Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The kiddies.

Oh, the kiddies this year are interesting.

I wanted to wait until we were a couple of weeks into the school year before writing about them. That first little spell there is what I like to call the Honeymoon Period: they don't really know each other too well, and they don't know you at all, and all the grade 9's are scared shitless already. So, they'll sit quietly, do what you tell them, and won't even consider "misbehaving."

Friends, the Honeymoon is over.

I have two classes of Grade 9 Applied Science — "applied" meaning "not academic" meaning "kids who don't do well in science" — and one class of Grade 12 Earth & Space Science. That one is great; students are there because they want to be, and even if they're not, y'know, as nerdy as I am about all that stuff, at least they know how to play school.

The 9's, though... that's where I earn my money.

Last year's grade 9's were, on balance, sociopaths. I'm not sure if malicious is a strong enough word to describe the admittedly-small number of bad apples that spoiled the whole barrel, but you really had to see some of these kids to believe them. Aforementioned apples: twirpy, chirpy, pre-growth-spurt munchkins that acted like they owned the place from Day One. Teachers hated them, senoir students wanted to bash their heads in, and even their own better-mannered colleagues wanted them gone. Unfortunately, those idiots drowned-out the really good kids who are pretty liable to fly right under your radar if you're not looking for them.

Some of those kids passed all of their grade 9 subjects. Some did not. I have a few of them this year, and they are definitely not pleased to be in the same room as people a year younger than them. Case in point: a grade 10 girl, who seems fairly nice, is absolutely mortified that she's in the same room as her little grade-9 brother, who couldn't sit still for ten minutes if you offered to pay him $10,000 in unmarked bills for such a feat.

I have four students in those two classes (combined) that barely speak any English. Our English as a Second Language (ESL) classes have five classifications, from A (just got off the rickety plane direct from Kazblakistan) to E (good enough to at least attempt regular English classes). In one class I have two A's, from Hungary and Afghanistan; in the other, two very-different B's from Honduras and Cuba. My kid from Hungary probably has the lowest English skills of anyone I've ever taught, and that's saying something. Nonetheless, I've been scanning blocks of text from our textbook, OCRing them, and running them through Google Translate; we'll see how that works out.

The irony about my two Applied classes is that, for kids who are in those courses, they really need a good, focused classroom environment in order to do well — but, of course, this is never the kind of classroom environment you get, precisely because of the kids in it. Zing! Joke's on... well, probably me.

All in all, though, things are going alright. I had some students tell me on a quiz a couple of days ago that the following symbols are paired up with these elements:

Ca = cancer
F = fossil
N = nagnesium

...so it's a work-in-progress, as you can see.

Ah well. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: There's never, EVER a dull moment in my job.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

So, here it is.

Ten years later.

The world has changed in a lot of ways since that day, in some ways.

But in a lot of other, perhaps more important ways, things are still the same:
  • Rich people are still screwing poor people over by the billions.
  • Governments are corrupt in a lot of places.
  • Religious fanatics continue to brainwash massive amounts of people for personal gain.
  • The gap between haves and have-nots continues to grow, in both developed and developing countries.
  • We continue to ruin our planet with shocking efficiency.
I think perhaps the most pressing problem in North America these days is the virulent strain of anti-intellectualism we've been seeing for the past decade or so. I'd argue that its first big modern boost came during the 2000 US presidential election campaign, when people were flocking to George W Bush because he was such a plain-spoken good ol' boy; "There's someone I could sit down and have a beer with."

Well, I'm sorry. The president of the United States, the most powerful person in the world, should not necessarily be someone who is a regular-folk, straight-C student. In fact, quite the opposite should be true: I want that person to be the most brilliant damn person in the world. I couldn't care less how personable they are; Bill Clinton was a Rhodes scholar and was certainly a charmer, but the latter was merely icing on a very smart cake. (And yes, I know we could argue about how the Dems actually set up a lot of the financial problems we're seeing now, but that's an argument for another time.)

So now we have the Tea Party; again, an argument for another time. But the key feature is that these people are proud to not know anything. In a sense, they're a modern revival of the 1800s Know Nothing Party, which was against such things as immigration from predominantly Catholic countries. Substitute Muslim for Catholic in the 21st century, and there's your Tea Party. (Here's a shortcut to the main features of the Know Nothing platform.)

To me, this is a far greater danger to our society than, say, terrorism. Empires usually crumble under their own weight, not because of external factors or influences. Idiocracy might come to fruition a lot sooner than 2505 at the rate we're going, and that's not good for anyone.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

There's an erection a-comin'.

(And no, I never get tired of that joke.)

Executive Summary:

Seeing as my city now has a dipshit Conservative mayor, and my country has a snarky Conservative PM, would it be too much to ask to have a middle-of-the-road Liberal premier?

