Quick Hit; We Have a Hostage Situation

The other day, my brother Marc posted this to my facebook wall:

 

funny-professor-paper-FacebookDamn; that came out small.  Here’s what it says:

‘I don’t understand why my grade was so low. How did I do on my research paper?’
‘Actually, you didn’t turn in a research paper. You submitted a large, awkward, random assemblage of sentences. If fact, the sentences you apparently kidnapped in the dead of night and forced into this violent and arbitrary plan of yours dearly seemed to be placed on the pages against their will. Reading your paper was like watching unfamiliar, uncomfortable people interact at a cocktail party that no one wanted to attend in the first place. You didn’t submit a research paper. You submitted a hostage situation.”

I got a hostage situation in my stack of essays from Not-So-Local Community College.  Observe:

“Two people and two different times but both can be compared to one another in American history; Martin Luther King, Jr. a civil rights activist and the President of the United States Barack Obama. Racism is found thought Americas history and until recently there was a big gap between our just and in-just laws. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” and President Obama’s speech on Reverent Wright both have many similarities as well as many differences. President Obama speaks out on accusations of an extremist for the modern day civil rights movement which accuses him to be a follower. Though Obama said he had personal connection to him he disproves his belief in his views.”

That’s as far as I got. I didn’t even grade it; the author and I will have a conference tomorrow to see if we can get to the bottom of this.

Oy.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Quick Hit: Do As I Say…

So, I got this in an email this morning from one of my jobs:

Please accept this invitation to attend our ALL STAFF MEETTING on Sunday, October 5th, 2014, at 7pm.  We will be closing the building an hour early, and will be meeting in the basketball gym.  We have a lot of fun and informative information planned.

This came from the office of the executive director.  I have no idea whether the executive director himself wrote the thing or not, but it bears his name, so he’s got at least some responsibility for it.

I’ve been engaged in some really interesting discussions lately about the ways in which people communicate.  The start of the school year brings renewed frustrations from my teacher friends (and, not for nothing, from me, too) about how students seem to think that as long as THEY understand what they’re trying to say, the responsibility for understanding it is the audience’s.  My brother, who teaches high school science (and will tell you that he spends a lot of time – too much time – teaching writing, as well), is bumping up hard against this; kids expect the reader/listener to figure out what the writer/speaker means, and they get belligerent when their ambiguity – or incomprehensibility – is pointed out to them.

Here’s the thing, though; how much right do we have to hold our students to high standards of written and verbal communication when, as evidenced by the brilliant piece of writing showcased above, we can’t even expect it from people who call themselves “executive directors”?  “MEETTINGS”?!  “Informative information”?!  REALLY?!

I have half a mind to send this back to Mr. Executive Director with corrections, but I think I’ll just skip the “meetting” instead; I’m sure someone will let me know what the informative information is.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

WHY Are You Here?

*Background; this semester, I’m teaching composition classes at Local U. and Not-Local Community College.  I’m also teaching a teacher intern seminar and fitness classes at two different places, so I’m effectively working five part-time jobs.  I’m so frazzled, I often have no idea how I make it to the end of the week.  That being said, I’m more than a little surprised by how well things are going in general, and I’m not sure what to make of that…**

So, this happened;

The other day, instead of reflecting on a quote, I had my Local U. composition students write me a brief note about how the writing of their first paper is going.  I asked them a bunch of questions to spark their thinking, ending with “is there anything specific – a grammar question or an issue with organization or comprehension of the source materials – that you’d like me to go over with you?”  That was the question upon which I based our post-writing discussion.

With the exception of a couple of kids who just finished an associate’s program within the University, every single one of my students in that class is a fresh-out-of-high-school freshman; that’s important to know.  The very first kid to volunteer to speak asked about MLA formatting and how much of it they were supposed to do for this paper.

None of it,” was my answer, and 22 pairs of eyebrows shot toward the ceiling.

“Look,” I said, “you’re working with two sources; MLK’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail and President Obama’s A More Perfect Union speech.  As long as you identify them in your introduction and are clear about which source you’re quoting from in your body paragraphs, you’re fine.  MLA citations in this rhetorical situation would be unnecessary and distracting.”

It was at this point that another girl chimed in with, “can I just say that you’re NOTHING like what my high school English teachers said you’d be like?”

If the preponderance of nodding heads is any indication, her answer to my query about what she was expecting was affirmed by nearly everyone in the class; they were pretty much universally told that they would have to hit the ground running with a full and competent knowledge of citation, structure and process, and academic vocabulary, and that anything less than skillful and consistent display of these qualities would have them shamed and ostracized in their classes.  From the sounds of it, fully half – maybe more – expected to fail out of college within the first few weeks.

