Monthly Archives: April 2008

Grammar Wednesday

Mrs. Chili is stumped on this one, kids. Help a girl out.

I was driving to work yesterday listening, as is my habit, to NPR. My local station’s anchor was reporting on our gray and yucky weather pattern and she said something very much like this (I’m going from memory as I don’t take notes while I’m driving):

We’ve got some more rain in the forecast through this evening; one to three inches of rain is expected by nightfall.

I walked into the college and headed straight for the Goddess of the Front Desk. She’s my go-to girl for things like this; she and I share a love of our language and she revels in geeky research projects (she loved me for sending her off on a quest to settle a metonymy vs. synechdoche question last week). I relayed the weather quote and she looked at me a little blankly.

“In that sentence,” I explained, “INCHES is the subject. The subject of a sentence can’t come after the word ‘of,’ right? So if ‘inches’ is the subject, shouldn’t the verb be plural? Shouldn’t the sentence read one to three inches of rain ARE expected?”

We couldn’t come up with the answer. One to three inches IS sounds right, but that’s probably because we’re so used to hearing “rain” (or, just as likely, “snow“)  – a singular noun (or, rather, a non-count noun with singular properties) as the last word before the verb.

We tried it with other quantities – four gallons of milk and five pounds of chocolate – and decided that the plural verb sounded better in those cases – four gallons of milk are required for the commercial bakery class this morning and five pounds of chocolate are being delivered this afternoon, right to my door (I wish!) – but the singular verb still sounded better with the rain and snow, despite our mutual agreement that, grammatically, the plural verb is required.

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A Day of Silence

In observance of the Day of Silence, this blog will be silent Friday, April 25, 2008.
Today is the 12th annual Day of Silence, and today is dedicated to Lawrence King:

“Please understand my reasons for not speaking today. I am participating in the Day of Silence (DOS), a national youth movement bringing attention to the silence faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their allies. My deliberate silence echoes that silence, which is caused by anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying and harassment. This year’s DOS is held in memory of Lawrence King, a 15 year-old student who was killed in school because of his sexual orientation and gender expression. I believe that ending the silence is the first step toward building awareness and making a commitment to address these injustices. Think about the voices you are not hearing today.”

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There’s One Every Term

It’s really true; regardless of how fantastic a group a teacher has, there’s always one student who presents a greater-than-average challenge.

I find that it’s these kids who really do teach me the most about how to be a good teacher, but they’re lessons learned through some significant strife. My “special” kids have all been profoundly memorable to this point – there were the twins, Megadeth Dave and Tad, each of whom presented me with their own unique challenges; there was Henry, who may well have given me my most story-worthy confrontations; and there’s Betsy, the lady who decided that she didn’t deserve the failing grade she earned, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. There have been a few others, some of whom I’ve written about, others I’ve not, who have all given me great gifts by presenting me with full-frontal experiences with ignorance, stubbornness, and non-existent work ethics in an academic setting.

I thought – mistakenly, it seems now – that I was going to pretty much skate by this term with no particularly noteworthy students. Sure, there’s Harvey, but he’s not so much a challenge as he is a curiosity; there’s something in there, but even he doesn’t know how to access it underneath all that affectation. Nope; I’ve discovered that I’ve got another winner, and that my bosses, yet again, have my back.

This student has shown up to precisely half of the classes we’ve held so far. This student’s grade point average is hovering somewhere around a 30. This student has claimed that the attendance issues – and the lack of completed homework – are the fault of a long commute and rising gas prices.

My brief experience in this teaching game has taught me many things. It is through my dealing with students like this one, however, that I’ve learned one thing well and clearly: get in front of it as early as I can. To that end, I forwarded everything this student has given me so far – including abysmal homework assignments and emails – to the department head. I bundled everything together and sent it off as an FYI to my colleague yesterday, and he called me into his office today before I was to see this student in class (provided, of course, that the student was going to show up).

The first thing the department head (let’s call him Sam, just for the heck of it) said was that he was not in the least bit surprised that I’d already encountered trouble with this student (we’ll call the student Jon, just for the heck of it – I’m trying to be as anonymous as possible here, but typing “student” over and over is getting annoying). Sam has had dealings with Jon – and, from the tone of Sam’s voice, not very pleasant ones, at that – since the first week of Jon’s first term. The program that Jon has applied to is a public service training program – he has aspirations of being in a position that involves close contact with the general public, and Sam has had great reservations about the possibility of Jon’s success in this pursuit. He thanked me for putting him in the proverbial loop, complimented me on my clear, firm, and matter-of-fact responses to Jon’s emails, and assured me that he would be working very closely with him this term. Sam encouraged me to continue my approach with Jon, told me to not allow myself to be intimidated by the student, and to come to Sam at any time and as often as I felt I needed to discuss my dealings with the kid.

I left the office feeling appreciated and very well supported.

