*Names and identifying details have been altered to protect the innocent people who could sue me.

January 29, 2012

High-low-high, week of Jan 27th

High: "Yes, you can draw if you're done with your work, but it has to be English-y."

Low: slipped into my hand while I circled to help students with their essays.

High: Unnervingly accurate ...

January 27, 2012

Well, usually it's just a happy accident.

Special ed liason: Just checking in, how is (student) doing lately?
me: There've been improvements. He's participating more in class. And handing in more assignments. He still refuses to do anything he doesn't already feel like doing, though.
Liason: Well, that's part of his diagnosis.
me: Yep.
Liason: Is he interacting with the other students?
me: Yes, much more so. Some in positive ways, and then there are some students who react to his comments more negatively.
Liason: Is he able to join in group work, then?
me: Yes, I just make sure he's in a group with people who respond to him positively, and keep the others in separate groups.
Liason: Oh that's good, it seems like you want to set him up to be successful.

File under: what is it about teaching that makes everyone assume you don't know how to do your job?

January 25, 2012

What do you mean, you don't sleep here?

Still at work last night at 8pm (quarter grades were due this am), two of my students wandered in, one week early for the night they are signed up to give tours of the school to incoming seventh graders.

student 1: Wow, I never realized the clocks kept going after we left.
me: Yep. They run all night.
student 2: Whoa ... and do, like, does the noon bell ring at midnight, too?
me: John, how on earth would I know that?
student 2: oh yeah ... right.

January 21, 2012

High-low-high, week of Jan 20th

The "things my colleagues said to me this week" edition.

High: "I just thought you should know that I've never heard a student complain about your class."

Low: "So I guess we're all supposed to be teaching literacy now, or whatever."

High: "You know, your teaching style is starting to rub off on me. I moved the desks from rows into groups, and you know what? The kids still did their work! They were able to share information and correct their own worksheets and I didn't even have to put all the answers on the board myself. It saved me so much time ... I'm going to keep thinking about this groups thing!"

Stay tuned for more "Spell Checker FAILS," as the quarter ended on Friday and I have 80+ essays to read this weekend (term grades being due on Wednesday). What, are weekends supposed to be days off or something?

January 20, 2012

Self-evals, at their best:

1. I am proud of my getting better at persuading people about my
opinion, because I have improved a lot and it will help me if I become
a lawyer or salesman.

2. One area I think I need to focus on my conclusion more because I
don't think my "make it matter" is as in tip-top shape as it could be.

Is there anything else you'd like me to know?

3. I would like you to know that I liked this unit.

3. It was ok, but fun at times.

3. It was funish.

3. I have decided that if everyone had a unicorn, everyone would be
happy, so there would never be this problem [in the story of 12 Angry Men] with the kid killing someone.

January 19, 2012

Coconuts? Walk same a horse.

Or, how to provide real-time subtitling of Monty Python and the Holy Grail for your ELL student.

January 14, 2012

High-Low-High (week of Jan 13th)

There were times during student teaching when my fellow grad students and I got through to the end of the week by using a game we called "High, Low, High." I would like to say that the purpose of this game was to remind us to focus on the rewarding aspects of teaching while nevertheless holding in tandem the disappointments. In reality, it is more accurate to say that this game forced us to dig through our week to find some positive moments, and then gave us a chance to succintly complain about everything else.

(This is also called the "compliment sandwich," and it is fairly standard practice when emailing parents about why their child who just turned in a really wonderful essay has unfortunately managed to get a detention for using inappropriate language in the classroom, which is a shame because it's clear how hard this student has been working on her/his reading and writing and we're all so impressed with just how far he/she has come since the beginning of the year.)

So for this, the second week back from vacation:

High: To combat the second quarter slump, I allowed my students to negotiate a bargain (now colloquially known as "the deal") in which I would do away with Friday night homeworks if, and only if, every student in their class improved his or her term grade by at least 1% by the end of quarter 2. Inputting grades this week, I was honestly quite impressed to see that 58 of my 83 students are currently in good standing. (There's still one week left to the quarter - and that includes one more literary essay - so don't hold your breath just yet.)

