Spelling Bee know-how

I'm looking for any hints and tips for running a school-wide spelling bee for high schoolers. Has anyone done this or know of anyone who has?

National Day of Service in Honor of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Find something to do! Be part of this new tradition. I like the slogan, too: Make it a day on, not a day off.

I was so impressed by the huge and diverse number of people who volunteered for Obama's election campaign. I thought, "If only all of these people could continue their efforts, or even a fraction of their efforts, throughout the year, giving time and energy and spirit to local issues, what a difference it would make." I would especially like to see people involved in hands-on neighborhood beautification projects, especially if you live in a somewhat depressed area, because they give such a tangible and immediate sense of satisfaction.

I don't have a regular volunteer gig, and if I'm honest with myself about it I know that I would resent another scheduled commitment. However, I have enjoyed occasional days of volunteer work for shore clean-up and spreading mulch and weeding in public gardens, and that's what I'll be doing tomorrow.

If you can't find a planned volunteer activity tomorrow, how about this? Do something nice for a person whose circumstances are worse than your own. Or do something nice for the environment by not driving. Make some kind of sacrifice, but make it joyfully and with a sense of gratitude for what you have.

Thank you MLK for inspiring so many and for bringing our country that little bit closer to the ideals that we hold dear as part of our shared cultural identity.

A Bit of Inspiration In Case You Weren't Excited Enough

I was just thinking about what I'm going to do in classes after the inauguration, so I was looking through some Obama speeches that I'd saved on my computer. I'm pasting below part of the speech Obama gave in Berlin, Germany on July 24, 2008.

People of Berlin - people of the world - this is our moment. This is our time.

I know my country has not perfected itself. At times, we've struggled to keep the promise of liberty and equality for all of our people. We've made our share of mistakes, and there are times when our actions around the world have not lived up to our best intentions.

But I also know how much I love America. I know that for more than two centuries, we have strived - at great cost and great sacrifice - to form a more perfect union; to seek, with other nations, a more hopeful world. Our allegiance has never been to any particular tribe or kingdom - indeed, every language is spoken in our country; every culture has left its imprint on ours; every point of view is expressed in our public squares. What has always united us - what has always driven our people; what drew my father to America's shores - is a set of ideals that speak to aspirations shared by all people: that we can live free from fear and free from want; that we can speak our minds and assemble with whomever we choose and worship as we please.

People of Berlin - and people of the world - the scale of our challenge is great. The road ahead will be long. But I come before you to say that we are heirs to a struggle for freedom. We are a people of improbable hope. With an eye toward the future, with resolve in our hearts, let us remember this history, and answer our destiny, and remake the world once again.

New School for the New Year

My school moved locations over the holidays. Our new site is all portables, which sounds depressing, but it is really nice. It feels open and new, with benches, and little new trees and plantings, tables with built-in chess boards, basketball courts, a mini soccer field (asphalt, but still better than before), brand-new and adequate bathrooms (which the students have been keeping clean), a loudspeaker, a sign board out front, a big open central quad, and a lunchroom. The only thing we're missing is an auditorium or gym. We had to skip our first week's weekly assembly. For week two, we had our assembly outside in the quad. It's been incredibly warm and lovely (or maybe I should say 'disturbing' because of what it means in the bigger picture) for January, so it was actually quite nice to sit outside. It also helped with the acoustics, as far as I was concerned. The cheering didn't echo, which I think discouraged kids from shrieking crazily as they sometimes do. Less shrieking = happier me.

One day earlier this week I sat down at the black and white checked table outside my classroom door at lunch. No kids were around, so I just sat down with my book and lunch. After awhile some freshman boys came up and asked if they could join me at the table and play chess. It was fun to sit there and listen to their silly 14-year-old boy banter while they played chess with what I can only assume was very little skill as each game went quite quickly. I love the kids at my school. They are a delight.

Our new site is at the back of an elementary school. Apparently they (and we) had argued vociferously to the school board against our being placed there, but to no avail. I joined our principal, one of the deans, another teacher, and 3 students in visiting the elementary school staff meeting. They were all genuinely and pleasantly surprised to find out that we had already been in full session for over a week with our 350 students. One woman openly admitted that she had expected the worst and was really happy that it seemed like it was going to work out. We came up with ideas of how we can collaborate: reading buddies, crossing guards, leadership councils working together, etc. I'm excited to get involved in something like that.

Perhaps related to the new site, but also the students' greater maturity due to being a few weeks older, and the general sense of new start that a new year brings...my students really impressed me with excellent projects this week. They worked harder on making them good looking than they had on projects I assigned earlier in the school year. Overall, I feel optimistic about the rest of the school year.

On Tuesday, as a school, we will be walking down the street to the MLK Community Center to watch the presidential inauguration on a big screen in the gym there. I am so happy that I will get to see it, and grateful that I work at a school whose administration is flexible enough to change our schedule and organize for us to do this. Teachers in Oakland have been warned not to try to watch the inauguration on the internet in their classrooms because they're worried that it will crash the district network if everyone gets on at the same time.

I wonder if more or fewer people will watch the inauguration than watched Obama's acceptance speech.

Quick House Update

We have decided not to spend any more time, energy, or money on this particular house. It's kind of amazing that it is so difficult for people to buy a house that they can very clearly afford. Nobody seems to be arguing that we can't afford it or even that the house isn't worth buying. Quite to the contrary: they want us to borrow more than we need to, pay extra middle men to consult and inspect while we do repairs paid for out of loans rather than from our own funds, or hire a shady appraiser to see something different from what is there.

We are cutting our losses and washing our hands of the property if you don't mind a mixed metaphor. We are a little weary of the process, so we're not sure when we'll have the energy to look again, but when we do, I'll be sure to post the play-by-play here if we find something worth bidding on.

I was really getting excited about moving to Richmond, so we are also considering renting there instead of here. Still, finding a place to rent also takes time and energy, both expected to be in short supply soon.

Here's hoping that the changes that 2009 is sure to bring are generally of a positive type!