Monthly Archives: June 2007

Summer Vacation

School’s out for the week – Mrs. Chili and her brood are on a field trip to Colonial Williamsburg.  I’ll be back next week.  Have a nice break!


Filed under little bits of nothingness

You Want This Guy!

storyteller.jpgCalifornia Teacher Guy is looking for a job.  He’s a Sp.Ed. teacher with a lot of talent and a ginormous heart, so if you happen to be an administrator in the market for someone who’s going to bring enthusiasm and skill to your staff, check him out.  Go here for thirteen reasons why you should have him send you his resume….


Filed under admiration, colleagues, Teaching

I Love This Part…

images-12.jpegMy spring classes are over. The finals have been corrected, the speech evaluations have been written, the grades have been submitted. For the next two weeks, I am entirely without outside scholarly commitments.

It’s just about this time of the term when I sit back for a bit and reflect on all that’s happened. I mentioned before that I learned a lot this term – and plan to continue learning as I go – and I very much enjoyed my students. I realized that, for the first time in the nearly-a-year that I’ve worked for TCC, I didn’t have my bozo twins. There were no students I dreaded having to deal with this semester, and that made a surprising difference in my attitude about the work that I did.

I asked all of my students to write notes – either to me or to the students I’ll have next term – telling about their experiences in my class. In a fit of self-promotion, I’m sharing some of my favorite lines with you here:

** Although I did not form any strong friendships in the class, by the end of the semester I was left with a small piece of my classmates, not to mention our teacher. So, in conclusion, if you are willing to open up and give a little of yourself, you will receive a lot more in return.

** My favorite thing is you really focus on proper grammar and writing techniques…I didn’t try as hard as I should have, but your teaching did make a difference.

** This class taught me that being prepared is one of the most important life lessons. Being unprepared causes stress and makes everything one hundred times harder than it needs to be.

** I liked this class for two reasons: one, you’re an amazing teacher. You have a great sense of humor and you like to have fun, which makes a class a lot easier. Two, I got to be creative, which I really don’t get to be in most classes.

** I felt challenged in this class and felt like I earned whatever grade I ended up with… I feel like you provided us with the tools we needed to speak well.

** What I liked about this class was the environment. Everyone was supportive, and the teacher was very enthusiastic.

and, finally, my favorite;

** I feel that the speeches and speakers that you chose for us to analyze, especially Elie Wiesel and Ronald Reagan, opened my mind to things I had never taken the time to think about before. It felt so great to be able to take these new ideas and thoughts and go home and discuss them with my friends and family. I feel smarter.


Filed under Learning, self-analysis, success!, Teaching

Grammar Wednesday

images.jpegThe Grammar Girls’ Pet Peeve edition!

These first two things are banes to the existence of two women whom I love, and for their sakes, I’m going to set the proverbial record straight.
Organic Mama emailed me yesterday. It seems she was listening to NPR (being the lefty humanist that she is) and was prompted to electronically gripe to me:

I just listened to NPR and some presidential candidate said “Where I differentiate with the other candidates…”! I was yelling at my radio! Differ FROM, dolt!!


Ehem, indeed. Differentiate is a verb that is generally used with an object and means, essentially, “to distinguish or mark as different from other such things.” One can differentiate between (or among) things, and one can differentiate oneself from others, but one can not “differentiate with the other candidates” in the way that the.. erm.. dolt above tried to do. He could have fixed this sentence by adding one word and changing another; “where I differentiate myself from the other candidates is…” If he were incapable of this bit of grammatical acrobatics (as it seems obvious that he was), he could have simply said “where I differ from the other candidates is…” and saved Mama a lot of angst.

The other grating problem comes to me via Blue. She goes into paroxysms (look it up) of grammar-induced rage whenever she hears someone say that they “feel nauseous.” Nauseous is an adjective that means “causing nausea; sickening, nauseating.” Her contention is that one can BE nauseous, but one cannot FEEL nauseous. Blue thinks that smart people would say “I feel nauseated.” The prescriptive in me says she’s absolutely right.

This isn’t entirely correct, though. The meaning of the word has expanded to include being “affected with nausea, nauseated.” While I, myself, say that I feel nauseated (though, thankfully, not often, because I’d rather feel anything but nauseated), I don’t grit my teeth when someone complains that they feel nauseous, at least, not because of their grammar. Truth be told, I hate puke so much that I usually don’t stick around long enough, after such a declaration is made, to correct the speaker. That, however, is a post for another time…

Finally, I’m going to address something that makes me crazy, and that I’ve noticed an awful lot in the last week or so.