Long Story Long:

We have fixed provincial election dates in Ontario. I personally hate this, because it means the erstwhile campaigning began months and months ago, turning the election into a decidedly American-style affair. But hey, that's what our previous Conservative premier(s) gave us, so that's what we've gotta live with. (Besides, when you have flexible election dates, you can have fun, neat stuff like David Peterson calling a snap election pretty early in his mandate and having his ass handed to him by once-provincial-NDP-turned-interim-federal-Liberal leader Bob Rae. Good times. (Sorta.))

In the spring, Tim Hudak and the PCs were polling disturbingly high. Very disturbingly high. Even though the campaign was months away from its official start (i.e., today), a lot of us were shitting bricks over the numbers. Then the summer came, and people forgot about Hudak a bit, and the Libs' numbers started inching up. And now it's fall and the race is on and Blue and Red are pretty much neck-and-neck these days. (I'm not sure where Orange is, to be honest. I have nothing against Andrea Horwath (pronounced Horvath), but let's wait until the PCs are at least in a medically-induced coma before we can put some serious effort behind the NDP.)

(That is to say, I'm much more afraid of the Tories running Ontario than Horwath. It's sad that this has to be based on fear, and of whom I'm afraid the least, but...)

(...well, I don't really have a good answer for that. But, back to the task at hand.)

I've been not-so-secretly hoping — and actually somewhat expecting — Hudak to put his foot in his mouth this election campaign like John Tory did so beautifully in 2007. If you'll recall, Tory tried to shore-up his 905 Jewish/immigrant* vote by musing, "Hey, wouldn't it be great if taxes helped pay for private religious schools?" Tory couldn't have gift-wrapped a better sound bite for the Libs if he'd gone to the mall in December and stopped by the little table that wraps your presents for you and donates the profits to some local charity of some flavour. Naturally, that worked out well for me in '07.

And hey, it might just be happening again. Recently, Tim opined that the Liberal goverment's current program which has $12 million headed towards employers who hire immigrants with decent credentials and skills back home but can't find good jobs here is tantamount to "affirmative action" — and he's starting to refer to immigrants as "foreigners."

Now, don't get me wrong, I love a good Foreigner song. But referring to immigrants as foreigners clearly sets up an "us vs. them" mentality, as this Star article points out. I heard a clip of Dalton McGuinty on the radio today, sounding just about as angry as I've ever heard him — seriously, the guy would probably be humming showtunes if his house was burning down — slamming Hudak and comparing him to the Tea Party. And to Dalton's credit, the more I think about that comparison, the better it is.

Listen... I don't like it when politics turns ugly. I don't like campaigns that run on negatives. But McGuinty kicked a lot of verbal ass today, and it was an ass that needed to be kicked. (If it's Tim Hudak's ass, let me invoke Butthead (who's back with Beavis this fall in a series on MTV, hooray!) and call it "the ass of the ass.") More, please!

(And yes, today I am officially embracing parentheses within parentheses (like this), because it just makes sense.)
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* I'm not invoking this in any pejorative way at all. I dig Jews and immigrants; I count some of them among my very closest friends. I'm merely pointing out that the 905 had ridings that were real horse-races between the PCs and the Libs, and thumbing the scale in favour of these groups could've meant another few seats.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Time for them kiddies again.

It's been a lovely summer, it really has.

(Except for the "it was so hot for most of the summer in Toronto that it made me want to chop my head off and stick it in the freezer for a good long while" bit.)

And so we have Labour Day. The last day of sleeping in, last day of sloth, last day of possibly not wearing pants a for a good chunk of a weekday.

It's alright, though. I really do enjoy the new challenge that each school year offers. Rumour has it we're getting another, ahem, interesting crew of grade 9's this year. Guess who's teaching several dozen of them? That's right, it's your ol' buddy J.

The night of Labour Day, I'm usually a little nervous, a little excited, and can't get to sleep too easily. Oddly enough, it's after 8 at the moment, and I'm not getting any of that — yet, at least.

An old department head of mine, who taught for over 30 years and retired because he didn't want or have to put up with the bullshit that a certain department member of ours threw and continues to throw around, once said: "If you're not even a little bit nervous on the night before the first day of school, you're not doing your job right."

Because I think I do my job (reasonably) well, maybe it's just a matter of time before I'll get the butterflies. Or maybe I'm just riding on a blissfull cloud because my Tigers just swept the third-place White Sox and nimbly got by the second-place Indians (aka "Cleveland Racist Nicknames") this afternoon. Or maybe it's all the booze I've been throwing down nonstop since getting back from the Great Flat Southwest this afternoon.

Either way... tomorrow morning, it's gonna be me and about 90 other grown-ups vs. 1500 teenagers. GAME ON.