Confession: Faking It, Making It, and Dr. Zhivago

Fake it ’til you make it.  These are wise words that help anybody get a grasp on any new task presented to them.  They certainly helped me out a lot on the sales floor when I sold furniture.  The store was a 90,000 square feet showroom and had a lot of furniture that ranged from el cheapo to WHOA!  Selections ranged from dining, kids and adult bedrooms, office, living room, entertainment units, and mattresses, and to make the job more interesting, 80% of it offered custom options. This doesn’t even include all of the catalogs.  New furniture arrived constantly, and even though I had done all of my research, a piece by a new manufacturer would appear and my customer would want to know about it.  I had to say something.

Getting paid straight commission, I had to make the sale.  This often involves faking it.  When a customer shows interest in something, I seized that moment, not say, “Gee… I’ve never seen this before.  Give me a few minutes as I leave you to go do some research.”  Instead I looked at the item (let’s say a table) and used my knowledge about tables to describe what I saw and state the benefits of it.  If it had a pedestal base, I mentioned it and how it would help seat more people around it. If I saw a seam down the center of the top, I mentioned that it had a leaf and could extend.  Then I would open the table to see what kind of leaf it was, discuss the ease of the glides, and then pull out the leaf to see what the table would look like with it.  There was no opportunity to freeze in fear if I wanted to pay my bills.

Faking it relies heavily on common sense and being aware.  It often buys you enough time to recoup and figure it all out. Yet there is the dangerous trap of faking it, but not making it.  This is where I am now.

For the last two years I have been my school’s Academic Decathlon coach.  My team studies a variety of subjects about a pre-selected topic and then competes with other schools in the counties on their knowledge.  Part of the curriculum each year is a novel.  As their coach and an English teacher, I absolutely, definitely, positively wanted to read the novels.  My team would see me as the novel expert as we discussed symbolism, motifs, themes, characterization and setting.  It would be glorious.

The first year I coached, the topic was The Great Depression, and of course, the AcaDec powers that be turned to Steinbeck for the novel.  For some inexplicable reason they overlooked the always reliable, always touching Of Mice and Men, and settled instead for that doorstop of a tome, The Grapes of Wrath.  I felt the weight of the novel in my hands and vowed that I would read it to the very last page.  I was prepared to make the journey from Oklahoma to California with the Joads.  I was not prepared for the reactions of others.  After asking what the novel was, they immediately made snoring noises and stated that the most interesting part of the book was when he described  a turtle walking across the road.  “Well, I’m going to read it!,” I’d pronounce.  They rolled their eyes, “Have fun with that.”

It looks impressive in the bookcase!

I did read it.  I sat down many times to read it.  I read the first two paragraphs and then woke up hours later.  Each time!  I never made it to the turtle crossing the road.  I never made it to page two.  I most certainly never told my team that I didn’t finish it.  I told them I started it.  This lead to my after-school career of faking knowledge about The Grapes of Wrath.  When a student asked me a question about symbolism, I responded with, “Tell me why you came to that conclusion.”  As he or she told me why, I’d nod my head attentively.  If it sounded legit, I agreed with them.  If not, I suggested they reread that passage.  I dreaded the question that might actually test my knowledge.  My team ended up winning twelve medals overall, so I didn’t feel too bad about not reading it, but I didn’t want to be in that position of being an imposter again.

So small, you can’t even see in the bookcase.

Last year the topic was the Age of Empire, and this time the AcaDec gods chose a petite little book: Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.  96 pages!  I can do this!  Instead I felt a sense of deja vu after I fell asleep from the first two paragraphs describing the Thames.  It happened all over again.  This time was more pathetic– 96 pages!  This is really no way to be a coach.  The last I heard, coaches kind of have to know about what they’re coaching.  My lack of knowledge was offset by my team’s energy and motivation.  They made powerpoint presentations, quizzed each other, took notes and quizzes, and my biggest job during our meetings was to push the button on the computer to bring up the next presentation slide.

This year we’re studying Russia, and we’re reading Dr. Zhivago.  As I write, my bookmark rests on page 8.  This is very promising.  I just have 645 more pages to go.  At our team meetings this year, I will not scurry away from the literature table, because I plan on making it, not faking it.

Impressive and I’ll have the goods to back it up. I hope.

Readers:  Have you ever pretended that you knew something when you really didn’t?

A Good Day Made Better

I just spent part of my afternoon shooting the breeze with some students, some of whom were in my most fun English 10 Honors a couple of years ago and now are on the verge of graduating.  We reminisced about that class and the good times we had.  I was feeling especially happy because we just finished the elections for next year’s Academic Decathlon officers, and I was afraid it would be a popularity contest.  It turns out that the most popular students were also the same ones who really deserved to win and had earned the right to be an officer.  The new president and I high-fived and exclaimed, “Dream Team!” at the same time.

