Monthly Archives: December 2007

Happy New Year!

images.jpgI’m spending this last day of ’07 cleaning out my desk. I’ve recycled old teaching contracts, I’ve reorganized short stories, and I’ve filed away old grade reports. I’m planning on spending a little time this afternoon with the new texts for my classes and thinking about what I’m going to focus on when the courses start again on the 7th.

My professional resolutions for 2008 are pretty simple; I want to continue to learn and to think and to challenge myself. To that end, I applied for – and was accepted to – a summer fellowship at NOT Local State College. The program focuses on teaching the Holocaust and even though I don’t have any classes in which I can concentrate on that subject, I do manage to work it into every course I do teach. I’m very much looking forward to the work – the reading, the studying, the discussion – and am hoping that the experience helps me to become a better teacher… and a better human being.

I’m also hoping to get in on as many workshops, symposiums, conferences, and professional development classes as I can manage. Part of my motivation for this is to keep my teaching certification current (it comes due for renewal in 2009 and, even though I’m not actually using it as an adjunct at TCC, I still want to have it ready should I decide to take the (suicidal?) plunge into public education). I’m also getting that student itch again – I’m pretty convinced that I could be a professional student if given half a chance (and, you know, half a zillion dollars). It’s been almost two years since I graduated, and I’m feeling the need to start studying again.

Finally, I want to put all my materials on my computer.  I’ve got so many steno notebooks kicking around with bits and pieces of my courses in them, and I’m hoping to take a cue from O’Mama and put all of it in files on my computer so that I can just print out a lesson or a unit and go.  I also really like the idea of being able to modify, change, or improve upon a lesson once it’s in the computer without having to make notes or add stickies to the notebook.  I’m hoping that putting stuff in the computer will make it not only more accessible, but also more user-friendly and comprehensible.

I wish all of you a very happy and healthy 2008! See you in January!

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Filed under about writing, concerns, frustrations, Learning, out in the real world, self-analysis, Teaching, writing

Checking In

Hi, Everyone!

I’m sorry I missed Grammar Wednesday yesterday; the combination of break, the holidays, and my family all being home has conspired to throw me off my game a little (but in a good way). I’ll pick it back up next week, I promise.

I’ve been thinking about my upcoming classes and about how I’m going to run my hybrid composition course this term. I’ve had hybrid classes before, but I don’t like teaching them; the online component, I think, is never what I want it to be and I’m trying to figure a way to change that. I want the students to have to actually, you know, work, but I don’t feel I’ve got much of a command of the resources available to me on the internet to make proper use of them. This is what’s been occupying my mind lately; trying to come up with ways to use the incredible amount of material and content available on the internet to make my composition class rich, challenging, and interesting.

Any suggestions?

I hope you’re all having a lovely midwinter. I’ll be writing here more regularly now; do keep coming back.

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Rallying the Troops

My dear teacher-friends, we have a newbie in need! Grab your rulers and rubrics and your favorite texts and gather ’round!

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Derek, over at EatsBugs, had a conversation not too long ago with his principal. It turns out that his principal sent the clear message that Derek needs to work on his classroom management skills if he wants to keep his job next year.

While he is understandably shaken by this conversation – NONE of us likes to have our shortcomings pointed out like that – he’s taking it in precisely the right way; he’s using the suggestions as a launching point for making his teaching practice better. He’s not downhearted or depressed or defeated, he’s inspired – he motivated, he’s challenged, he’s stoked, and he wants our help.

I am honored to have you all as part of my community. Among my readers I have a wide and impressive collection of experience – from early childhood educators up through the University level – and in about every concentration I can think of. I have readers who don’t earn their living as teachers, but who are teachers nonetheless. You are all smart and kind and knowledgeable and generous, and I am proud that Derek asked “*chilibringfriends*” That’s you guys. Will you help?

Go on over here and chime in. What do YOU do as part of that amorphous, undefinable skill we teachers call “classroom management”? What challenges do you find yourself facing? What have you got totally knocked? What advice or suggestions would you offer my friend who wants to be the best teacher he can be?

poster credit

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Filed under admiration, Blogroll, colleagues, concerns, crossover, frustrations, Learning, Questions, Teaching, the good ones

Santa Hates Bad Grammar, Too

Since I’m running low on school-related material – we’re on inter-term break until the second week of January – I offer this as a Grammar Wednesday piece. A very dear friend sent me an email titled “If Santa Answered His Mail Honestly,” and this was the very first entry:

Dear Santa: I wud like a kool toy space ranjur fer Xmas. Iv ben a gud boy all yeer.
Yer Frend, BiLLy


Dear Billy,

Nice spelling. You’re on your way to a career in lawn care.
How about I send you a frigging book called a dictionary so you can learn to read and write? I’m giving your older brother the space ranger. At least HE can spell!


~Santa

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Happy Holidays, Everyone!

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Filed under funniness, Grammar

Proof That I’m Not Just Kidding Myself

Yesterday, during our last class, I asked my literature students if they’d be so kind as to write me a letter giving me some feedback about their experiences in my classroom. I wanted a critique: what worked, what didn’t, what would they suggest I do differently for next term and what would they advise me to keep the same.

I got this letter from one of my A students. While I expected her to be positive about the class – she’d told me many times that it was her favorite this term – I wasn’t prepared for her to tell me that she came away from my class with EXACTLY what I was aiming for my students to know. When she talks about seeing connections to literature in her everyday life, I do a little fist-pump. THAT’S what lit. classes are for, in my opinion; plot and setting an characterization are just mechanics – it’s the theme and the experience of the stories that really matter.

I’m crowing a little by posting this, I know, but it’s so easy to gripe about lousy grammar and apathetic students that I feel compelled to put something positive up every once in a while. Indulge me, please.

Hi Chili,

To start off this letter discussing my experience with Literature class, I’d like to say that I absolutely loved the class. It was easily my favorite of the semester, and the one I was always most excited to go to. I’ve always been one to prefer just reading and enjoying something to sitting down and analyzing it, but I’m not quite so against it anymore. I loved picking apart books and characters and motivations with you and the rest of the class.

I think you made the right decision by skipping over the monotonous and overdone discussion of plot, characters, setting, etc. In discussing the themes, I think we cover all of those things anyway, just not in a direct approach kind of way. I realize we had a really good dynamic within the class, and (just about) everyone was right there for most of it, so we didn’t really need any of that. It’s also possible you might have a class at some point that needs it, but for us, skipping it was a good call.

I absolutely agree with you on the subject of ‘kid movies’ and ‘pop culture’. The fact that you brought both of these into play like you did made the class much more approachable for a college student-and let’s face it, for anyone without a Lit degree. I loved watching The Lion King and picking out pieces that were so similar to Hamlet, and I loved watching The Muppets’ Christmas Carol and seeing how true to Dickens they remained. I think because you were so open to pop culture, the things I learned in your class are going to stick with me for longer than other classes. For example, even just last night I was drawing a connection between A Christmas Carol and Home Alone. A bit of a stretch, perhaps, but there were a few things that were similar. And I love that I can do that now. That I’m that much more perceptive to similarities in themes, and choices made in movie adaptations. I love that you taught me to do that.

All in all, your class was an absolutely fantastic experience for me, and because of that I’m not sure I’d really change anything. You picked great novels and stories for us to read, and the movies you showed us were just right too. I loved the class discussions, and I liked that you had us write reactions right away to a lot of things-that you gave us that time to just gather our thoughts. I’d love to give you some suggestions for future classes, but I can’t think of any. Again, our class dynamic is definitely part of what made the class so special for me, and I think any changes you’d have to make would be based on the differences in classes.

I’m definitely going to miss coming to class twice a week and indulging in all that thinking, and it’s inspired me to really jump headfirst into reading like I used to. (I’ve read at least eight books since Thanksgiving, and it’s been a really long time since I’ve read like that.)

So, in closing, I guess I just want to say thank you. For making your class such a comfortable environment, for really encouraging all of us to get creative with literature, for opening me up to a kind of analyzing I’ve always shied away from, introducing me to the -real- versions of some stories, and just for you being you. Your class was the highlight of the semester, so…keep it up.

Merry Christmas, Chili. I hope you have a most excellent break.

It’ll be a better break for her having sent this letter, that’s for sure!

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Filed under Literature, out in the real world, self-analysis, success!, the good ones, writing

Done!

Another semester is in the books. I taught my last class of the term this afternoon then went home and submitted final grades to the registrar.

All in all, it went exceedingly well. Of my 13 composition students, only 2 failed. Neither of them failed because of any lack of comprehension or skill, really; they failed because they didn’t adequately demonstrate that they had the comprehension and skill and, as all teachers know, knowing something isn’t enough; you’ve gotta show us you know it. These students didn’t do that; they were content to rack up zeros all through the semester and that torpedoed their final grades. I took them both aside and told them as much, and they both copped to having been lazy this term. Hopefully, they’ve learned a lesson they’ll not have to repeat.