I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating; when you’re saying something like “the problem is” or “the reason is,” you don’t need to say “is” twice. At least twenty times this week – in restaurants, the grocery store, the health club, the classroom, seemingly everywhere – I’ve heard something to the effect of “the thing is, is there are too many ways to screw this up” or, “his problem is, is he doesn’t know how to talk about his feelings.”

The introductory material in these situations, “the problem is” or “the reason is,” or “the thing is” and the like, are separated from the rest of the sentence by a comma: the rest of the sentence should stand alone as a complete structure without that opening line. If we were to dissect one of my examples above – “his problem is, is he doesn’t know how to talk about his feelings” – and we take away the introductory phrase “his problem is,” we’re left with a sentence that reads “Is he doesn’t know how to talk about his feelings.” Most second graders could tell you that isn’t a grammatically correct structure.

If we take out that second “is,” though, we’re left with “He doesn’t know how to talk about his feelings” – a completely correct (and often true) statement.

Do your part: axe the second “is,” please, and encourage others to do the same.

Happy Wednesday, All!


Filed under General Griping, Grammar

I Will Not Fudge

images-11.jpegHere’s the scene: I met with my Tuesday class. We talked a little bit about the final, I handed back a huge pile of papers, I asked the students to write me the end-of-the-semester letters, then I called each of them up individually to show them their grades from my roster. One student – we’ll call her Lisa – received an 83.5 or, in the language of TCC, a pretty solid B-. This is not a bad grade, though I suspect that Lisa could have done much better; she seemed to have been slipping these last few weeks, and her last speech was less than what I expected from her. I even told her as much in the evaluation I wrote for her.

I let the class go early and hung out in the room for a bit, chatting with a couple of young men about their plans for the summer. Lisa was still in her usual seat in the very back corner of the room, writing with a fair bit of focus. Before I left, I asked her if she was alright, and the answer she gave me was less than convincing. I told her I didn’t believe her, and she assured me that she was “fine” and that she didn’t need anything from me.

I really didn’t believe her, but I couldn’t shake the boys and I suspected that she wouldn’t talk to me at all with them around. I left her alone in the room and ditched the young men at the teachers’ lounge. I hid out there for a little bit, just to be sure that I could make it back upstairs without notice, and poked my head back into the room. By this time, though, Lisa was crying. I asked her if she was upset by her grade and she told me that was “part of it,” but there were “a bunch of other things going on” and there was really nothing I could do. I told her to come and find me if she needed to talk, and left her alone like she asked me to do.

Back in the teachers’ lounge, I met up with a colleague – we’ll call her Beth – having trouble with the photocopier. As I cleared a few paper jams, she asked me how I was and I told her that I was fine, but that I was concerned about the student that I’d left crying upstairs. She asked me the student’s name and it turns out that she knows Lisa, so she decided to go upstairs to see if she could get to what was bothering her.

Beth came back about five minutes later and explained to me that Lisa was upset because her father is in the hospital in Lisa’s midwestern hometown, that no one is certain what’s wrong with him, and he may die. Lisa is terrified, and this is only compounding her feelings of not fitting in here in New England. Add to that the fact that I “gave” her a B- for the course – she needs to maintain at least a B average to keep her scholarships – and Lisa’s a basket case.

Here’s where I get to the point of my story; Beth came right out and asked me if there was anything I could do to help Lisa solve this problem. While she didn’t TELL me to fix the grade, the implication, since Beth is senior to me and gives off an attitude of being the de facto matriarch of the college, was that I should do this. I told her that I would have a conversation with Lisa and see what might be done, but by that point I was profoundly uncomfortable.

I went back upstairs (I was getting a pretty good workout this point) and back to the room. Lisa was good and red and wet by then, and I went to her and put my hands on her shoulders. I assured her that, had she come to me before she gave her rotten speech and told me about the situation with her dad, I’d have been willing to work out some arrangement with her. I wasn’t gentle in admonishing her that I’d given the class no reason to think that I was either unapproachable or unreasonable, and having one’s father deathly ill hundreds of miles away certainly qualified as one of the “extenuating circumstances” that I mentioned on the syllabus are the prerequisite for policy exceptions.

I told her that, while I’m not willing to “fudge” her grade – she’s not close enough to a B to adjust up a few tenths of a point – I was willing to look at ways that we can ethically get her to where she needs to be. I went back to my grade book and noticed that she didn’t have grades listed for a couple of assignments; I told her that she could either find those assignments and let me know what the grades on them were (it’s entirely possible that I failed to record those grades) or, if she didn’t do them, she could get them done before grades close and I’d give her the credit. I also didn’t receive the last page of her final, so she got a zero for one of the five questions; those 20 points will help to bring the grade up – I told her to get that to me as soon as she can.

