our little hallway between the salon, kitchen and bathroom, and closed all the doors so we'd be away from any windows. Immediately we discovered that the phone networks were busy, which meant that it wasn't a drill; no one else knew about it either.

Liza took it pretty calmly, since she had lived in Haifa during the Israel-Lebanon war in 2006. She started making a list of things we should keep in the little hallway: chairs, cushions, radio... while I stood there, not freaking out exactly but having to admit that I felt scared.

"You'll be amazed," she said, "how quickly this stops being frightening and starts being completely irritating."

After a few minutes we found out that the siren had simply malfunctioned, both in Jerusalem and Bet Shemesh (which is in range of Gaza missiles, so they must have really been freaking out over there).

I said to Liza "You know, I'm thinking that even though we're technically out of missile range, maybe we should inquire whether there's a bomb shelter closer by, and start putting all that stuff into the hallway, just in case."

Liza's response: "What I was thinking was that if a missile came through our kitchen window, no one would ever find out how many dirty dishes we have."


Sunday, January 11, 2009

Quick Update (now with a little war-related stuff!)

1- This is what the engine of my refrigerator looked like:

It was basically melted. We got a new one today. This means we were sans fridge for 3 days. Thank God this happened in the winter, rather than in the summer.

FYI the fridge belongs to the landlord, so the money I put out to replace the engine is being deducted from next month's rent.

2- Recipe for Freezer Soup by Chayyei Sarah:

In a large pot, dump:
formerly frozen spinach
formerly frozen brocolli
formerly frozen carrots
formerly frozen mix of sweet potato, white potato, celery, onions, carrots
formerly frozen dill (equivalent of 4-6 tspn)
formerly frozen crushed garlic (equivalent of 3-4 cloves)
formerly frozen vegetarian/soy-based "chicken" breasts, cut into bite-size pieces
formerly refrigerated tofu, cut into cubes
formerly frozen half a can of whole tomatoes, mostly drained
1 can whole chick peas
salt and pepper to taste

Cover with water, cook for a while, and enjoy.
(It actually was really yummy.)

3- My landlord is infuriating. I don't want to get into the details here, but let's just say that the refrigerator drama is not the only "issue" I've had to discuss with him recently, and it's so frustrating dealing with him. The conclusion that Liza and I have reached is that the man does not understand that although he owns this place and therefore has the right to expect rent money and for us not to damage anything, this isn't his home anymore, it's ours. (He lived here for 30 years.) It doesn't seem to register with him that certain things are none of his business, or that, no, we don't have to put the furniture where he thinks it would be best. AAAAARGH.

4- I tried to give blood today, for the war effort. I was at Shaarei Tzedek Hospital anyhow for an appointment with the good folk at the sleep lab, and asked at "information" where to give blood. The 8-thousand year old woman at the counter said "I don't think we do that." Can it really be that you can't give blood at a hospital? Maybe I have to go to a Magen David Adom center? Anyhow I now feel like those ads that say "Don't Almost Give. Give." are directed right at me.

5- In case you are one of the 3 people in Israel who hasn't gotten the email about this, you can donate toys, children's books, blankets, and small heaters to Israelis in the South by wrapping them in a box and bringing them to your local Israeli post office. The Israel Postal Authority has made arrangements with the municipalities of several communities (Ashkelon, Be'er Sheva, Sderot, Ofakim and Netivot) to distribute the goodies, after determining that those items are what they most want. The donated items will be sent for free. More details here.

6- I agree 100% with the first 20 (short) paragraphs of this post. Regarding the rest (last 7 paragraphs), I have a slightly (though not substantially) different take; more about that some other time, perhaps.

Friday, January 09, 2009

A Little Drama

Last night I was in the salon with our weekly guest, Liz. She was playing on her computer and I was preparing a blog post on something fun and silly, to get people's minds off the war, when my roommate, Liza, started saying something from the kitchen that I didn't really listen to.

So she said it more forcefully, and it was along the lines of "something smells funny in here."

Well, dude, it's the kitchen. There are funny smells. I'm busy here. [Don't worry, we get along fine. I was just absorbed in what I was doing.]

Next: "Seriously, guys, there's a weird smell and the fridge is making funny noises. Listen!"

So we listened, and it sounded like the fridge was humming. What's her problem?

I went into the kitchen and indeed it smelled strongly, of some weird gas. And Liza was standing in a cloud! Problem! Whoa!

Like a flash, Liz and I ran around the apartment collecting everyone's laptops (because what else would YOU save if your kitchen was full of some strange gas and you had to leave?), while Liza unplugged the fridge and opened some windows.

We went next door and called the fire department, who said to unplug the fridge and open some windows. Check. Next, call a technician.

Bottom line: I slept at the neighbors last night because our apartment smelled like freon, which by the way is not odorless. Liz and Liza slept in Liza's room (their preference) in their coats because all the windows were open. And a technician is coming in a few hours.

Sunday, January 04, 2009


1- Worry over our troops in Gaza (but also relief and pride that, when attacked, our people have the means and the will to protect ourselves).

2- Worry over Sparky, who, for reasons too complicated to explain here, could really use a new place to live for the next couple of weeks -- a place that would allow her to continue attending her regular school (not in Jerusalem).

3- Overwhelmed-ness over all the things I have to finish RIGHT NOW. Cannot break the laws of physics to do them all at the same time. Urrrrrrrgh.