Saturday, February 28, 2009

A Farewell to Conan

February 20th marked the final episode of "Late Night With Conan O'Brien" and the end of Conan's 16-year run on the show he inherited from David Letterman in 1993. This coming Monday, March 2 the "Late Night" mantle will officially be passed to new host Jimmy Fallon; Conan moves on to succeed Jay Leno on "The Tonight Show" on June 1st. Only because it aired at such a late hour and, well, I actually have to work during the week did I not watch Conan more often. However, his final week of shows coincided with a week break from school. So, I was able to relive highlights from the show each night as they re-aired favorite segments chosen by fans and "Late Night" staff.

Of all the segments and characters on "Late Night" I have to say that my all-time favorite was Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, a puppet performed by one time head writer Robert Smigel, who is perhaps better known for his "TV Funhouse" segments on "Saturday Night Live." Triumph was identified early on as a Siberian Mountain Hound, often had a cigar dangling from his mouth and his most well-known catch phrase is "... for me to poop on!" usually spoken to undo a compliment that preceded it. Triumph's debut was in a skit filmed at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show and he also showed up at 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston among other places.

However, my all-time favorite bit (see video in "Triumph and the Star Wars Fans" post below) was a remote filmed on the streets of New York City as devoted "Star Wars" fans waited to see "Attack of the Clones" in 2002. I am not even a hard core "Star Wars" fan but this segment still makes me laugh out loud after at least a half dozen viewings and is an example of Triumph at his finest. As Triumph might say, "This is a hilarious bit...for me to poop on." If you like Triumph as much as I do or, God forbid, more, I highly recommend the "Best of Triumph the Insult Comic Dog" DVD that came out in 2004. Enjoy!

Triumph and the Star Wars Fans

Monday, February 02, 2009

Super Bowl Sunday and Bruce!

Despite the fact that I was not that enthusiastic about the matchup this year, I of course watched the Super Bowl with a friend in East Bay yesterday afternoon. I mean, it's the Super Bowl after all and I am a guy who likes watching football, sitting on a couch and drinking beer. Even if the game sucked I'd figured I'd see some good commercials plus Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band at halftime. Got to love a 3:30p kickoff and the whole she-banga-bang being over by 7pm. I am liking those early west coast starts for evening sporting events.

As it turned out, the game was terrific and I had to grudgingly give the Steelers some credit for the clutch drive at the end and amazing TD catch by MVP Santonio Holmes. And Bruce rocked the halftime show with "10th Avenue Freeze Out," "Born to Run," "Working on a Dream" and "Glory Days." Loved how he changed the baseball reference in "Glory Days" and made it "Had a friend who was a big football player back in high school...he could throw that hail mary, make you look like a fool boy." Great stuff.

I was even more pumped this morning after I got tickets for the opening night of Springsteen's tour on April 1st in San Jose, lower level seats. Heard the new record is great and will be picking it up later this week. Perhaps a review to follow.

Monday, January 19, 2009

U2, MLK and Barack Obama

So, I am enjoying my day off for the recognition of MLK Jr.'s birthday. Barack Obama is soon to be inaugurated as our 44th President (Whoo hoo!), and my favorite band of all-time is right in the middle of it all. Yesterday, U2 took part in "We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial" which aired live on HBO and is now available as a webcast on HBO's website. The show featured artists and presenters ranging from Bruce Springsteen and Beyonce to Jamie Foxx and Tom Hanks, all performing and speaking on the steps of the memorial. The event combined two things that I love: History and music. U2 appeared toward the end of the show and played "Pride" and "City of Blinding Lights," the latter of which was featured on the soundtrack of Obama's campaign stops. Apparently, they got a wink from Michelle Obama during the show, so it's all good. Check it out.

In other news the band has released the cover art and track listings for its new album, No Line on the Horizon, produced by Brian Eno, Daniel Lanois and Steve Lillywhite and dropping on March 3rd in the U.S. I just got an email today from with audio for the first single, "Get On Your Boots". Needless to say, I am eagerly anticipating its release as well as the announcement of tour dates for 2009. Only because I have nothing better to do, I have noticed a pattern: U2 has toured every 4 years since 1997 (Pop Mart Tour), followed by 2001 (Elevation Tour), 2005 (Vertigo Tour) and the anticipated tour in 2009. I have seen them on every one and will see them again this time around. Maybe a road trip to Chicago for shows there, if my buddy Reg can get tickets :)

Friday, January 09, 2009

The Sub Life
Grant Does P.E.

