Friday, August 28, 2009

A Day in the Life of a Teacher

It may be an exhausting life, but for some reason I love it. It must be the fantastic students I have!

5:00 AM - I am rudely jolted out of a blissful sound sleep by a remorseless clock that is still getting even for all the times I smacked it or ignored it in college. I groan, glare at the clock, and finally give in. I shower, dress, have a leisurely breakfast, read a bit of my Bible, and pray something along the lines of "Oh Lord, please don't let me get buried today. Please keep the kids behaving well and help me not to scar them for life." I spend a few minutes with Jasper, who feels that this is an inadequate return on the amount of love he gives me (I agree).

6:30 AM - I whiz through the apartment, making sure everything is packed and by the door. I double-check to make sure I have prepared some form of lunch.

6:50 AM - With a reluctant sigh, I leave the comfort of my apartment and hit the road. The only sure way not to get stuck in the nightmare-inducing DC traffic is to leave insanely early.

7:05-ish AM - I arrive at school, take everything up to my classroom, and rearrange the desks that the cleaning people have someone managed to leave in disarray. I write the date and the corny history joke of the day on my whiteboard, turn on my computer, and double-check my lesson plans.

7:30 AM - I report to the gym for my "duty." I am the official gym supervisor for all early-arriving junior high and high school students. I like to think of myself as the Commandant of Stalag 1. No one escapes from Stalag 1!

7:50 AM - The aggravatingly loud bell jars me out of the hypnotic stupor I seem to fall into from circling the gym for twenty minutes (checking for dress code violations, making sure kids stay where they're supposed to be, etc). I herd the older kids out of my "stalag" and up the stairs to their lockers. I re-enter my room, grab some homework that needs grading or a lesson plan idea that needs to be finished, and head over to the science room. My classroom, against my wishes, is now host to the first hour Bible class, which means that I get booted out of my own room during my only planning period.

8:52 AM - My planning period now complete, I go back to my classroom (I usually prefer to refer to it as my lair) and get ready to start teaching...and teaching...and teaching. For the next few hours, I teach the following:
*7th grade English
*9th grade World history
*8th grade American history

11:44 AM - I dismiss my eighth graders and head for the gym, where I sit at the teachers' table and enjoy my lunch while comparing student stories with my coworkers. When the meal is over, I supervise the students' chair stacking.

12:15 PM - I return to teaching, covering the following:
*8th grade English
*7th grade history

3:00 PM - I release the exuberant yearbook class, then sign in to my computer and start entering things on my class webpage - grades, lesson plans, announcements, attendance, discipline issues, etc. Occasionally I wander over to chat with the other English teacher about lesson and project ideas or about novels. I straighten my room, clean off my whiteboard, work on lesson plans, and assess how well my lessons for the day went.

5:00 PM - I leave the school and begin the tedious drive back home, in which I take only back roads in an effort to avoid DC rush hour traffic.

5:20 PM - I get home, take an extremely-hyper and desperate Jasper out to do his business, make dinner, scarf down dinner, and then start grading. Or making lesson plans. Or both.

8:00 PM - I finally finish work for the day. Exhausted, I play with Jasper for a few minutes, clean up the apartment, stick a record on my turntable, and enjoy part of either a film or a book. Eventually I get too sleepy to pay attention, so I take Jasper out once more and then put him to bed.

10:00 PM - If I haven't already done so, I go to bed. Within minutes of hitting the pillow, I am clutched in the warm embrace of slumber.

Few people are as underpaid and underestimated as teachers!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Demonic Chick from You-Know-Where

The other night, as I was working on trying to unpack some more of the cardboard jungle that I am currently living in (yes, my stuff is here at last, thanks to Dad), I got tired of Jasper's "assistance." So, I found a toy and gave it to him to amuse himself with. The particular toy that I picked was one of those cute yellow toy chicks that chirp when you hold them in your hand. I figured it should keep the pup busy for a bit. I had no idea what I was getting into...

At first, Jasper and the chick made a very adorable pair. He would pick it up, and the warmth from his mouth would make it chirp. Startled, he would drop it and jump back, whimper or growl at it, and then grab it again and repeat the process. Then he finally went for the thing's head and gave it a good chomp. After a few more minutes of raucous play, the chick was broken, and would no longer stop chirping.