I’m struggling with this. Her grade is an honest and fair assessment of the work she did. That the work was influenced by factors in her outside life is really beside the point; my job is to grade what the students give me, and Lisa gave me B- work. If she had come to me when all of this started going south, I would have been more than willing to work with her every step of the way. She didn’t – and I wouldn’t have found out about any of this had Beth not intervened – and that tells me that Lisa agrees that the grade she received was fair.

Which brings me to Beth. I’m profoundly bothered by the fact that she essentially told me – without using the verb – to fix Lisa’s grade. “She’s a good kid and needs the scholarship” may be true, but there’s nothing ethical about changing a grade like that, and the fact that she even brought it up gives me serious cause for concern. Beth isn’t my boss – Joe is, and I’m certain that he would never ask such a thing of me – but there’s still a hefty amount of unspoken pressure brought to bear, given Beth’s tenure at TCC.

I am comfortable with the arrangement I made with Lisa. If she does the work – and does it before I leave for vacation – I will adjust her grade to reflect that work and hope like mad that it brings her to the B she so desperately needs. I don’t have any ethical qualms about this because, under different circumstances, I truly believe that Lisa could easily have been one of my A students; I recognize that outside forces are wreaking havok on her life right now and I’m willing to make certain allowances for that. I’m not going to just “fix” the grade out of a sense of mercy, though, and the implication that it is something I should do is insulting to me.


Filed under colleagues, concerns, General Griping, Learning, Questions, Teaching, Yikes!

Last Day

images-4.jpegToday is my last day with my Monday/hybrid students.  I’m going to hear the last of their persuasive speeches and collect the written portion of the final; we’ll chat a little about what they know and what they still need to work on (I’m expecting the latter will be a longer list than the former); and I’ll ask them to write me letters.  Then, we’ll wave goodbye.

I’m looking forward to the letters.  While I tend to disregard the top and bottom sentiments (the “you’re the best teacher EVER!” and the “this class totally sucked and was a complete waste of my time” ones), I learn a lot from the kids in the middle; the ones who take the time to articulate what they got out of the class and what they didn’t quite get.  I don’t mind students pointing out mistakes I made; I had some really great comments from my hybrid composition class last term about how to try to make that format a little more successful, even though the students turned right around and said that it probably wouldn’t work anyway because the hybrid format “blows.”  I also really love when they point out the things that stuck in their minds – things that I may not have seen as necessarily successful exercises, but which worked for them.  I’m hoping that at least some of the students can thoughtfully assess their experience with me this term and give me some useful feedback.

On the last day of classes, I tell my students that, even though I’m not their teacher anymore, I’m still interested in their success.  I tell them to keep my email address and to use it if they ever need help writing or editing cover letters or resumes, or if they need letters of reference for jobs.  None of them has taken me up on that thus far, but I think it’d be wonderful to hear from a former student sometime in the future.  I like to keep my proverbial doors open.

So, today marks the end of this term for these kids.  Tomorrow is my girls’ last day of school (and Punkin’s last day of elementary school – she’s a middle schooler starting in September!) and Thursday will be the last offical day of classes for my T/Th kids (though I’m not sure we’re going to meet on Thursday.  I have to talk to my boss about that).  I’m relieved, excited, and hopeful, all in the same breath.  It’s been a good term, all things considered, and I really do feel like I learned a lot more about how to be a good teacher in these last 12 weeks.  I’m even looking forward to doing it again; summer classes start on the 9th of July…


Filed under Learning, little bits of nothingness, self-analysis, success!, Teaching

It Pains Me…

I need a drink.

The first question on my public speaking final is:

The issue of insulting and abusive speech – especially slurs directed against people on the basis of race, religion, gender, and sexual orientation – is extremely controversial.  Do you believe society should punish such speech with criminal penalties?  To what degree are colleges and universities justified in trying to discipline students who engage in such speech?  Do you feel it is proper to place any boundaries on free expression in order to prohibit insulting and abusive speech?  Why or why not?

Here is a shortened, though otherwise unedited, example of an answer I received:

I don’t believe that society should punish any types of this speech with criminal penalties.  Yeah they did talk directly to people on the basis of race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.  Everyone is different.  We one person don’t have the same religion, we each believe our own thing….  Us people have our own personalities, and believes…. We work hard to write that speech, and think hard on what would be right to say to the crowed.  Yeah, some people, may get offensive, but if they do.  I think they shouldn’t be there to listen to any kinds of speeches.


This should do wonders toward explaining my need for Monster Boggle


Filed under about writing, concerns, General Griping, Yikes!

Commonly Confused Words

This was fun, and reinforced for me, just a little, my qualifications for teaching this stuff here.  I’m not sure where I lost points, but the quiz did have the caveat that it’s skewed toward Britishisms…..

Your Score: English Genius

You scored 100% Beginner, 92% Intermediate, 100% Advanced, and 93% Expert!

You did so extremely well, even I can’t find a word to describe your excellence! You have the uncommon intelligence necessary to understand things that most people don’t. You have an extensive vocabulary, and you’re not afraid to use it properly! Way to go!

For the complete Answer Key, visit:


Filed under Grammar, little bits of nothingness, self-analysis


frustrated.jpgIt’s been a long week, Kids. Mrs. Chili is exhausted.
I’ve been approached – three separate times – by students complaining about the grades they received for their final speeches. Now, before I begin my thinking about this here, I should probably let you know that none of these students scored below a 90%. This is part of why I’m so tired.

As an English teacher, one of the things I consistently struggle with is fairness in grading because, really? – most of the grades I give are, by necessity, pretty subjective. Unless the students are answering true/false questions or picking the noun out of a sentence, there really aren’t a whole lot of ‘rights’ or ‘wrongs’ to the work that I ask students to do. If a kid can eloquently and effectively express him or herself to me, if they can tease out important points and discuss them with some authority, if they can draw out fruitful and meaningful comparisons between the work that we’re doing and something else, if they can at least sound like they know what they’re talking about, I can offer them a “good” grade in exchange for that work. If they don’t do those things so well, their grades reflect that.

One of the things that I am grateful for is that my position at TCC allows me some flexibility in how I am able to assess student performance. If I have a kid who comes into my class at the beginning of the semester with barely two neurons firing at once, but who can demonstrate real effort and improvement when the term is over, I can pass him. I don’t have to hold everyone to the same standard and, while this may be tricky and will very likely open me up to a lot of potential lawsuits in the future, I love that success or failure in my classes ISN’T determined by a standardized test at the end of the semester. Sure, there’s content in my class that everyone should come out the other end knowing. I’ve said it before, though; the skills that are really important to me as a professor are the skills that can’t easily be measured. I want my kids to end my classes having had practice in analytical skills, in critical thinking, and in communication. It’s tough to test that in any meaningful way, and I rely on my familiarity with my students and my skills in observation to tell me how well individuals do in those areas from beginning to end.

While most of the grading I do is subjective, to the extent that I can, I try to employ rubrics and other assessment tools in an attempt to make my grading as representative of the students’ work as possible. I generally hand those rubrics out to students so they know, before they begin to demonstrate the work in question, what kinds of standards I’ll be looking for when I sit down to evaluate their performance. What I like about using rubrics is that they take a little bit of pressure off of me. A student generally can’t come to me complaining that I graded them badly because I don’t like them or didn’t like the topic they chose to write or speak about. I can point to a skill – at a box on the rubric – and ask them if they thought that their performance is fairly represented by the number in that box. If they say “no,” I can ask them to show me, in the work that they did, where they felt they deserved more credit than they received. More often than not, they’re not able to come up with that evidence, and the grades stand.

That doesn’t mean that I’m not willing to revisit my initial assessment of a student’s performance (or, in the case of written assignments, that I’m not willing to let students revise the work – as many times as they need to within a specified time frame – until they receive a grade that satisfies them). The ladies who came to me over the course of this week all had the same complaint: they believed that I graded them too harshly on the “eye contact and body language” standard, and I was willing, in every case, to adjust the grades up. Though none of them came out of the discussions with a 10 – I generally adjusted from a 6 to an 8 – they all made compelling arguments about why they felt that they’d done a better job with that skill than I’d given them credit for, and I agreed.

Here’s where my thinking gets a little cloudy, though, and where I’m still trying to work out some of the feedback that I received from these students over the last few days. Each and every one of them made the complaint that their work was SO far above the level demonstrated by their peers, that they didn’t feel that the grades those other students received were fair to them.

Let me put that another way: Carol felt she gave a top-notch speech. Later on, Derick got up and “rambled on about something or other” – she wasn’t even sure what the boy was talking about – and she’s pissed off that she got a 94, but Derick got an 89.

