Monthly Archives: March 2007

Grammar Wednesday!

Another “confused words” edition:

This one comes from Kizz; she wants to know the difference between inquire and enquire.

These words both mean “to ask.”  The use of enquire has pretty much fallen out of Americans’ vocabulary – it’s mostly a British word now – though a few old-schooler American grammar snobs still use enquire when they’re being general and inquire when they’re being all formal and official about the asking:

“When my old high school sweetheart saw me in the grocery store, he enquired about my family and my job.”

“The insurance agent called to inquire about the accident I witnessed the other day.”

I’m throwing this one in because, a few weeks ago, one of my students challenged my use of the word disinterested;

A disinterested person is someone who is objective or neutral about something.  An uninterested person is just plain bored.

“We consulted a disinterested mediator to help us work out custody arrangements after our divorce.”

“I was entirely uninterested in the chatter coming from the guy in the airplane seat next to me.”

Lastly, I saw this one a few times in research papers:

Compliment – with an i –  is either a verb that means to praise or congratulate or a noun which is that praise or congratulation.  Complement – with an e – means to complete, enhance, or round out.

“I was complimented by my boss for the presentation I made to the board last week.”

“That scarf really complements your coloring.”

As always, Grammar Wednesday subject fodder is greatly appreciated!  You’ve got questions; I’ve got answers.  Happy Wednesday!

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Oh, To Be a Fly On the Wall…

images3.jpegI got this from my boss this morning. It was addressed to me, the head chef, and the Dean of Ed. at the college:

Ladies and Gentleman,

I am forwarding this email to all of you since these two gentlemen have continued to show the most sophisticated academic standards in our institution since their arrival in August and, for one reason or another, have appeared in our emails as well.

Jim, I am requesting that we schedule to meet these two gentlemen together as soon as possible and document their nonprofessional behavior towards one of my faculty members; and as for Dave, I am requesting that we refer to our code of ethics on his use of slander toward a specific religious group.

Looking forward to your comments,

Joe

I really hope I’m around when this meeting gets called.  I don’t even want to say anything, really – I just want to observe what happens in situations like this.  I think  it’d be an amazing learning opportunity for me.

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Filed under concerns, General Griping, Learning

Ten Things Tuesday, Plus Two

Ten things I learned teaching English Composition this semester (with bonus entries):

1. It is a risky thing to be open and personal with students but, when done correctly, it’s worth it for the relationships it earns me.

2. A student thinking I’m a bitch doesn’t make me one.

3. Never take a class’s word for it that they “get grammar” or “know how to write a research paper.” Though they may moan and complain about the refresher lessons and exercises, they need them.

4. It’s very important to teach a class on email etiquette at the beginning of the term. Threatening to grade their emails could only help.

5. Sending detailed emails to follow up on assignments is a great way to cover my ass. Students will deny to the ends of the earth that I said something in class, but their excuses don’t hold water when I can produce written back-up.

6. Not all students read their email or, in some cases, the syllabus. This is not my problem.

7. Students who laugh with me are more likely to work for me. Silly writing prompts and questions about what kids think is funny are great ways to get them to start getting comfortable about writing.

8. I need to schedule more writing conference time into my curriculum. The students got a fair bit of peer-editing time, but not enough one-on-one with me.

9. Students can really tell when a teacher is passionate about her job and they know when a professor is just phoning it in. Almost all my students wrote that they really believed that I care about them, and it’s gratifying to know that gets through.

10. C.C.-ing bosses when students get out of hand isn’t such a bad idea. Neither is keeping copies of inappropriate work that students turn in; the evidence may come in handy if the situation escalates later.

11. Pointing out to students – especially recalcitrant students – how much their work has improved over the few short weeks we’ve been working together is a great motivator.

12. Being tough – but fair and reasonably flexible – earns respect. Respect is the cornerstone of a good teaching practice.

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Well, THAT Was Quite a Learning Experience!

ch-unfair.gifI met with Joe this morning about my two ‘favorite’ students. I have to say that I’m a little disappointed with the outcome of that meeting.