My lit. students didn’t fare quite so well. Nearly half of those students failed; three out of eight. I had two A grades, one C-, two Ds (and one of them was a gift) and four Fs. Of the three, two of them just never came to class and one of them never turned in any work – including the mid-term exam. That girl was a favorite of mine in class, however; she is an energetic thinker who contributed some of the most exciting comments to our discussions. I took her aside and told her how much it killed me to have to record her failing grade. She’s better than this, I told her, and I KNOW that – and she does, too. She admitted to having a lot of distractions in her life this term and I suggested that she try with me again in January. We went to the registrar’s office and signed her up for next term’s lit. class and I’m really hoping she’ll keep up.

It really was a great semester. With one or two exceptions, all of my students were cooperative and enthusiastic, they worked to their potential, and most of them showed some appreciable improvement. Really, what else can I ask for?

I’m done for about three weeks. I intend to take some of that time for housekeeping and holiday preparation, I’ve already set aside some for connecting with friends, and I’m hoping to sneak in a couple of “do nothing” days for myself. I’ll certainly do some planning for next term, too; I want to review some new material for my lit class (I’ll have at least the one returning student) and I’m teaching a hybrid composition course that I’d like to have mostly mapped out before I get to the first class. I’m never confident about teaching hybrids – the online portion of it always makes me uncomfortable – so I’ll take any advice or suggestions any of you have to give.

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Filed under self-analysis, success!, Teaching, the good ones, Yikes!

Grammar Wednesday

I’m sorry, Everyone – I’m uninspired today.

A literature student sent me this email this morning:

 I heard this on the radio and thought of you.  The word of the year for 2007 is…..  this.  Go look at this, what has the world come too???

If you go to the site, you’ll see the top ten words of the year, according to Merriam-Webster.   I’ve used half of them – can you guess which?

Happy Wednesday!

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End of Term

Sorry, you guys: I keep meaning to post more often here, but I’ve been busy.

It’s the end of the term at TCC. My last class is Thursday, then we’re off until the second week in January, when I’ll teach a hybrid composition class and a traditional literature class. I’ve spent the last several days grading final portfolios and “research” papers from my composition class; the lit. students deliver their final projects on Thursday.

The quotation marks around “research” aren’t because I want to be entered in the “Blog” of “Unnecessary” Quotation Marks; they’re there because, out of my 13 students, only three of them actually turned in something that even resembles a research paper. Most of the papers were abysmal; poorly cited (if at all), sloppily organized and lazily written. One student, I swear it’s the truth, wrote an introduction that went something like “So, I’m writing this paper on rally racing because you told me I couldn’t do my paper on my first love which, as you know, is skateboarding. I was really mad at you for a while, but then I realized that it might be good for me to expand my horizons, so the amazing Conrad convinced me to look into the fascinating world of rally racing.” (note; the “amazing Conrad” in question is the boy who sits with this student during class. This student earned a 43 for his “research” paper).

Most of them did EXACTLY what I told them NOT to do. They used personal pronouns in their papers, they failed to include internal citations, and some didn’t even bother to include a works cited page. They referred to people by their first names, they wrote things like “they say that the increase in crime is because of the decrease in police pay,” and they wrote sentences that made almost no sense at all: one student, whose paper was actually pretty good, wrote a sentence that essentially said that bacteria and organisms in the soil were planting crops that were depleting the soil’s nutrients (do you remember last term, when a student wrote – and I’m quoting here – that “while mating, the researchers noticed that hamsters were very aggressive”? Same sort of thing).

Only a few of them had the nerve to be upset by the grades they received for their papers; I use rubrics to grade and the criteria for the scores are very clear.  Of the class of 13 students, only two failed the course, though; I consider that a pretty darned good term.

My lit students are presenting their final projects on Thursday.  A couple of them are doing some really interesting things – I’m looking forward to them and I’ll share with you after I’ve had a chance to synthesize.

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Filed under reading, writing, Yikes!

Grammar Wednesday

GERUNDS!

I’m offering this lesson only because I’ve been noticing that my students (and a good number of other people I encounter in my day-to-day existence) don’t understand how to use them correctly.

A gerund is the -ing form of a verb that functions as a noun; that’s all it is:

Swimming is good exercise.

Wearing a trench coat and fedora makes you a menacing character.

(and my favorite)

Slapping a yellow ribbon bumper sticker on the back of your gas-guzzling SUV during a war for oil makes you look like an asshole.

All of these words LOOK like verbs but, if you look closely, you’ll see that they’re actually functioning as nouns. In these cases, the gerunds are all the subjects of the sentences.

The trouble (for me, anyway) comes when people try to use gerunds as direct objects. More often than not, I’ll hear things like:

I appreciate you taking the time to help me out with this.

The incident ended with me having to go to court.

In these cases, the gerund is acting as the direct object. In the first sentence, I’m not appreciating YOU, I’m appreciating that you took time to help me out. The pronoun needs to be changed to the possessive your. In the second sentence, the incident didn’t end with ME, it ended with my having to go to court.