Low: Upon working for the past five months to establish a connection with one of the most troubled students on our team, and having a modicum of success wherein he was actually passing Eng class, albeit no others, I checked my email Thurs morning during homeroom to find out that he had been permanently transferred out of our team. It is possible that he may also, in response to this unannounced schedule change, have stopped coming to school.

High: This week for the first, and hopefully last, time of my life I was able to utter the phrase, "John, I'm going to have to give you a detention if you can't stop Tebowing during your test."

January 13, 2012

For those of you who were wondering why we had a conversation about pickles.

Taylor Mali has been known to say that the 8th grade mind is a beautiful thing. Four and a half months into the job, I have to say I agree. Particularly during those times - in this case, a simple conversation about pickles - when I watch the mysteries of the world unfold in a moment of slow, beautiful awakening. I swear, if you listen closely enough, you can just about hear the petals unfurl.

Student: You make your own vegetable?
Me: Well, I can some vegetables. It's a process where you take fresh vegetables and you put them in glass jars, in very hot water, and you get all the extra air out of the jar so that the vegetables will stay good without being kept in the fridge.
Student: What kind of vegetables do you can?
Me: This year I only did beets, but I've done onions and all kinds of other things before.
Student: What do they taste like?
Me: Well, the easiest way to do it is to pickle them, which is where you put vegetables in vinegar and let them soak up the brine. So they become pickled onions, and pickled beets.
Student: But then ... don't they all taste alike?
Me: No, they keep their original vegetable flavor, but more vinegar-y.
Student: Why don't they all just taste like pickles?
Me: Well, the vinegar changes the taste, but a pickled onion doesn't taste like a pickled beet.
Student: But ... I don't get it.
Me: Ah. Ok. You've eaten a cucumber before, right?
Student: Yeah...
Me: And you've eaten a pickle, right?
Student: Yeah ...
Me: Did they taste the same?
Student: No ... oh. OH. Ohhhhh.

The trick is that you have to be listening, really listening. When I'm thinking about my own train of thought in the conversation, or what I have to teach next period, or all that I have to do after school that day, I miss these conversations. I miss the chance to hear what is not being said. I miss the opportunity to help the mystery unfurl. And then I end up with a conversation that is just about the conversation itself, instead of a conversation about pickles that is really a discovery of wonder in the world.

January 11, 2012

She also wanted to know how pickles are made.

quiet student: What's the high school like?
me: Well, it's a lot like 8th grade, but there's a little less support.
quiet student: How so?
me: Like, if you don't do your homework, no one's going to track you down about it - you just get a 0.
quiet student: Oh. So what's college like?
me: Way better. You have more freedom to choose classes that interest you, and you can go more in depth into questions.
quiet student: Did you go to college?
me: Yes, I went to the kind of college where most of my classes were seminars, not lectures. I think you'd like that kind of college too.
quiet student: What's the difference?
me: A seminar is a discussion, like our "Socratic Seminar" reading groups. You sit around the table and have discussions about what you've read or what you've studied. In a lecture, which I try not to use very often, you sit in the auditorium and take notes while a professor talks about the books you've read or the material you're studying.
quiet student: So they're two different kinds of teaching styles?
me: Yes.
quiet student: So ... in a lecture, you're taking notes on the professor's opinion about the book?
me: Well, yes.
quiet student: But ... ok, but what's the point in that?

And then we talked about pickles.

January 10, 2012

"lionize" is not the same thing as "limousine"

Or what my students now call the "Top Ten Persuasive Essay Spell-Checker FAILS."

10. idea ≠ ID

As in, “Using a fake idea, he bought key ingredients to make bombs.”

9. hat ≠ hate

“Lizzie Borden was aggressive to her step-mother, showing how she must hat her.”

8. trail ≠ trial

“The outcome of the trail was not guilty …”

7. clammed ≠ claimed

“Lizzie Borden clammed she was in the barn.”

6. defiantly ≠ definitely

“Lizzie Borden is defiantly guilty.”

5. lionize ≠ limousine

“OJ Simpson was late for his lionize pick-up.”

4. tying ≠ trying

“Now, as for what the police were all probably tying to say …”

3. persecuted ≠ prosecuted

“Timothy McVeigh was charged and persecuted.”

2. observed ≠ absurd

“The ‘not guilty’ verdict is observed!”

1. hallucinogenic ≠ hallucinating

“The children who accused the women were hallucinogenic.”