While I understand that there’s really not much that Joe CAN do at this point, I had kind of hoped for more than a “note in their academic files.” While my boss noted that we can’t take these miscreants out back and beat them (as much, he said, as he might like to), he has promised me that he and the head chef will meet individually with Dave and Tad and press upon them that their behavior this term has been entirely unacceptable.

Joe had both of these students before – in the public speaking class they failed before coming to my class last term – and understands exactly what I’m dealing with here. He assured me that none of this is going to come back at me in any negative way (as far as the college is concerned; he couldn’t promise that the boys won’t utter vile things at me under their breath as we pass in the hallway). He told me that, despite my feeling like a tattle-tale, I’ve done everything exactly right. “Keep all your emails from this class,” Joe said, “just in case there’s fallout from either of the boys or their parents.” Joe, however, is completely satisfied with the job that I’ve done thus far. Really, his opinion is the only one that concerns me at the moment; I couldn’t care less what either of these boys – or their parents – thinks of me.

I haven’t yet received an email from either Joe or JG, the head chef, about the Bozo Twins. When I do, rest assured that I will fill you in.

My ONLY regret in all of this is that I didn’t make photocopies of their completely inappropriate writing journal entries (where they talk of their favorite pornography genres, relate tales of drug and alcohol abuse, and ponder the sexual orientation of one of their classmates). I’m chalking that up to my inexperience as a teacher and am tucking that little learning experience under my belt; the next Bozo won’t get off so easily.

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Filed under concerns, General Griping, Learning

The Crusade Continues

There’s a car dealership located at an intersection on the way to my health club.  This car dealership has a large, lighted sign in the front yard that runs various messages, and I often find myself reading them as I sit at the light.

Two weeks ago, I was prompted to call the customer service line of this dealership because, for several weeks in a row, the sign had been cheerfully advertising that the store had all kinds of “Kia’s and Chevy’s and Pontiac’s and Ford’s” for sale.  I spoke to someone in the office of the dealership, explained that I’m an English teacher and that I noticed a grammatical error on the sign, and asked her if she’d get someone to remove the apostrophes.

They’re still there.  On my way to work yesterday morning, I saw that the sign still hasn’t been changed.

I submitted this email to their website this morning:

PLEASE fix the grammar in your sign.

“Kia’s” and “Chevy’s” – with the apostrophes – are possessive forms; “the Kia’s tires” or “the Chevy’s transmission.”  The intent of the message was that your store carries multiple choices of the brand, and should be plural; “We have many Kias and Chevys on sale.”

Good grammar makes good impressions; particularly when that grammar is placed on three-foot, lighted signs.

Seriously, fellas; the apostrophes make you look like ignorant grease monkeys.  The fact that you may actually BE ignorant grease monkeys is beside the point…

I also saw this on a photographer’s “shingle” outside the office door:

“Such-and-So’s Professional Photography.  Birthdays, Weddings, Anniversary’s.”

Sigh.  I’ll be looking up their number and calling them this afternoon….

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I’ve HAD It…

I’m having conferences with my Bozo Twins tomorrow. Hopefully, these conferences will include my department head and the head chef.

I came home this afternoon to find these two lovely human beings had sent me some email. I was horrifed at what they’d written.

I saw Tad’s first, and responded to his little whining fit with a very detached, professional note. Then, I opened Dave’s email. That pushed me over the proverbial edge, and I composed this to my boss and the head chef:

Dear Joe:

I’m having some problems with two students of mine, Dave and Tad, and I need some advice as to how best to deal with it.

I’m offended by the way these students interact with me. Their emails are inappropriate and disrespectful. I offer the latest two as examples:

On Mar 18, 2007, at 4:37 PM, Tad wrote:

I put a lot of thoght into this. I hope i recive hight than a 40.


On Mar 18, 2007, at 7:04 PM, Dave wrote:

internet was being a jew today sorry heres my essay

I responded to Tad’s email with this:

Tad,

The amount of thought you put into something, while very important, is not the only basis for your grade. Basic grammar and mechanics also play into the score your work receives, as well as how clearly and articulately you make your point. Your paper will be graded against the rubric I gave out earlier in the week.

Please print your paper for me and bring it into class tomorrow. I don’t have a printer available to me at the moment, and I did request that the papers be delivered in class on Monday.

Thank you

-Mrs. Chili

I didn’t respond to Dave’s offensive comment because, frankly, I didn’t have any idea how to adequately address it. I feel as though he should be called on this kind of thing, though – ESPECIALLY in college. It would be irresponsible of me to let him think that this kind of behavior to ANYONE – much less a teacher or a boss – is acceptable.

I would appreciate ANY guidance you can give me here. I recognize that this is the end of the term, and that these students will likely never see the inside of my classroom again, but I still feel a responsibility to act in some way. It feels cowardly and immoral for me not to.

Thank you,

-Chili

I’m going into work early and hunting the bosses down. I cannot let this pass, and I need some witnesses (and, hopefully, some back-up) when I confront these two losers.

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Filed under concerns, General Griping, Learning, Teaching

Letters (and Love) From My Students

Today’s in-class writing assignment was for the students to write letters to the kids I’ll have in next term’s composition class.  Here are some of my favorite excerpts:

***Mrs. Chili really is funny, and she has some listen-worth stories.  Ask her about her emergency brake.

**English Comp.  I know it’s boring, but do not worry.  Mrs. Chili is a great teacher.  She seems like a crazy, red haired freak, but on the inside, she’s good people.

***If you want to get out of class, tell Mrs. Chili that you’re going to throw up.  She’ll send you packing.  She can handle blood and guts, but any hint of puke is something she can’t stand…but you didn’t hear that from me…

**My advice is to finish what she tells you to do, and you should show her that you are at least trying.

***The first thing to do is pay attention in class.  Mrs. Chili is usually pretty entertaining, and by adding humor to her lessons, she makes English class as interesting as possible.

**As long as you keep up with the homework and in-class work, you have a very good chance of doing well and becoming a better writer.  Mrs. Chili doesn’t penalize you for mistakes in papers; she edits them and gives you a chance to revise them and do better.

***Mrs. Chili is an awesomely fair teacher.  She will never spring a pop quiz on you or go back on her word.  For slackers, this may be a slight problem because she does not accept late work; however, this will make grading fair for everyone.

**This class is very helpful, and Mrs. Chili is easy to talk to if you need anything.  Whatever you put into the class, you will get out of it.

Yeah.  I really do love my job.

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Oh, The Irony…

images2.jpeg…I’ve just discovered, after sorting through all the portfolios that my Monday class has handed in, that Megadeth Dave did not submit his final project.

This final project is worth 40% of the grade.

Factoring in the zero brings Dave from a 67.7 to a 40.6.

I still haven’t heard any response back from him over our latest little exchange.  I suspect I scared him off by offering to bring in another professor who, in all likelihood, would advise me that I was too lenient with Dave’s research paper grade.

I’m done stressing over the kid.

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Filed under concerns, General Griping, Learning

Seriously

This is kind of a long story. Bear with me.

I have a particular student in one of my classes; we’ll call him Dave. I had this student before – in my public speaking class last term – and found him to be… how shall I put this?… challenging. His demeanor is that of someone who couldn’t care less about the classes; to him, they are pointless hoops to be jumped through because someone, who obviously doesn’t know any better, says he has to. Dave is studying to be a chef; what possible good could English classes be to him?

Dave’s behavior in my classes has made him one of my least favorite students. His writing journal was filled with inappropriate entries about pornography and drug use. He doesn’t turn in homework. He ambles in whenever he feels like it, more often than not refuses to participate in in-class assignments, and spends a good portion of the class chatting and laughing and making a general disruption of himself with some of my other (not so favorite) students in the back of the room. It got to the point last term where I actually implemented a seating chart to separate him from his buddy in the back (who, in some sort of cosmic challenge, ended up in my class this term, too, which has made for ALL kinds of fun on Monday mornings).

Now, remember at the beginning of the term when I complained that only one of my students did the very first homework assignments I gave? Do you also remember the discussion I had with my boss about how to deal with that issue? As I promised, I gave an extra credit assignment at the mid-term, and Dave did it. Dave not only did the assignment, but did it well and on time and, consequently, earned full credit – the removal of four zeroes from his average.

Apparently, this was not enough for him.