It was at this point that I stopped them – literally held up my hands in the “whoa, Nellie!” position – and asked them what, exactly, they were doing here.  “WHY are you here, You Guys?  What is the POINT of your being in this class?”

Genius boy in the corner pipes up with a hesitant “to learn stuff?” (reminding me that I should probably show them Taylor Mali’s “Like, Um, You Know?” poem).

“YES!” I bellowed, making a couple of them literally jump in their seats.  “If the POINT of your being here is to LEARN STUFF, then why the HELL would I expect you to KNOW any of it ALREADY?!  What would be the POINT of this class if you already KNEW everything I came here to TEACH you?!  Can you IMAGINE how BORING that class would be?  Seriously; I’d want to gouge my own eyeballs out by the third class!  GAH!”

One of the things I’ve observed in my teaching practice over the last year or two has been the fact that students would rather sit in silence, confused – and frustrated by their confusion – than speak up and admit they don’t know something.  I can’t tell you how many times I read an article aloud to my classes and stopped after a particularly challenging concept or a $5 vocabulary word to check comprehension, only to have them assure me that they “get it” but not be able to explain it to me when I asked them to prove it.  At some point, the system the way we practice it beat out of these students the kind of curiosity that encourages questions.  It discouraged them from admitting that they don’t know something, which is devastatingly ironic given that the one place we should ALWAYS be able to admit we don’t know something is in a goddamned CLASSROOM.

So, now I’m on a mission.  I am crusading to get kids to start ‘fessing up when they don’t understand something, to ask for help if they need it, and to not let teachers get away with assuming that someone ELSE taught them what they need to know to do well in class.  I’m done with that shit.  I am a teacher; my job is to help people learn, not assume that they should already know everything.

4 Comments

Filed under analysis, concerns, critical thinking, ethics, failure, frustrations, I can't make this shit up..., I love my job, really?!, self-analysis, Teaching, Yikes!, You're kidding...right?

Quick Hit: Bumper Sticker

On my way home from lunch with my husband this afternoon, I was behind a car with a bumper sticker that said, “The voices are getting louder… it must be time to write.”

I liked it so much, I made this:

 

 

34feb850-274c-4b60-84f7-37b13569dd0e

 

I’m trying to write more than I’ve been for the past few months.  I think that part of my dis-ease lately is due to the fact that I have a lot to say, but feel that I’ve got no outlet.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under about writing, critical thinking

The Start of Another September…

… and I’m still not in a classroom, BUT I may have found an acceptable alternative.  In addition to teaching a couple of sections of composition in two different colleges, I’ve been hired by Local U. to supervise a group of teaching interns.

I’m excited about this job for a number of reasons.  First, I remember how important my own intern supervisor was to my internship experience (If you haven’t been with me long enough to recall what a wild ride that was, let’s just suffice to say that the first half of the year was a shit show that would have likely pitched me out of teaching altogether were it not for the calm competence of Sam and his encouragement that I find another placement for the January semester).  I’m looking forward to being that kind of support for my own students, though I dearly hope that none of them has to experience anything even close to what I did.

I’m also eager to work with classroom teachers.  A large part of my responsibility to my interns is to observe them in their classrooms and to work closely with their cooperating teachers to offer them encouragement and guidance.  I’m expecting that just being in the classrooms (the high school’s more than than the middle school’s, but still) will be a balm to my still-singed teacher soul.   School only began this week, though, so I want to give the interns and their teachers some time to get to know each other and settle in to something of a routine before I invade their spaces.

Finally, I’m excited to work with the interns themselves.  We had our first meeting yesterday, and I can already tell that we’re going to have a great class; the students are eager, but not starry-eyed, which tells me that they’re likely going to be able to navigate the first few tumultuous weeks with some aplomb.  I’ve got 5 students spanning 3 disciplines (English/language arts, Social Studies, and Art) – 2 in the high school, three in the middle school – which is going to make for a range of experiences and practices that will keep us in discussion fodder for the whole year.

I’ve encouraged the interns to keep journals of their experiences (much like I did during my own internship and, later, while I was teaching in a classroom).  I’ve been neglecting this space of late; I’m planning to change that as I do the homework I assign my students.  Look for more entries here in the coming weeks and months.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Quick Hit : Haiku

Some of these are really, really good.  My favorite is

A crying student
Empty counselor’s office
Who will help him now?

—Heather Marcus

 

I was thinking about this on my way home from work this morning, and I came up with this

 

All my students know

their voices are important.

“Respect yourself first.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Quick Hit: Watch This

It’s long – nearly 45 minutes – and, as a white girl who was born and lived her whole life in New England, Reverend Barber’s delivery is foreign to me, but I watched this when it was live streamed and it brought tears to my eyes, so I wanted to share it with you.

3 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized