Monthly Archives: October 2006

Final Exam Tally


And the scores are in!!

(and no – no one grabbed an A. Not even close; I just liked the graphic.)

One student got an 85 (he’s the kid who wrote “VULCAN” on his paper, bless him! I sent him a personal email this afternoon, to congratulate him on the score). Two earned a 79, one got 78, and two more scored a 73. One managed a 72 and one more finished off the upper scores with an even 70.

Three students earned a 66, two girls got a 62, and I’ve got one each with 58 and 57. The two bringing up the rear chime in with a 48 and a 39, respectively.

Yeah, that’s right. 39. Three. Nine. She got 61 questions out of 154 correct. She just didn’t bother to do two entire sections, and really bombed the stuff she did do. Sigh.

The final scores for the course are due on Thursday, and I’ve given the students until tomorrow to finish the online lab work they owe. IF they do all the work (and don’t crash too badly on the scores for that work), a good many will pass, even if they failed the exam. The boy who got the 48? If he turns in the rest of the work he owes me, and does as well as he’s historically done with the lab work, he WILL pass the class. Scary, but true.

And yet? I still love this job.

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Thoughts and Meditations


I’m working on tallying the final grades for the Foundations class. I can’t put a lid on it just yet – I’ve still got kids scrambling against a Wednesday deadline to get computer-based work to me – but the grades I do have at this point are not at all encouraging.

I offered the entire class a good half-hour review session before I handed out the final – an offer to which they most decidedly did not avail themselves. I got a few good questions, mostly from the same two students who, more than anything else, I think, just wanted to start thinking about grammar before they jumped into the test. At one point, one of them asked what prepositions are, so I wrote “PREPOSITION” on the board and underlined the POSITION part of the word, then asked them what prepositions are. “OH!” one of them exclaimed, “You did that in class before! Prepositions tell you where something is!”

“YES!” I said, “Now give me an example.”

I got some good examples; over, under, around, through, in, on, between. They were groovin’ with prepositions.

How many of them do you think got it right on the test? Go on, guess. Out of 17 students, how many could correctly identify a preposition?

Give up?

Six. Six out of seventeen students could identify a preposition, five minutes after we put a dozen examples of them on the board.

I’m trying to decide how I feel about all this. The biggest part of me – the part that takes immense pride in the work I do and that believes I do that work extremely well – has absolutely no feelings of responsibility for the fact that the better part of the class is likely to come away with failing grades. I taught a good class. I taught a fun class – at least, as fun as a grammar class can really be. I engaged more than one learning style. I offered up tricks and mnemonics and sang them Schoolhouse Rock songs. I drilled and illustrated and gave them the Vulcan greeting. I made myself available to them for extra help and was as enthusiastic and encouraging as I know how to be. Their failure is not my failure.

The other, much smaller, part of me thinks that there’s got to be some blame for the students’ poor performance to be laid at my doorstep. Sure, the class duration was too short and the students are the “children left behind” – the ones who have fallen through the proverbial cracks for their entire academic lives – but there’s a little voice in the back of my head that’s asking if I truly did all I could do.

If I’m to answer that voice honestly, I would say that, yes: given the time and the resources I had available to me, I did the best I could do. Coming to grips with the fact that my best wasn’t enough is another matter altogether, though.

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Judgment Day Approaches


On Monday, Organic Mama and I administer the final exam to our respective Foundations of English classes. It’s going to be interesting, for us and for them.

We put the test together on Wednesday, and had a blast doing it. It took us a while to settle down and get to business, but I think that we came up with a test that is fair and relatively comprehensive – and it’s going to scare the shit out of most of our students.

After all the formatting, it came out to fifteen sections that take up six pages. We ask students to list the five things that make a sentence complete, to match parts of speech to their definitions and to list at least one example of each, and to identify and fix sentence fragments. Section five asks students to find the subject and verb in each sentence, and section six is all about commas. Then, we’ve got some subject/verb agreement exercises, some pronoun/antecedent exercises, and some work in choosing either I or ME in sentences. Next come a couple of sections of apostrophe questions, a bunch of sentences written in colloquial language that we want the students to fix and, finally, a bit of ‘commonly confused words’ work.

Their heads are going to explode.

None of it is that difficult, really. Mama and I had to keep reminding ourselves that “too easy” for us is challenging to our students, and it was difficult – for both of us, I think, though I can’t speak for her – to keep the bar low enough to guarantee at least some student success. Seriously. Here are some examples of the questions we ask:

In the following sentences, correct the verb form, if necessary:
-When he walk into a room, everybody looks up.
-The bookstore hasn’t receive the books yet.
-She don’t know how to get to the party.

Circle the correct pronoun:
-Sam is a better cook than (I/ME).
-Enrique made souffle for my husband and (I/ME).

Change the following sentences to clarify the pronoun:
-Harvey told his father that he was too old to play with the Cub Scouts.
-Clifford’s father died when he was twelve years old.

I’m really hoping that they do well, though I have to admit a lack of optimism for the outcome. It’s not that they haven’t worked hard or that we haven’t been diligent teachers, but that we just haven’t had enough time.

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The Post in Which More of My Geekiness is Revealed..

We’re slowly putting our house together after a major renovation/addition. Part of this includes a new dining room, complete with book cases! This thrills me on several levels; I get to put all of my books in one place, where they will be easily accessible and I can look at them and admire their beauty and, well, generally revel in my love of bound paper.

I’m in the process of moving books from their scattered resting places around the house and trying to put them in some semblance of order. This is a huge cause of Type-A misery for me. Do I shelve them alphabetically by title? By author? Do I group them by genre, and if so, do I separate the “general reading” from the “canonical literature”? Do I put the “teacher” books apart from the “poetry” books? Where do the candy-reading books go? Do I put The Joy of Sex in the bookshelves in the dining room? I mean, really?

If these worries weren’t testament enough to my genuine membership in the Geek of the Month Club, add to that the fact that, as I put books away in the new shelves, I’m meticulously listing their ISBNs (notice that I didn’t say ‘ISBN numbers’ because the ‘N’ in ISBN stands for ‘number’ and I hate being redundant. SEE? I really AM a geek!). I’m doing this so that, sometime in the unknowable future, if I happen to obtain a bit of library software that can catalog my books by ISBN, I shall have that information readily available.

Still not convinced? Here’s a list of the books I’ve encountered so far of which I have more than one copy:

Hamlet
The Taming of the Shrew
Romeo and Juliet
MacBeth
Frankenstein
The Essentials of English
The Elements of Grammar (no, really – two copies!)
Wicked
Jane Eyre

I’m sure there are more that I haven’t come across yet – these are just the books I’ve put away so far.

LOSER!

(author’s note – once my laptop is back among the living, I’ll post a picture of the book corner. I can take a picture today, but can’t get it on the site until I’ve got my own laptop back….)

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Starfish


I attended another seminar at Not-So-Local University last week, and my brain has been working nonstop ever since.

The workshop was titled “Rescue and the Righteous” and was put on by fellows from the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous. The focus was mainly on character education; the concept being that rescuers during the Holocaust possessed at least one of eight qualities – courage, integrity, ingenuity, compassion, moral leadership, cooperation, self-sacrifice, and social responsibility – that allowed them to behave the way they did.

As a group, we talked about how people can, in times of trouble, be placed into one of several categories – perpetrator, enabler, bystander, victim, or rescuer (though “fighter” or “resister” didn’t come into that list) – about how people make choices that lead them to embody those labels and about how they can choose to move between them. We discussed the idea that it is often a profound thing to stand up against a seemingly overwhelming force, and how much we admire those who do that. We talked about how vital it is that our students be given an opportunity to move from thought and refection about these things to action and actualization in their own lives, whether that be through volunteerism or simply taking the time to listen to someone tell their own stories.

What has been coming back to me, again and again over the past several months, is the idea that much of our human experience is dictated by our capacity for empathy. One of the discussion topics touched on in the workshop – though not developed to my satisfaction and is, consequently, the thinking that’s keeping my brain so busy – was whether or not rescuers during the Holocaust were somehow “extra-human.” Does the need to reach out to others, to speak up against an injustice, require some sort of superhuman trait that most people simply do not have? Can people be forgiven for not standing up in support or defense of their neighbors if the risk to themselves or their families is too high? Are there limits to our capacity to care for each other?

I brought up a story I heard a long time ago about how our actions can change a life: A storm raged during the night and left masses of starfish stranded on the shore. The next morning dawned bright and clear on the receding tide, and the starfish began to dry out and die. A man walking on the beach came upon a little boy industriously tossing starfish back into the waves and commented to the child that there were thousands of starfish in the sand, that he couldn’t possibly make a difference. “Well,” said the boy, tossing another starfish in to the water, “I made a difference to THAT one.”

As a human being, I’m insulted by the idea that it takes an extraordinary power to reach out to another human being. I suspect that the director of the workshop I attended last week was trying to say that, while certainly it takes some fortitude to stand up in dangerous situations, doing so is an essentially human reaction. Believing that compassion and empathy are somehow super-powers is a cop out that many – perhaps most – people use to comfort themselves when they fail to step up and do what their souls know to be right. I understand egocentrism as well as the next person; I get that we are all instinctually looking out for our own survival and best interests. What I don’t accept, what I refuse to accept, is that this is our default position. I am more than certain that most of the problems we face, locally, nationally, globally and spiritually, are rooted in our lack of caring for one another. We love and care for our families and friends, but that caring often does not extend beyond the walls of our own homes. We don’t know our neighbors. We don’t look out for strangers. We withhold kindness and compassion. We are estranged from one another. I am guilty of this: of the four houses I can see from my front yard, I only know two of the families who live within. I wave to the neighbors I don’t know, but I couldn’t tell you their names or, really, how many people live in their houses. We humans are disconnected in a very tangible way and, as a result, have an easy time separating ourselves from one another. Their lives don’t concern us. We devolve into “us” and “them”.

The Buddha asked, “if you can see yourself in others, whom can you harm?” I think this is an essential question we should be asking ourselves. More to the point, if we can see ourselves in others, how can we tolerate suffering in those others? Even MORE to the point, if we can see ourselves in others, is there really such a thing as an “other”?

I have found that, in this lifetime, I am interested in human struggles for decency and respect. The plight of the Native Americans. Slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction and the Civil Rights Movement. The Holocaust. As I continue my study of these turning points in human history, I am brought back, again and again, to the idea that it’s the same fight in different skin.

We humans feel a need to separate ourselves from one another. I believe, with all my being, that this is a need that is entirely contrary to our spirit and that it will, if allowed to continue, bring us about to our ruin. I am working very hard against that. I am trying to be mindful of opportunities to care – to toss back just one starfish – that present themselves in my everyday life. I’m kind to the frazzled check-out girl. I offer assistance when I can see that it might be needed. I talk to the people waiting in line with me at the bank. I give of myself as much as I can (sometimes a little too much), and am trying to teach my children – both biological and academic – to do the same, both through word and example. I may not save a life with my small acts but, then again, I just might. I’m not sure it matters; I think it’s enough to put good, loving energy into the Universe. I truly believe that we can only pull ourselves back from the brink we seem to be racing towards only by caring for each other in real and tangible ways.

“Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.” I’m willing to step up. Are you?

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Yeah, That’ll Work…

Seriously. It’s come to this:

OKLAHOMA CITY, Oklahoma (AP) — A candidate for state superintendent of schools said Thursday he wants thick used textbooks placed under every student’s desk so they can use them for self-defense during school shootings.

Go here for the rest of the story.

I just don’t know what to say….

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Another Gem

Another email from one of my Foundations students (I’ve changed her name to protect her identity):

hi this is jenny henessey, i went to the libray for new books but she told me i had to buy a new book, what should i do

For starters, Jenny, you should capitalize the first letter of your sentences. You should probably also capitalize your “I” pronouns and your name, too, while you’re at it. When you’ve finished that, you ought to check your spelling and figure out where to put a few punctuation marks.

I wasn’t aware that libraries were feminine – you might want to give your pronoun a proper antecedent to clear up the question of who “she” is, then decide whether you’re talking about one book or many books. Once you’re done with that, you should probably sign up for another Foundations class, because I’m not sure that the two classes we have left are going to do you much good.

Sincerely,

Mrs. Chili

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WHAT Was He THINKING?!?


MAN! One of the students in my public speaking class has BIG brass ones!

I came home from my classes this morning feeling an odd combination of elation at having taught and near despondency at the fact that a decent portion of my students are hovering at or below the failure level. When I arrived home, my answering machine was blinking. One of the messages was from my boss. The message was as follows:

Hi, Mrs. Chili. I have an issue and I need you to call me as soon as you can. Thanks.

Now, you need to understand something about me: beneath this cool, confident exterior is a fairly thick layer of insecurity. I hide it well, and I do okay when I know for sure that I’ve covered all my proverbial bases, but I’m still quick to assume the worst when someone asks if I’ve got a few minutes “to talk” – and “the worst” usually involves me doing or saying something out of line. When I heard “I have an issue,” my brain added “with you.” Gulp. Add to that the fact that my boss, though a lovely man in and of himself, is also very difficult to read. He frazzles rather easily and it’s not always clear what his mood is like, so it wasn’t much of a leap to think that his issue was with me. My mind was racing around everything I did or said in the classroom this morning (we talked about swearing in the public speaking class in the context of “social contracts,” and I admitted my tendency to swear like a drill sergeant. I didn’t actually swear like a drill sergeant, though, so I knew I was okay on that front) and continued to inventory my behavior right up until Joe answered the phone.

It turns out that his issue wasn’t with me, but with a student in my p/s class. It’s one of the students taking a second crack at a passing grade. Let’s, for the sake of narrative flow, call him Jesse, shall we? Well, Jesse’s what you might call a “problem child.” He’s got slacker attitude to spare. He sits in the back with another delightful student, we’ll call him Steve, and the two of them just yuk it up back there. Some of the crap they come out with is genuinely funny; I’ll grant them that. Aside from the occasional humor, though, they add nothing of substance to the class and are, more often than not, a rather large disruption. Today was a particularly fun day with my own personal Statler and Waldorf, and I let my bitch out and told them that, next week, they’re going to sit in different parts of the room because I’m not abiding by their behaviour anymore. I think they think I was bluffing. Silly children!

Anyway, Joe’s issue, if I’m interpreting the story correctly, goes something like this: Jesse was in Joe’s p/s class last semester. Jesse failed Joe’s class last semester, because he failed to do the better portion of the work and didn’t hand in his final exam. Because of his failure in the course, Jesse got booted out of something he wanted – either a scholarship or admission to a different college or something – this was the part of Joe’s story that got a little confusing for me. At some point in all of this, Jesse’s father, who works in academia, got involved (I think he’s a dean of admissions somewhere, so he’s up on the whole college thing). I’m betting that it was most unpleasant for Jesse to come home to tell Dad that he’d blown whatever opportunity he’d been offered, and Dad’s been riding him to get his proverbial shit together.