After half an hour of incessant cheeping, Jasper and I had both had it with the chick. He hid under the bed, and I took the opportunity to cease the annoying toy and attempt to end its chirpiness. I bashed it on the counter, figuring it would break (I did, after all, get it at the dollar store a few years ago). No luck - in fact, it actually starting cheeping even more! I tried submerging it under water - the cheeping continued. I submerged it again, and then again, each time for longer periods of time. Still the apparently-possessed creature persisted in it reign of cheepiness. I began to grow very frustrated.

Finally, in desperation, I stuck the chick in the freezer. For the next hour, I continued to hear a very faint, yet still aggravating, cheeping coming from the kitchen. The thing refused to die! I put Jasper to bed and then headed for my room and closed the door. Ahhh, silence at last.

The next morning, I rejoiced to find that the chick was now silent. I threw it in the trash, started preparing my breakfast, and then...cheep, cheep, cheep, cheep. The chick had sprung back to "life" and was now happily filling my previously pleasant morning with a shower of high-pitched chirps. I put up with it while eating, and then headed for school, resisting the urge to pray for divine intervention. On the way home that night, I worried that I may arrive to find a fresh round of cheeps awaiting me. God, however, is merciful. The demonic chick had at last passed on. I took out the trash and whistled a merry tune, glad that the chick was finally (and permanently) silent.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

"Sing as We Go Along!" (Moving Day)

On the morning of the twelfth, I awoke at five in the morning, having gone to bed at one in the morning. Not the best way to start a travel day, but it's usual for me. I can never sleep the night before leaving a place. I only got about two hours of sleep the night before I left Korea! I don't know whether it's excitement or stress (or maybe both), but whenever I'm getting ready to go somewhere, I feel like my eyelids are being held open with toothpicks the night before.

By 5:30, I was on the road. I had planned to stop at my favorite watering hole, Starbucks, for some nectar of life (coffee), but I wasn't sure how early they opened, so I did not wind up stopping until I reached Ohio. Then, since my blood sugar was being most unaccommodating by making me slightly dizzy and giving me one of those echo-y headaches, I stopped at a rest area for a nice, healthy breakfast - a huge, hot cinnamon roll and an iced mocha. Hey, it was healthy in a psychological way!

I made excellent time and was amazed by the lack of traffic for most of the way. There was one slight hitch in Pennsylvania when I tried to avoid a long time on the expensive toll road by detouring slightly, which resulted in a "scenic tour" of Greensburg (which, by the way, is not scenic at all), but other than that, it was a pleasant drive. I cranked up the music, sang along in my atrocious singing voice (which has been known to alter the migratory patterns of birds), and had a fine time. Then I got about half an hour away from Manassas and hit the DC traffic...

Actually, the DC traffic was not a problem at first. Everyone was merging quite well and maintaining their speed adequately, so I had no complaints. Then I got about ten minutes from Manassas and things got....interesting. That is, if you call six lanes crammed with vehicles coming to a complete halt interesting. Even then, I didn't get terribly stressed. For the first twenty minutes or so, I entertained myself by composing new lyrics to old tunes. Among some of my favorites were "Everybody Merge" (to the tune of "Everybody Sing" - "Everybody merge! Everybody merge! Let the squeal of your brakes send the world on a surge!"), "Manassas" (to the tune of "Tomorrow" - "Manassas! Manassas! I love ya, Manassas! You're only ten miles away."), and of course, my own version of "Wouldn't It Be Loverly" ("All I want is I-66, that's the way that I get my kicks. And one free pass from this jam, oh, wouldn't it be loverly?").

As the minutes dragged on, I became aware that the jam was the result of a large accident, and was not likely to clear anytime soon. Since I now have my own TomTom, I can detour to my heart's content, so I got off at Centerville and found...another accident, and another jam. Huzzah. After over another hour had passed, I finally reached my apartment - an epic journey which should have taken only twelve minutes.

The temperature was in the nineties when I arrived (at 5:30 pm), and I had a full car to unload. Thankfully, I had only one flight of steps to lug everything up, or else I might not be alive today to type this post! Since I had neglected to stop for lunch, and since I had had very little to drink all day, I soon was hit by heat exhaustion. I couldn't rest, however, because there was still the 42-inch TV left in the car, and there was no way I was going to risk leaving it in the high heat. Being flat-screened, my new television set is not extraordinarily heavy (although light does not describe it either), but it is very awkward to hang onto when only one person is carrying it, especially when sweaty hands are a factor. That trip up the steps was harrowing, but I luckily made it up without incident.