I received this email from Dave the other day (please note that I have not altered the email in any way – this is cut and pasted from the original):

hey i was looking at the progress report you gave me and the extra credit i got the followinbg week back from you and i noticed that my grade did not rise at all in the class after factoring out the four zerros, I then calculated my grade and you have it marked down as me having a 67.3 on the report and a 67.3 after the extra credit. So i did the math myself and it should be a 69.26 before the extra credit and i cant have done the math wrong since the numbers are so close together. I just wanted to bring this to your attention so that we can see what is going on and resolve the situation.

I replied with a comment about how all my grading math is done by the program I use, then sent him a file copy of his grade from that same program. This file included all of his grades, including the four zeroes I removed from the average AND all the zeroes for the homework assignment he didn’t do.

This was in my inbox when I got home this afternoon:

but the figures you told me were the same and i put alot of time and effort into it and got less thana apoint added to my grade, i figured it would raise it more than that or i wouldnt have tried so hard, also how was my paper a 45? the facts are all factual and documented and the content is excelent, i feel i met more than adequatly met the requirements of the assignment and i feel my grade was no way near where it should be i should have at least passed the assignment, students that had a bullieted 1 1/2 page assignment got higher grades than i did and that is not right for the amount of effort that was put into it

I’ve responded (with carbon copies to my boss, another English professor and Dave’s culinary department head; I feel an undeniable urge to cover my ass) with this:

Dave:

I understand your concern for your grade, but I have to reiterate that I DID delete the four zeroes from your average, as I promised I would. The impact that deleting those zeroes had on your grade is a function of the math and is beyond my influence.

As far as your research paper is concerned, I am willing to have another teacher read and assess it. I infer from your e-mail that you feel I graded your paper unfairly; would having a disinterested third person determine a grade be agreeable to you? If so, please bring your paper (along with the rubric I used to grade it) to Mrs. Mooney at the front desk of the main campus building. E-mail me after you’ve delivered the paper; I will pick it up and have a colleague read and grade it and, if I feel it’s warranted, will adjust your grade.

This student is certainly presenting a learning opportunity for me. He’s not failing the class; at the moment, he’s got a 68 average. There’s no possible way I will grade him much higher than that; the work he has done (when he’s done it) has not deserved anything above a D. I will re-grade his research paper if my colleague thinks I graded too harshly, but I can’t see how that is going to matter all that much to his overall average (his was the Megadeth paper, by the way), especially considering he chose not to do the in-class assignment on Monday.

I’m not sure that I can convince Dave that his grade has nothing whatsoever to do with my personal feelings about him, and I’m hoping that having as many witnesses to our exchanges as possible (and having another professor confirm my grade, which I’m almost certain she will) will keep this entire exchange from getting ugly.

Wish me luck. I’ll keep you posted.

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Filed under General Griping, Teaching

I’ll Brag to You…

… but I’m not breathing a word of this to my students.

I spent the better part of yesterday morning cleaning up my desk. A term’s worth of composition class materials had been building up there, and was threatening to spill out into the kitchen (as it was, things were already creeping past the confines of the desk and onto the counter that we’d designated as belonging to the kitchen). I needed to get a handle on the paper before it threatened to get out of control.

In the process of cleaning up and organizing, I reprinted the comma and grammar quiz I gave to my students last week. When I originally printed the thing out, I had failed to change a couple of questions on it that I hated, and there was a typo on it (the finding of which earned the student an extra five points, by the way; further proof that I am kind and generous – see the title to the post immediately below this one…), so I fixed the problems and reprinted the quiz. Punkin’ Pie heard the printer running and went upstairs to retrieve it for me.

As she was coming down the stairs, she was reading the first page of the exam, which is entirely devoted to the correct placement of commas. She did the first sentence out loud (“he took Amy – comma – the girl with the freckles -comma – to the dance last night.”), correctly and to my loud and enthusiastic praise, so she asked if she could take the test with a pen. I printed off another copy of the first page and let her have at it.

The end result is that my almost-ten-year-old daughter scored an 80% on the quiz. Only 11 of my college students did as well or better than she did. Eleven. Not only that, but she found the two trickiest comma placements – one of which I know for SURE that only three of my students found.

I am so proud of her.

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