If I have learned anything from my time as a teacher, it is that you have to be flexible and you have to be resourceful. This was certainly the case when the director of my school sent me an email over winter break that said: "Grant, when you come back from winter break I think I am going to have you teach 4th grade P.E. (gym) for a week." This news neither fazed me nor did it present an insurmountable challenge. Yet I have to admit I did not know quite what to expect dipping my feet into the gym teacher pool for the first time.

I would imagine the first question you are thinking to yourself is why I, a 5th/6th grade classroom teacher, would be teaching a class (gym) I have never taught before in a grade (4th) I have never worked with before. Good question. I should further qualify this scenario by saying that up until Thanksgiving break, I did not even know I would be teaching at the school in 2009. My contract only ran through December, as the teacher I was filling in for was to return from maternity leave on a PT basis after the holiday break. As it turned out there was a need for an additional teacher in the 4th grade, so I was brought back and now split time in the 5/6 and 4th grades and will do so through the end of the school year.

I know, this still does not explain why I would be teaching physical education for a week in January. Well, the first week after winter break is traditionally when the 5th/6th graders go on a weeklong school trip to Yosemite. The gym teacher, Christine, is one of the coordinators of the trip and thus would be gone all week. I did not go to Yosemite myself only because when the trip was being planned in the fall it was not known if I would even be teaching at the school in January. Sure it would have been nice to go to Yosemite, but seeing as I got to go on 2 fields trips plus attend a conference in Flagstaff, AZ this fall I really could not complain too much about being left out.

So, on Monday the 5th I reported for duty. In addition to 4th grade P.E. I would also cover some 7th/8th grade classes depending on the director's availability to cover them himself. The latter ended up being fairly easy, as the first morning I let each 7/8 group play dodgeball the whole time after I had some issues getting into the equipment locker we share with another middle school (there are 2 schools on same campus). The other times I saw them it was just a matter of supervising them swing dancing with the P.E. class from the other middle school, whose own P.E. teachers ran the class. For the record I did not swing dance myself, citing medical issues relating to my ski trip in Lake Tahoe over break.

As for the 4th graders, I must say that it was a trip down memory lane with some of the games we played. We played a variety of tag games including "Blob Tag," where you start with one person "it" and then they grow like an amoeba as they tag others; "Rainbow Tag" where the "it" people stand in the middle of the gym, call out a color and anybody wearing that color must run from one side of the gym to the other; "Sharks and Minnows" where you have everyone inside the 3 point line of the basketball court and they chase people on foot (shark) or while crawling (minnow) depending on whether they are a shark or a minnow. Then there was "Adventure," which is basically a variation on "Capture the Flag."

With all the advances in techology like the Internet, iPods, cellphones, Blackberrys, Nintendo Wii , virtual reality games and the like, it was certainly refreshing to see that the kids still appreciate and enjoy old school games that I played as a kid. The days of the kids sitting in a chair a la "Total Recall" or "The Matrix" and having a chip put in their brain that simulates physical activity are not here...yet. Let's face it, no matter what era we live in kids are always going to want to run around, crawl on the ground, climb in trees and just generally get the led out. And thank God for that.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Obama Girls Keep it Private

In the wake of Barack Obama's election as the 44th president of the United States a few weeks ago, there has been much speculation as to what decisions he would make during his first weeks as the President-elect. Whether it be policy, who to appoint to his cabinet and various other posts, making peace with his political rivals, helping to avert the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression or the sheer history of an African-American being elected to the highest office in the land, much is on the plate and on the mind of our next president. However, the ramifications of the most recent decision made within the Obama brain trust still reverberate around Washington, DC.

Malia and Sasha Obama have chosen Sidwell Friends School.

Now that you have picked your jaw up off of the floor, let me say that this was not exactly a shocker given that the Obamas were considering 3 schools in DC for their daughters, all of them private. Malia and Sasha are currently attending a private school, University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, in Chicago. Sidwell Friends (picture below), a Quaker-run institution established in 1883 that is regarded as the Harvard of Washington prep schools, has educated the children of Teddy Roosevelt, Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton. The grandchildren of Vice President-elect Joe Biden go to Sidwell as do the children of two of Obama's advisers, attorney general nominee Eric Holder and foreign policy expert Susan Rice.
Pretty exclusive stuff, right? But of course, the added prestige of having the president's children at your school can make a drooling idiot of even the most jaded elitist. The rich can always get richer. “No matter what the ideology of the president who is elected or what his party is, the privileged people in Washington always want to get a little more privileged,” said Michael Kazin, a historian of American politics at Georgetown University in an article published November 14th in the New York Times. “It’s clear that many parents who send their kids to these schools would want the Obamas to go there,” he said. “They want their particular niche of the community to be enhanced.”