It would have been wonderful to crawl into a nice soft, cool bed after all that exertion, but sadly, my new bed is still in Michigan. Instead, I had a sleeping bag on the floor to cradle my aching bones that night. I'm not complaining though - at least I have a lovely apartment in which to sleep on the floor.

And so ended Moving Day, with our weary and sore heroine curled up on the floor, praising God for air conditioning.

The Final Days in Montana

Aside from Old Faithful, which was absolutely awesome (complete with a scary severe storm directly behind us as the water shot straight up in the air in a passionate burst), the rest of our time in Montana was pretty uneventful. Hence the lack of posts. Dad and I spent about fifteen minutes at the most pathetic fair ever, we went shopping at an excellent store where Native Americans sell their crafts, and we walked through a farmers' market in the pouring rain. Other than that, we sat in the hotel room, or drove for miles with Dad questioning the TomTom and Mom digging for maps (is it just me, or does it seem foolish to buy a TomTom if all you're going to do is doubt its veracity and still use maps?).

Montana summed up in four words: Did not meet expectations.
South Dakota summed up in three words: Far exceeded expectations.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

"Where the Buffalo Roam..." (Montana/Wyoming, Day 2)

Ah, Yellowstone. Miles, miles, and more miles of breath-taking beauty. Wildflowers blooming in profusion amongst streams, lakes, and mountains. The "Wild West" at it's most fetching. While it lacks the enchantment of the Badlands, Yellowstone certainly lives up to all the hype. In a word, it is stunning.

Today we drove for four hours to reach Shoshone National Forest, which Mom was convinced was actually Yellowstone (partially understandable, since it really was gorgeous enough to be mistaken for it). Shoshone needs to be talked about more - it's glorious, pristine, and beckons to the eager traveler with all it's charms - purple coneflowers, yellow flax, rippling lakes of deep azure, butterflies galore, and even a few very musical rattlesnakes (they're neat to listen to...from a distance!).

Following Shoshone, we finally reached the highly lauded Yellowstone. I am so glad that I never went there as a child, because I was such a wretched little creature that I never would have appreciated it the way I can and do now. It was the deepest desire of my heart to see a bear today, but the perfidious beasts refused to make an appearance. The buffalo and elks were far more obliging, as we got to see enormous herds of buffalo (imagined how it must have felt to be a pioneer, gazing at herds of over a thousand!) and several very relaxed elk. I also had particular fun with a very friendly and fearless little chipmunk-like creature that wagged its tail at me like a little dog and almost stepped on my toe in an effort to see if I had anything in my fingers (I was kneeling on the ground, clicking my tongue at him and wiggling my fingers).

Just as we reached the hot springs at Mammoth, a huge thunderhead opened up and poured pellet-sized raindrops down on us. We sat in the car, munching our lunch of cheeseburgers, and watched in slight shock as the rain morphed into a brief hailstorm, and then back into a rainstorm. The sight of those foreboding, obsidian clouds looming over the mountains and bathing the trees in a gloomy mist is one that I shall not soon forget. Realizing that we were officially "rained out," we made our way back to the hotel (a nearly four-hour journey). On the way, I suddenly fell victim to a rare attack of car sickness, which I fortunately was able to catch in a bag. Our first visit to Yellowstone may not have ended well, but it was certainly worth it.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

"Don't Any Humans Live in Wyoming Anymore?" (Wyoming/Montana, Day 1)

This morning, as per Dad's necessity for arising at ungodly hours, we got up at 6:00 in the morning again. Ugh. I don't like my fellow human beings until at least 8:00! I feel downright convivial towards them after 9:30! No such luck with Dad. If he doesn't have me bleary-eyed and resembling a mottled corpse, he just isn't getting the most out of his vacation. Unfortunately, the lack of sufficient sleep meant that I started out the day with a near-migraine (a headache that caused me tremendous pain, but did not compromise my will to live).