Jon delivered what was supposed to be an informational speech this afternoon. I am still unclear about what the main thesis of the presentation was, though I can tell you for certain that it was not at all informational. It turned out to be a rant about the injustice of the class system – and specifically, of Jon’s unfortunate position within that system – and was punctuated by various inappropriate references and words (“crap” came up three times, “shit” was said twice). I probably should have stopped the presentation when I realized that it had gone completely off the informational rails (or, rather, when I realized that it was never on those rails to begin with) but I let the thing play out to the end. I didn’t want to embarrass Jon, nor did I want any accusation of unfair treatment in front of the class. I moved us as quickly through the group critique process as I could and started the next speaker.

Sam was going back into the building as I was going out after class, and I invited him to come to the copy room with me so I could provide him with a copy of Jon’s speech. Before I said a word, Sam said, “Let me guess; he spoke about racism, or sexism, or violence, or something inappropriate.” None of what I had to say about the student’s performance came as any surprise to my colleague, and that came as an enormous relief to me. Sam knows that I’m not exaggerating or overreacting to my experiences with this kid, and I know for sure that I’m not going to have to go out of my way to prove that I have legitimate cause to assign the grades that I do. I told Sam that Jon’s performance warranted a failing grade; he agreed, and is now fully prepared for whatever fallout may result as a consequence of that.

My dearest hope is that my next job is in an environment that is half as supportive as this one. For all of TCC’s faults, professional solidarity is not lacking – not even a little.

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Grammar Wednesday

I’ve found a new outlet!

SaintSeester sent me a link to a site called English Fail. It’s a blog where people can send in photographs of poor grammar out in the real world, and I’ve the feeling I’m going to become a regular contributor.

Happy Wednesday, Everyone!

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TAGGED!

Bodog of Parent, Teacher, Asshole (how can you not love a blog with that name?) tagged me for the 123 Book Meme. I’ve done this at my home site, but because I loves Bodog, I’m doing it again here.
1. Pick up the nearest book
2. Open to page 123
3. Find the fifth sentence
4. Post the next three sentences
5. Tag five people and acknowledge who tagged you

As is my usual habit, I’m currently reading multiple books at the same time. The one on which I’m most intently focused, however, is the book I’m reading for The Dark and Stormy Book Club; Orson Scott Card’s Enchantment. I’m enjoying it far more than I expected I would, and I’m finding myself annoyed at the things in my life which are interfering with my reading (you know, things like eating and working and spending time with my family). Here, then, are the sixth, seventh, and eighth sentences on page 123 of the paperback edition of Card’s novel:

My Itzak, my Vanya, what is happening to you?

He was dressed in the robe of a medieval monk, and behind him loomed the figure of an old man in priests’ garb. Vanya moved his lips.

You all know how I feel about tagging*. Please consider yourselves encouraged to boost this meme for your own uses, and to let us know in the comments if you did.

* For those of you who may not know, I love BEING tagged, but I don’t like DOING the tagging. It seems rather hypocritical that I wouldn’t mind being tasked with something that I’m loath to obligate others to do, too, but there you have it.

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Grammar Wednesday

Alternately titled; Maybe It’s a Losing Game, After All.

Falcon emailed me last night:

Hey Chili,

Here’s an email that came to my store the other day. To set up the scenario taking place here, my district manager is on vacation. In his absence, the manager of another store in the district has taken on the responsibility of sending daily emails that the DM would normally send. The following email was sent out as a summation of a conference call that had taken place the day before. The following email went out to every store in the district (aprroximately a dozen stores or so in New England), the DM, and the DM’s boss!

The following email is not edited by me in any way, shape, or form (Chili’s note: I DID edit for privacy; everything else is exactly as Falcon sent it to me):

For Managers who was not on Bruno Steven’s confrence call
Our biggest focus for this week bedside make over what we downfor the month which is only 1.3% is makeing sure u recive all info on Monday for plangramme project need to be done on Wednesday if you need to switch days off please do make sure you have enough coverage all 3 days no project while we are busy Customer come first dont work during rush hour .
Our biggest clearnce event still going on that not gonna change they gonna stay where they are at leaseline where is traffick is keep pushing it we dong great on it if you have any q please call Bruno at 123-456-7890 and he will be in warwick on Monday good luck every one.,

You have no idea how painful it was for me to write something that atrocious…

I can only hope the store manager was not the one who wrote that. I can only hope he or she asked some part-time kid to do it (even so, that kid needs to go back to school). You have no idea how hard it was for me, after reading that piece of crap, to not hit the “reply” button and say something along the lines of “Are you FUCKING kidding me?! Do you even have a GED?! Do you not know how to proofread?! Or how to ask somebody else to do it for you?!”

So, how was that for pedagogical gold? :) Feel free to use it if you like, preferably changing the names and phone #’s being used, of course. (Chili’s note: done!)

