Monday, September 19, 2005

Welcome to the Neighborhood


The past two weeks have been spent getting to know my new neighborhood and my new students. The former was made especially easy by the fact that my apartment lacked an operable oven/stove until September 13th. My stove (unlike anything else in my apartment) is a gas stove. I returned from work on the day the gas service was connected and thought I detected a strange odor. When I called the gas company to inquire if this sort of thing was normal, the response was, "Don't touch anything. Exit the premises immediately. Someone will be there within 30 minutes." So I guess it wasn't normal. In a nutshell, I had a gas leak and it took quite some time to repair. In the meantime, I believe I dined at every establishment within a stone's throw. I've grown particularly fond of a place called the No Frill Grill, and apparently the feeling is mutual. The last time I went, which was perhaps the third time in a five day period, the host greeted me with, "You like to sit on the patio, right? At this table?" So yeah, I'm here and I'm a loser. I'm not at ALL the dining out alone type, as you well know, but what can you do?

I also had the pleasure last week of doing my laundry at the "Coin Laundry" across the street. After spending $2 a load just to wash my clothes and being surrounded by literally a truckload of military guys (Army, Navy, Marine Corps? who knows?) who arrived in a Ford Expedition sporting "Official US Government Use Only" tags and who were somewhat unclear on the difference between fabric softener and laundry detergent, I opted for the laundry facilites at the Herndon Hacienda (Nisha's parents' house). I figure if you're sending guys out on the official business of doing laundry (whose laundry were they doing anyway, GW's?!) they ought to at least know how to do it. The Herndon Hacienda is far more pleasant in that there's a swimming pool, you can drink wine while you launder, and the only military guy you'll encounter is Col. Herndon (USMC, Ret.) and he's probably asleep. BTW, I owe my mom $25 if I so much as go on a date with a member of the US Armed Forces, and $100 if I marry one. Norfolk is, of course, the heart of Navy country.

It is also, as my next door neighbor at school described it, a pocket of hope in a state known (notorious?) for its conservatism. Or, at least this particular area is. Everywhere you go they're playing a song I loved in the tenth grade (dude, who knew how cool I was in the tenth grade? Certainly not me.) Aside from the plethora of vegetarian-friendly restaurants, the presence of PETA, and the local paper whose cover story this week was entitled "Equality Now: What local gays want and why they're not giving up the fight," it is a freakin HIKE to get to anything like a Target or a Best Buy or, god forbid, a Wal-Mart. Everything around me is a small, independent, locally-owned business. Everything, that is, except for the Total Wine, which is half a mile from my place. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I can walk to the wine shop. I was there today and I didn't even get carded, despite the big signs indicating that if you are under 30 you should be prepared to present your ID. Since I'm under 30 for ten more days, I was watching the cashier ring me up and silently wondering if, after years of looking young for my age, I had suddenly started to look like I was actually 30, or worse, OVER 30. The guy must have been reading my mind because he assured me that he didn't ask for my ID because he recognized me from my previous visits. See, two weeks and they know me at the wine store. My kinda town.


I think I'm up to 62 students now. And I'm not even sure these are real kids. Seriously, these kids are so amazingly good it's spooky. On the first day of school I asked the kids to participate in establishing the expectations for the class by sharing what they needed in order to learn and what they think helps a class run smoothly (thanks, Karpicus). Here's the kind of stuff I heard that day:

"I think a good class is a class where the kids pay attention."
"It helps if everyone respects the other students and doesn't put down their ideas, even if you disagree with them."
"If someone is talking, you should be listening."
"I think if the teacher asks you to do something you should do it."
"Even if you disagree with someone, there's a nice way to say it. Their opinion is still valid."

So yeah, I have it pretty freakin good at school. This is not to say that these kids have no personality. They're a pretty fun bunch. I have one kid in my last period who every day, without fail, starts requesting "closure" with 20 minutes remaining. Norfolk is big on having a warm-up and closure activity, so I always have both on my agenda, and I believe closure is his favorite part of class. I also have another student who complimented my lipstick the other day. He actually raised his hand to say, "I really like the shade of lipstick you're wearing today." For the record, it was lipGLOSS, but I'm a big hit with the 15 year old boys. And the girls have clued me in on the best places to shop.

However, my kids are definitely not an accurate reflection of the school's populuation. For starters, they're mostly white and the school is mostly black. There've been several fights day since the beginning of school, including one on the first day that was apparently gang related (we're talking real gangs here, not Dan Meier gang paranoia) and that had six kids suspended before they even reported to their first class. Suprisingly, at least to me, the school does not have a mediation program. But we do have security cameras, a very proactive approach that's clearly doing a lot of good. . .

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Settling In. . .

After moving from the suburbs of Northern Virginia to a very cool part of the city of Norfolk, I'm settling in to my new place (pictured here). It doesn't look like much from the outside, but the inside is pretty cool -- I even have hardwood floors! And, um, the whole building isn't mine, I just have the two windows on the middle floor of the far left-hand side of the building (but my apt goes all the way to the back of the building). This morning I got up and walked a block North to Elliot's Fair Grounds Coffee, a coffee shop that sells ONLY organic, fair trade coffee and that has a sign by the counter that reads, "Be Nice or Leave -- go to Starbucks" (which is across the street). I'm plenty nice, and of course I opted for the non-corporate coffee. Then I walked two blocks South to the health food store. After a long day of unpacking I headed back a block North and had dinner and a very good margarita on the patio of a little Tex-Mex place called the Colley Cantina. So this is definitely a good spot for me.

My school was built in 1918 and the building is BEAUTIFUL. As if that weren't enough, I have an incredibly sweet schedule -- I'm teaching one prep (AP Human Geography) and, at last check, I have only 60 students. Since the course is double blocked, this is actually a full schedule. AND I have my own room. Things have been going well so far. My Social Studies colleagues have been very helpful, especially my next door neighbor who teaches World History and Government and is the sponsor of the Young Democrats (which I've already agreed to help out with in the Spring).

So yeah, things in Norfolk are pretty freakin awesome.