We breakfasted one last time at Marlin's Roadhouse Grill (it warranted a second visit - it's just off I-90 in Rapid City, for anyone who's feeling interested), where I had a delectable western omelet that almost made me forgive Dad for rousting me out of a sound sleep, and thus inflicting a horrid headache on me. Following another gut-splittingly huge meal, we were off to Montana.

Getting to Billings from Rapid City requires a few hours of travel through Wyoming. Now, this initially made me happy, since I have a lifelong goal of seeing all fifty states. After some initial mental exclamations over the vast space and beauty of Wyoming (a headache like that one means that I make as little sound as possible), I eventually grew a bit bored. It was justifiable, after passing about one hundred miles of no trees or humans in sight. Wait, I take that back. I did see one tree - I photographed it out of sheer joy. It was not until some snow-covered mountains appeared in back of the landscape that Wyoming began to get interesting again.

We ate lunch at a rather dingy Subway, where the kid waiting on me (who couldn't be more than 16), flirted his little heart out with me. Now this really puzzles me: when I was 16, no 16-year-old boy on earth would have picked me over an earthworm. Now that I'm 25, I seem to be an absolute magnet for teenage boys and old men. This is further evidence that men are very strange creatures which I have no hope of ever understanding.

We got into Montana with little hassle, and continued on the arduous journey to Billings, which is in the official middle of nowhere. You pass hundreds of miles of absolutely no people and only a few dozen cows (similar to what I saw of Wyoming) and then BAM! Into the the city of Billings, which is crawling with people (much like any other city).

Since we were exhausted, we were delighted to find our hotel - AFTER the lengthy confusion resulting from the hotel listing an address that does not exist, as well as one which does exist, but which is one clearly designed to exasperate travelers (it's on south 25th street west, but Billings has not only a south 25th street west, but also a south 25th street, a west 25th street, and a 25th street west, all located in different areas). Our poor TomTom was probably considering either mutiny, or getting revenge on us by directing us to the middle of the Atlantic.

Tomorrow, we're off to Yellowstone at last! Fun fact - Did you know that Hollywood legend Gary Cooper originally worked as a Yellowstone guide, as well as an amateur cartoonist?

"So That's Why They Call It the Badlands!" (South Dakota, final day)

Sunday, August 2. Approximately 6:00 AM.
After finally breaking down the night before and taking a sleeping pill (sleeping with one's mother is not conducive to a good night's sleep, especially when said mother insists on sleeping on THE side of the bed that one is accustomed to), our heroine, Stephanie, spent an interesting night having hallucinations (in which she saw people who definitely were not there) and very odd dreams. She is finally sound asleep, when a merciless man insists on heartlessly awakening her. Sure she'll be groggy and partially incoherent for the next several hours, but at least her father can have the satisfaction of seeing America first before the sun gets a chance to. Her father is incapable of enjoying a vacation unless he rouses everyone at such early hours every day that they require a vacation just to recover from vacation!

Later that morning
After a gut-splittingly huge and incredibly delicious breakfast at Marlin's Roadhouse Grill (highly recommended for all travelers), young adventuress Stephanie and her not-quite-as-adventurous-as-her-though-certainly-more-adventurous-than-most-people-their-age parents set off on a quest. They seek Wall Drug, a massive tourist trap in Wall, which baits travelers with at least one hundred miles of large signs advertising its enticements. For those unfamiliar with this particular modern marvel, Wall Drug is a ginormous store selling nearly everything. It features a huge collection of interesting old photographs on many of the walls, stretches longer than a flea market, and has lots of statues of buffalo, jackalopes, etc. After a few hours, the Thompsons leave, fulfilled and slightly poorer financially (Stephanie's dog, Jasper, will be a very happy little boy when his "mommy" gets home and gives him his lovely present from South Dakota).

Following the visit to Wall Drug, the family is off to (cue appropriate musical intro) the Badlands. The name conjures in Stephanie's mind a harsh, unforgiving stark landscape of dried, parched earth with steam rising from it and lots of skulls strewn about. This image is hard to reconcile with the surrounding landscape of green prairie, but it's what the name suggests. The name misleads.