Here’s where I come in. Jesse’s dad called Joe and told him that Jesse had worked out a “deal” with me whereby he didn’t have to actually attend classes; he could just do the online work and I would allow him to pass the class. As Joe’s telling me this, my jaw is dropping lower and lower: first of all, the attendance policy at TCC is INCREDIBLY strict – to the point where they actually hunt absent students down to find out why they’re not in class. As a brand-new instructor, I’d have to be high on crack to even THINK about allowing a student to deviate from this policy. Furthermore, I would never consider making this kind of special arrangement with a student without running it past my boss first. I mean, I can vary my homework policy all I want, I can play with the weighting of grades, but I can’t mess with school rules. Third, it’s not in my nature to let a student “get by.” You come to class, you bring your game, or you don’t bother playing – it’s that simple. What’s really confusing me, though? Jesse’s been to every class so far. He’s not “attending” the online portion of the class – he’s not done any of the work assigned and has, as a consequence, been marked as absent for the online classes, but he’s been to every face-to-face meeting we’ve had so far.

I explained all this to Joe and he confirmed that he suspected that Jesse was playing games with his father. DANGEROUS games, it seems. Joe asked me to write him a report about Jesse’s performance thus far, and what his grade would be if the class were to end today. I sent the following; I think it got my point across:

Dear Joe:

I’m writing in response to your request for information about Jesse Washington.

I can assure you that he and I have made no “deal” concerning his attendance in class. He hasn’t approached me about making an exception to the attendance policy for him, and I wouldn’t grant his request if he had, particularly not without consulting you first. To this point, Jesse has been in attendance at every physical class we’ve had but has turned in none of the online work that has been assigned; I’ve emailed Lucy in the Registrar’s office to confirm his attendance record, but haven’t received her response yet. He hasn’t been in touch with me about any problems he may be experiencing with Blackboard, so I’m not sure whether his failure to turn in work is due to his not having access to the assignments or his just not doing them. He also failed to turn in the one written homework assignment I issued – an outline of an informational speech to be given next week. Again, he hasn’t contacted me about any problems he may be having keeping up with the pace of the class discussion and rarely asks questions of the material that I present. This being the case, he currently has a ‘zero’ for the course work portion of the grade.

My general impression of his behavior in class is not favorable. He sits in the far back with another student and the two of them pay very little attention and contribute little of value to the class discussions. Several times during classes – today’s in particular – I had to stop conversation to bring the boys back into line; they can be very disruptive and more than a little inappropriate. I mentioned to the two of them this morning that, next week, they will have different seating assignments because I simply cannot allow their behavior to continue.

The class will be delivering their first speech next Monday. As I said, Jesse failed to turn in the outline for this speech, so I’m not certain of his plans or his preparedness for the work. We discussed, as a class, the topics for the students’ speeches, and Jesse volunteered that his talk would be about the medicinal uses of marijuana. I reminded him that his topic must be kept “college-appropriate,” though I question whether he will be able to stay within boundaries.

If the class were ending today, Jesse would receive a failing grade. I’m hoping that the change in seating arrangements will help to focus his attention a bit more and that he is well prepared for his speech on Monday. I am also planning on having short, one-on-one conferences with the students next week to discuss their performance to this point – sort of a ‘progress report’ kind of meeting – and I hope to be able to impress upon Jesse that his current trajectory will land him back in another Public Speaking class next semester.

If there is any more information you need, or you would like more detail about something I’ve stated here, please contact me right away. I’ll respond immediately.

Sincerely,

-Mrs. Chili

I mean, seriously; did he think this wouldn’t come back to me? Did he think I would cover for his ass? Frankly, I’m shocked by the audacity of the kid, and I’ll be interested to see where this goes, and what Jesse will have to say for himself when -and if – he comes to class next Monday.

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Halfway Through the Foundations Course…


…I’ve got 9 students out of a class of 17 earning failing grades. The course is pass/fail. A score of 60 or higher is required to pass.

There are two more teaching classes followed by one review and exam class.

We need the full term – 11 weeks – to teach this class. The students need the full 11 weeks to learn the skills they didn’t get in high school.

I’m trying to figure out what I can do at this point to get The Nine up out of the basement, and I’m not even sure it’s possible.

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Fun With Grammar!

Organic Mama and I were musing about this bumper sticker this afternoon. It took us quite a while to come up with the answer, but we finally came to a conclusion concerning what the subject and verb of this sentence are. Want to take a stab at it?

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