The blogosphere, it seems, conspired to increase my happiness, for Asifa nominated me for the Versatile Blogger Award.  Thank you, Asifa, for educating me on India through your vignettes, your UN contributions and your poetry.  Your constant support of my blog means a lot to me.

The rules of the award are simple:

  • Thank the person who gave you this award. That’s common courtesy.
  •  Include a link to their blog.
  •  Next, select 15 blogs/bloggers that you’ve recently discovered or follow regularly.
  •  Nominate those 15 bloggers for the Versatile Blogger Award
  •  Finally, tell the person who nominated you 7 things about yourself.

Here is my list of nominees for the Versatile blogger award in no particular order; they are all good reads and represent a variety of perspectives:

{Hungry Heart}{Thirsty Mind}


Raising a Realist



Joe’s Primal Scream

Word Play



Pouring My Art Out


All that makes you…


In My Opinion…

Classroom as Microcosm

Seven things about me:

1.  My favorite presidents are Harry Truman, Abraham Lincoln, and FDR.

2.  I would love to visit New Mexico.

3.  My favorite contemporary novel is Peace Like A River by Leif Enger.  Check it out.  His So Brave, Young, and Handsome is a great read, too.

4.  My last meal would be my mom’s Spicy Pasta Pie (made with button mushrooms, Mom), a tossed green salad, and a glass of milk.

5.  I met my husband at Humboldt State when we took Early Modern European History together.  We both wore Converse, we both drove Saturns, and yet it took me one and a half years to finally go out with him (I had lessons to learn).

6.  My favorite color is blue.

7.  Artie Shaw’s Begin the Beguine tickles my ear.

You Teach THOSE Kids?

What We Represent

On Friday I had the opportunity to watch five talented dance groups, the performances of a rapper with the positive message of doing his best in life and a beatboxer who wowed the crowd with his ability to create a song of different sounds vocally, and the whole show was emceed by two charismatic and gregarious hosts. The crowd was engaged, spirited, and loving it. Where did this amazing display of talent take place, you ask? At my school’s rally.

The events on Friday fly in the face of how many in the community view my school. Even though the campus in the newest and nicest in the district, we are located very near gang neighborhoods and many of our students are in gangs and/or have experienced gang violence. We’re well-versed on what to do in a lock-down. The majority of our students come from poverty. With 22 languages represented, ESL is not a designation, but a way of life. So it’s not uncommon when I go to community functions and meet other people that I (and everyone else I work with) am asked rather condescendingly, “Oh, you teach those kids? How do you like teaching there?” I think they expect me to break down crying and satisfy them with tales of horror and plans for fleeing the teaching profession. Instead I smile and say, “I love it. I love my kids. I drive an hour each way to teach them.” Then I’ll list some of the colleges where they have been accepted: Stanford, Howard, the US Naval Academy, and the UCs, including Berkeley and UCLA just to name a few. This normally shuts them up as they recover from the shock.

The teachers and administration that I work with are very dedicated to our students’ success and spend a lot of time supporting them; however, we provide guidance and help. It’s our kids who make it happen. The dance groups at the rally? They stay after school and practice everyday. They are organized to create the choreography and they give each other feedback. The boys from choir who sang the Star Spangled Banner trained and rehearsed on their own. The emcees are student leaders. Our sports programs have grown and many of them go on to county and state championships. We have a very large and popular MESA team that meets two-three times a week and brings home a multitude of awards for their skills in math, engineering and science. I had the opportunity to see a preview of a windmill event and was impressed by their thorough knowledge of construction, problem solving, and physics (one windmill team went on to win a gold medal). Nine of our health careers kids placed in the top ten in their events at a recent competition in which 2,200 students from across the state participated. We also have a very strong AVID program and I believe of last year’s graduating AVID students, about 99% of them were accepted to a four year college. I haven’t even gone into what our kids do in CSF, NHS, Key Club, Conflict Mediation and Culinary Arts.

As the Academic Decathlon coach, I have witnessed our students’ dedication as they created study groups, taught each other, made power points, and played review games. Some of them met twice a week, and a lot of work was done at home. For the days of competition, they coordinated the lunches; I just followed their orders. On the big day of competition, we were one of the largest groups there, and we won five awards. We were, though, trounced by smaller teams who had actual Academic Decathlon classes. My kids do not have the luxury of a class and they did all of their studying on their own time as a club. What blows me away is that while many of our students have support from home, many others do not. Our kids do all of these things because they want to and are motivated to succeed to create better lives for themselves and their families and give back to others.

Is my school perfect? No, there’s a lot we can improve on, but we’re dedicated to trying new things and finding out what works. But if our kids are labeled as those kids, then I say, “I’ll take those kids any day.”