"So that's why they call it the Badlands!" Stephanie's mother exclaims as the currently-lush prairie dramatically and suddenly gives way to an almost-alien landscape of harsh cliffs rising and falling from the earth in startling triangular shapes. It is as though they have entered another world - one of silent harshness that somehow molds into unspeakable beauty. To the farmers who came west dreaming of becoming ranchers, this landscape must have seemed hostile and disappointing - certainly it would be a poor place to hope for anything, be it plant or creature, to grow. On the other hand, it seems unfair to label any place so strikingly stunning and so flawlessly colored - as though by a celestial paintbrush - "the Badlands." So many other names could do far better justice to this rose-hued panorama!

The family spends hours in awe, taking photographs and staring, at times speechless with wonder. It is as though the Badlands has them under a mystic spell. Stephanie, of course, can and must climb, ignoring the pain in her previously-injured knees. Her parents restrain her from hiking to her heart's content however. No matter. Someday, before more than two or three years have passed, our heroine will return to this transcendental painting-come-to-life. And once more, it shall hold her under its enchantment.

Spelunking Amidst Jewels (South Dakota, Day 4)

On Saturday, I was nearly wriggling with excitement as the three of us piled into the car. At last, I was to see and explore the famous Jewel Cave! The second-longest cave in the world, Jewel Cave is currently over 146 miles long, and is still being further explored. Inside are incredible rock and mineral formations, which give the cave its name.

On my suggestion, we had purchased tickets (you have to get them in advance if you want to get in, as tour groups are small and the cave is very popular) for the "Lantern Tour." This tour is a 1936-stylized tour in which guests get to spend nearly two hours inside the cave, using oil lanterns to light their way. I figured this would be a unique way in which to view the cave, and certainly an experience that we would be unable to find elsewhere. Boy was I right!

Our tour had only one thing that made it less than a marvelous experience: the tour guide. The Parks Service has done their usual bang-up job in preserving and maintaining the area - it really is a great place. The visitors center, as is usually the case at places like this, is well-done and informative. The other employees of the Parks Service that we ran across were the usual friendly and welcoming people that I have come to expect at sites such as these. Sadly, our guide seems to be the fly in the ointment.

To start off, the fellow came across as a cold fish - he never once came within binocular-viewing distance of a smile. His voice was inarticulate and resembled primeval grunting better suited to a Hollywood version of the Stone Age. He constantly tripped up on dates and basic facts concerning the cave. When it came to either history or science, this young man was clearly way out of his element. Honestly, I am disappointed in the Parks Service for letting an individual like this give tours - he is far better suited to work in an environment in which he will have little or no human contact.

As far as the cave went, it was awesome. And terrifying. We climbed down and up 716 cringingly-narrow steps over the course of our expedition, and it is only by the grace of God that a klutz such as me came out alive. The one time that I tripped, I was fortunate enough to fall forward after a top step and land on my (previously-injured) knees on solid rock. No complaints here; I'm just glad that I didn't have a far more spectacular and deadly fall! I held onto every possible railing so tightly that future scientists will have the privilege of studying my finger indentations!

The rock formations in the cave were such as I have never seen. Some resembled enormous kernels of popcorn, while others looked remarkably like huge snakes or mythical creatures. In the near-darkness, it was hard to see most of the "jewels" that give the cave its name, but I did occasionally glimpse some spectacular crystals. Overall, I rate the cave as highly worth seeing (and the price is hard to beat, too).

Following the cave, we took a long scenic drive through Custer State Park, which we had read would be teaming with rampant wildlife. Apparently, every moveable creature, including the insects, are currently on summer holiday from the park, most likely in an effort to escape the thousands of motorcyclists who have swarmed South Dakota for the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. Oh, well. At least I got to see a cool cave.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Calamity Stephanie (South Dakota, Day 3)

Today we drove out to Deadwood, once famous as the most lawless, immoral city in the USA. It was also once the home of Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickock, two colorful characters about whom I have often enjoyed studying. (And of course, I have spent many happy hours watching the films "Calamity Jane" and "The Plainsman" over and over and over...)

To begin our visit to that famous, or rather, infamous, city, we started out at the Days of '76 Museum, which I had read very little about in the numerous South Dakota tourism literature that I have perused on and prior to this trip. In fact, the only reason I wanted to visit was because I had heard that they currently possess the original Deadwood Stage (stagecoach), and I wanted to see that. I had no warning that we were about to enter one of the best museums I have ever had the privilege of exploring.