My English Grammar for Dummies book explains it about as well as I’ve ever heard it explained:

Why possessive? Here’s the reasoning. If you put a possessive pronoun in front of the noun, the noun is the main idea, therefore:

My parents object to the taking of the car. They don’t object to me.

(the original sentence was “Just because I once got a speeding ticket, my parents object to my taking the car for even short drives.”)

This site has a lovely explanation of the gerund / possessive pronoun relationship. I particularly like this bit:

…the failure to use the possessive case with the gerund can give a sentence a meaning altogether different from what the writer actually intends.

Consider these two sentences:

Whitaker did not like the woman standing in front of him at the parade.

Whitaker did not like the woman’s standing in front of him at the parade.

In the first sentence, “standing” is an adjective (a participle, to be specific) modifying “woman.” We call “standing in front of him at the parade” a participial phrase. The sentence says that Whitaker did not like the woman who was standing in front of him at the parade. The participial phrase answers the question “which woman?” It identifies her as “the standing woman” and states that she is the person whom Whitaker did not like.

In the second sentence, “standing” is a noun–a gerund. This sentence says that Whitaker did not like the fact that someone (the “woman”) was standing in front of him at the parade. Whitaker probably did not know the woman at all. The notion of his liking or disliking her has nothing whatsoever to do with the idea that the sentence intends to convey. It was the *standing in front of him* that Whitaker did not like–the *woman’s* standing. The true meaning of the sentence–the fact that Whitaker did not like having someone stand in front of him at the parade–hinges entirely on the use of the possessive case of the word “woman.”

Happy Wednesday, Everyone!!

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Losing One

A student of mine from last semester came to visit me today.  We’ll call her Missy.

It was nice that she came by.  My composition kids are getting “work periods” as classes at the moment: lessons are pretty much over and I’m giving over the class time for their research projects and portfolios (for which I am expecting – but not with much realistic hope – that their work will be better than it would be if I weren’t giving them this time) so she and I got to talk a bit.

I like Missy, and I liked her when I had her in Foundational English last term.  She’s troubled and searching for her way, but she’s also smart and determined and capable.  She can be great; all she needs is some guidance and people who care about what happens to her.  I think she recognized some of that in me because I was someone she sought out last term to help her work out some of her issues.  I helped her recover her grade in my class, I counseled her in an issue  with her roommate, and she came to me first when she decided to come out publicly as a lesbian.  I bonded with this girl.

She had come to me today to give me some news in person; what she had to say to me couldn’t be fired off in an email, she said; she needed to tell me to my face – she felt she owed it to me.

She’s quitting school.

She explained that her decision to leave was complicated and not entirely of her own choosing.  Her mother pays for her schooling, she said, and her grades have been slipping lately.  Because of this, her mother suggested that she take some “time off” to get herself centered.  Missy is overly fond of her mother and doesn’t want to go against her wishes, even though she’s not sure that she wants to leave school, either.

Missy also told me that her grandmother is ailing and that she feels a responsibility to care for her.  It should be noted here that Missy is not even 19 years old yet; my humble opinion is that the responsibility for caring for an elderly relative should not fall on someone so young – particularly on someone who’s not even figured out who or what she really wants to be yet.

Missy came to me, I think, so that I could give her a hard time about the decision to leave school.  She joked that she KNEW she’d get my “look” and that I’d not let her “get away” with just dropping out.  She wanted me to fight for her – I could sense that in her demeanor – and fight I did.  I argued that while it’s often a good idea for people to take time between high school and college – a lot of people don’t know what they want to study until they’ve had a chance to look around their world for a bit – it’s also very difficult to come back once one has dropped out.  The stresses and demands of the “real” world often keep people from coming back to school; we never have the time or the money to get back to college because the responsibilities we’ve accepted in our lives keep us from sufficiently devoting ourselves to study.  I told her that I was afraid for her, and I meant it.

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We didn’t have the time – or the privacy – to talk in depth about the situation, but we did exchange contact information and I promised her that I wasn’t going to lose touch.  Missy seems to me like a child on the edge of a knife; I feel as though she doesn’t have a lot of leeway to make too many poor choices.  I desperately want to see this girl survive – no, I take that back; I want to see her succeed – because I see in her a strength that will only grow under the right conditions.  At the same time, though, I recognize that I have no control over the decisions she makes.  The best I can do – indeed, the only thing I can do – is to be here for her to rely on when and if she needs me.

Still, that doesn’t feel like enough.

image credit 

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Filed under concerns, frustrations, out in the real world, self-analysis, Teaching, the good ones