I tried to explain to her (though, now that I think about it, I shouldn’t even have entertained this line of argument, but what’s done is done) that she came into the class as an A student, but Derick came in barely able to string three sentences together. The grade that Derick received was reflective of the really substantial improvements that he’s made over the course of the class and, more to the point, Derick hit the high points on the rubric.  He demonstrated the skills that I was looking for, and that demonstration earned him an 89. If she is already earning A grades for her work, I really have little room to show improvement, and the one or two points that I take off here and there are meant to get her to really start thinking about places where she can improve. She didn’t see it that way. She actually told me she was “offended” by the grade she received and, more to the point, was “pissed off” that others, who she clearly thinks don’t deserve them, are getting the grades they’re getting. Somehow, in her mind, the fact that I “didn’t fail Derick’s ass” cheapened the A she received for her speech.

I’m blown away by this.

I despise standardized assessment. While I hold everyone to the same basic standards (deadlines, classroom behavior, that sort of thing), I don’t expect everyone to perform at the same level. It’s not right for me to assess Derick’s performance based on Carol’s standards – and neither would it be right for me to grade Carol based on the standards I set for Derick. In the first case, Derick wouldn’t stand a chance; he’s not as articulate or well-read, and he doesn’t have the self-confidence or poise that Carol has (neither does he have the temper, but that’s beside the point for the moment); this kid would fail spectacularly despite his very best efforts. In the latter case, Carol would be able to sit back and do almost NO work; the criteria for excellence would be so far beneath her that she wouldn’t learn anything.  Everyone has to demonstrate certain skills when they leave my class, and it’s those skills that earn them the grades that they receive.

In the end – though I know I’m not done thinking about this – I have to say that, while I appreciate the girls’ arguments (and they did offer me some things to think about when I teach this class again in the summer), I really have to stand behind my grading practices. I’m not artificially inflating grades for students who don’t deserve to pass, and neither am I docking points from students who do excellent work.  Carol’s earning an A in the class.  While Derick may have (for him, at least) nailed the speech, his overall grade is still a C+. The fact that I’m willing to even entertain conversations like the ones I’ve had this week demonstrates my open-mindedness and interest in making my own practice better, even if the end result isn’t what the complainants had in mind when they sat down with me.

If you’ll pardon me now, though, I’m going to go have a nap.


Filed under concerns, General Griping, Learning, self-analysis, Teaching

Grammar Wednesday

Homophones, by request!

Blue emailed me (thanks, Blue!) and asked that I address those tricky words that sound the same but which decidedly AREN’T. It’s a timely topic, given that my students are handing in the final drafts of their persuasive speeches and I’m seeing a lot of these types of errors at the moment. Ready or not, here we go!


threw the past tense of the verb “throw.” He threw out a wise-ass comment about her cooking, and she threw her shoe at him.

through is most commonly a preposition that means “in one side (or end) and out the other.” The quickest way to the theatre is through the park. It can also function as an adverb (“the train goes through to D.C.”) and an adjective (I’m through with this nonsense; I’m going home”).


My students cannot be bothered to learn these!

there is generally used as an adverb meaning “in or at a place.” I’ll be there at six thirty.

they’re is a contraction meaning “they are.” They’re going to be late, so we’ll get a table and order an appetizer while we wait.

their is the plural possessive of “they.” Jake and Suzi gave their old car to their daughter, who promptly repainted it a striking shade of purple.


roll is generally a verb which means “to move along a surface by revolving or rotating.” Whenever I drop coins, they to roll in a million different directions. It can also be a noun (a roll of paper towels or a dinner roll).

role is a noun that means “a part or a function played.” The actor’s role in the film was that of the scorned lover.


or is a conjunction that indicates a choice. The entree choice on the invitation specified either chicken or fish.

oar is a noun meaning a paddle. She’s only got one oar in the water (I heard someone use this phrase the other day, and it made me grin).

ore is a noun meaning a metal-bearing mineral or rock. The iron ore is processed in a giant facility outside of Cleveland.


dual is an adjective that notates two. The silicon potholder serves the dual purpose of taking hot things out of the oven and keeping the bowl from sliding on the countertop when I’m whipping cream.

duel is a noun that means a prearranged combat between two people. The testosterone-poisoned boys agreed to a duel to settle their dispute about a girl who didn’t even know either boy existed.



sees is a present tense of the verb “see.” She sees the socks on the floor, but they’re not hers so she’s not going to pick them up.

seas is a plural of the noun “sea.” Of all the seas in the world, I suspect I’d like the Caribbean the best.

seize is a verb that means to take hold of suddenly or forcefully. The baby seized my finger with a strength of grip that surprised me.

Happy Wednesday, All! Keep those grammar questions coming!


Filed under Grammar