The Days of '76 Museum runs on donations, not admission, which automatically endears me to any museum or historic site. I believe that history belongs to the people, as they are the progenitors and authors of it, and thus it is unfair, even unethical, to charge exorbitant prices to view it. Certainly it takes money to run and maintain a site, but I believe that this money should be earned through the donations of grateful visitors and through gift shop sales. It pains and irritates me when I am unable to share in the wealth of knowledge that a museum or historical site has to offer, merely because the price tag on such an experience is too costly for a poor little schoolteacher. Okay, soapbox over!

As I said, this museum had the laudable trait of accepting donations rather than admission fees. Now again, I was not expecting anything spectacular yet, as none of the tourism literature had had much to say on this particular museum. Well, the literature needs to be rewritten. South Dakota is housing yet another hidden gem, and that gem is the Days of '76 Museum!

We first viewed the fifty-three coaches/wagons/phaetons in the museums possession, many of which have been beautifully restored. An endearingly sweet and knowledgeable older gentleman conducted the three of us through the entire museum, telling us far more than we could have otherwise learned. Following the wagons and such, we moved on to room after room, all filled to the brim with pioneer, Native American, and military paraphernalia. It was an astounding collection that would certainly have the Smithsonian drooling eagerly, had they any idea of the riches held in those rooms. Upon learning that I am a teacher, our excellent guide gave me some extra tidbits of information to color my lectures with, and then followed that up by giving me a piece of sinew to show to my students (sinew comes from a tendon on the back of a buffalo, and was used by the Native Americans as thread).

After such a treasure of a museum, the rest of Deadwood was rather disappointing. History is overcrowded by casinos and saloons in Deadwood. Although these industries helped found the town in the past, it is sad to see these vices now crowding out the chance to really see and experience history. So much could be done with that town, and so much isn't.

The Adam's museum, which we visited next, is another museum filled with treasures. However, it paled when compared to the Days of '76 Museum, so I would advise other visitors to see the Adam's Museum first, so as to enjoy it more. It houses an excellent collection which taught not only Deadwood's history, but also history of American westward expansion. Unfortunately, the layout is not chronological, and comes across as just a jumbled collection of items with some traits in common. There really is little obvious purpose or message in the way or order in the exhibits are assembled and displayed. By placing numbers by each item, and then having books in which the visitors must look up the numbers if they wish to know about the item, the museum is limiting how much visitors can and will learn. I really hope that someday soon one or more of the curators wakes up to this fact. Being a self-guided museum does nothing to help the confusing layout.

Following the Adam's Museum, we went to Mount Moriah Cemetery, where both Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickock are buried, side by side (as per Calamity Jane's dying request). This attractive cemetery boasts stunning views of the South Dakota countryside. Sadly for klutzes like me, however, it also boasts extremely steep paths and roads. On the way down from the steep hike up to the grave of Seth Bullock (the justifiably celebrated first sheriff of Deadwood and a close friend of Teddy Roosevelt), my right ankle twisted around, and down I fell! I landed with full force on my knees, which did not appreciate their introduction to the gravel-covered asphalt. As a result of my collision with the ground, I now have a twisted and swollen ankle, two skinned-up knees, and a skinned hand as souvenirs. The unfortunate klutz lives on!

Tomorrow, regardless of my physical pain (which is considerable at the moment), I will be journeying to Jewel Cave with my parents. I am looking forward to a 1930's style lantern tour, although my excitement is somewhat dampened by the knowledge that, with my luck, I'll most likely leave with further painful "souvenirs."
"Passage—immediate passage! the blood burns in my veins! Away, O soul! hoist instantly the anchor!
Cut the hawsers—haul out—shake out every sail!
Have we not stood here like trees in the ground long enough?
Have we not grovell’d here long enough, eating and drinking like mere brutes?
Have we not darken’d and dazed ourselves with books long enough?

Sail forth! steer for the deep waters only!
Reckless, O soul, exploring, I with thee, and thou with me;
For we are bound where mariner has not yet dared to go, And we will risk the ship, ourselves and all.

O my brave soul!
O farther, farther sail!
O daring joy, but safe! Are they not all the seas of God?
O farther, farther, farther sail!"

~Walt Whitman, "Passage to India"