As an educator with a private school background who is currently working in a California charter school and has also taught in the Chicago Public School system, I followed this story with great interest, as I feel the Obama decision is a mini-referendum on the state of our public schools in urban areas such as Washington, DC. Not since Jimmy Carter sent his daughter, Amy (pictured left with her cat, Misty Malarky Ying Yang) to Stevens Elementary School and Hardy Middle School has a sitting president chosen public over private. While the Mayor of Washington, Adrian Fenty, lobbied the Obamas in vain on behalf of the public schools, the reality is that Mr. Fenty himself sends his children to a private school. So his pitch is just another example of "Do as I say, not as I do."

Though it was paid mere lip service during the 2008 presidential campaign compared to bigger issues such as the economy, energy policy and health care, public education was in fact discussed by Obama and Senator the very end of one debate I should add. Their discussion centered primarily on the pros and cons of vouchers, which I am personally against as they serve to encourage parents to abandon stuggling public schools for other public or private institutions instead of rolling up their sleeves and making them all better. As a teacher I believe strongly in the need for a robust public school system and an overhaul of the underfunded "No Child Left Behind" mandate left behind by the Bush administration.

Hopefully, despite Obama the father's choice of private school for his daughters, Mr. Obama the president can bring real change to our public education system. It is certainly needed.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Sub Life
Conference Week

Before I entered the teaching field, the words "conference week" were associated with that glorious time on ESPN in March when college basketball entered conference tournament time in advance of the NCAA's. A glorious week for me the college basketball fan, filled with much TV watching and little work. However, as any teacher can attest to, school conference week is far from a glorious time and is a week filled with little TV watching and much work. Such was the reality I faced this past week as I hunkered down for my first conference experience as a teacher.

As I remember it from my youth in the fine public schools of West Hartford, CT, a parental invitation to talk with the teacher in person was usually preceeded by a phone call home to deliver news such as "Your son threw _________ out the window of the bus" or "Grant shot a spitball at ________" or "You'll never guess who started a food fight in the cafeteria today." As a parent you usually were not expecting good news at the conferences, and thus there was a built in air of tension and negativity to the proceedings before they even started. And yes, for those of you that are wondering, I did actually get in trouble a lot in elementary school. The behavior epiphany finally came in 7th grade, much to the relief of my parents and area law enforcement.

The nice thing about the conferences at SCCLC is that every child has one regardless of whether they are doing very well, very poorly or anything in between. On the plus side, this philosophy makes for generally pleasant conversations where we talk about areas of strength and areas that need improvement. If a child was not turning in homework and the parent was not aware of it - as was the case with many of my kids - then they were aware of it after this meeting. I do not think it was a coincidence that the week after conferences, both the collective spelling test scores and the homework turn-in rate jumped substantially. I have said it many times, but increased parental involvement = increased student success.

On the minus side, the SCCLC conference philosophy means that, as a teacher, I have to do 56 individual conferences in the span of 4 days in addition to all of my planning and instructional responsibilities. Throw in the fact that our Powergrade online gradebook system was not functional until the weekend before conferences and you have one stressed out new teacher. However, as with most challenges I have faced this fall it went much better than my doom and gloom prognostications would have suggested. And just like parent night, the best part is that we only do conferences once a year so I won't have to face hell week again until fall 2009. Whoo hoo!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Saturday in the Woods With Grant

One of the advantages of living in my new home is the breathtaking scenery that surrounds me. Now I'm not normally the outdoorsy, hiking and camping type, but the reality is that a lot of the people I am meeting out here are. As such, I have been able to get out in nature a bit more on some local hikes. Last month I took a 5-mile hike on some trails in Portola Valley not far from where my sister lives. Yesterday, I met up with a new friend, Martha, for a hike in Purissima Woods near Half Moon Bay, a coastal city 25 miles south of San Francisco. She had been telling me about the area ever since we first met, and I was really excited about the hike. It was much more hilly and a longer hike at around 9 miles, but there were some amazing views along the way. To be walking amongst huge Redwoods or along the side of a mountain with a view of the Pacific Ocean in the distance (top left picture) is not something you take for granted. I was a bit sore in the, um, gluteal area the next day but it was so worth it. Much more fun and scenic than doing 30 minutes on my sister's Nordic Track.