Take care,

Falcon

I’m starting to feel like I’m fighting a losing battle. If someone with these kinds of “skills” (and I use that word lightly) can get pretty high up in a regional (national?) retail company, what’s the point in trying to teach proper communication techniques at all?

Sigh.

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The New (next-to-last) Term

Hey! I’m sorry – I’ve not really had a second to sit still long enough to compose my thoughts about my new classes. I’m taking that time now (though I could be grading papers) not only because I want to catch you all up, but because I want to put down for myself what I’m thinking right now (I love going back in my archives and seeing how my thinking changes over time. Does anyone else do that?).

I’ve got three classes this term; two sections of public speaking and one of composition. My workload is essentially the same as it’s been since I started at TCC, but the way the classes are distributed through my week is drastically different. I teach Monday through Thursday, and that’s never happened before – I’ve always only had either a Monday/Wednesday or a Tuesday/Thursday set-up, never both. Also, none of my classes ends before 1:20 every day, so I’m having to find new ways to fit all the incidental stuff that goes on in my real life into more confined spaces of time and still be home in time for Punkin’ Pie’s bus at quarter to three. I’m not complaining, mind you; my schedule is still far less demanding than nearly everyone else’s – my husband’s, my friends’ – but it’s different for me, and there’s a learning curve there (most keenly felt in the rapidity with which I must grade student work, but that’s another post).

As far as I can tell, one class into week 2, I don’t have any serious duds in my classes; everyone seems at least mildly motivated and reasonably articulate. There aren’t any students who stand out as potential trouble on my horizon, though there are two who I suspect will offer up a healthy challenge.

One girl – we’ll call her Elena – showed up for class just yesterday. Classes started last week. She doesn’t have the book (she claims to have ordered it but has no idea when it will arrive), she seems obstinate and resistant (we had a bit of a showdown when I told her to put her laptop away), and her handwriting is atrocious. Her grade point average as of today is a 29.5. It will be interesting to see where she takes that.

I also have a former student of O’Mama‘s. Let’s call him Harvey. This young man presented my friend and colleague with a lot of frustration and some great stories when she had him in her composition class last summer, and it seems that he’s got the same in mind for me in our public speaking course. He’s profoundly quiet in class – getting him to talk is akin to … huh! I can’t come up with an apt comparison, but suffice to say that calling on this boy is more likely to result in crickets than discourse. His favorite thing to do (and O’Mama will back me up on this) is to bring his shoulders to his ears, roll his eyes heavenward, and say “tsk. I don’t know.” My response to this in the first class was an echo of California Teacher Guy‘s strategy (I LOVE my blogging colleagues! I learn so much from you all!): CTG says that it’s okay to not know, but you’ve still got to think. When I told Harvey this, he was decidedly unmoved. We stood there, staring at each other for a while, until he finally brought his shoulders to his ears, rolled his eyes, and said “I don’t KNOW” again – only this time, with a little more feeling. He bombed his class participation grade that day.

OH! I’ve another story to tell about Harvey! It happened today, even! It was the end of class, and I was at the board writing down the homework assignment for tonight and tomorrow. The students were tasked to read two chapters, do two (bullshit) assignments from the text that pertained to those chapters, and to write a response to the first two sections of Steve Jobs’s keynote address from the MacWorld conference last year (you can see them here and here). When I turned around to go over what I’d written, Harvey had the most hysterical look on his face. His jaw was on the desk, his eyebrows were up around his hairline, and he looked as though I’d just lifted my shirt and flashed my boobs at him. He was utterly shocked and outraged that I’d given “ALL THAT!” to the class.

It’s going to be a long term for this poor boy.

In other news, I’ve not yet heard back from Dean G. about the status of my protesting student. I brought all the materials that I had in to him last Friday – Betsy’s final exam, her attempt at a “research” paper, copies of homework (for a composition class, written almost entirely in sentence fragments), and the printout of her grade file from my computer and her attendance record from the attendance office. Dean G. looked it all over and determined that none of the work seemed particularly careful to him (he once noted that Betsy didn’t seem to bother to use her spell-check, even), so I’m not overly concerned that I’m going to have to issue a new grade. Still, the issue is, as far as I’m aware, anyway, unresolved. I’ll feel better when it’s settled.

The title of this post refers to the fact that Joe called me into his office the other day to tell me that there’s a better than even chance that I’ll have a job for the summer semester, but likely not after that. I’ve been really terrible about getting my CV out to other colleges in the area; my goal is to do a pretty serious carpet-bombing of local schools in the next month or so in the hopes of finding myself another teaching gig by the fall term. I’m still pretty convinced that I don’t want to look into full-time public school teaching, but I’d be thrilled to find another adjunct position come September.

So, that’s what’s been going on with me! How are YOU all doing?

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Something to Think About, Part II

I’ve done a little thinking about this – thank you all SO much for your comments, please keep ‘em coming – and I’ve come to a couple of conclusions. Recognize that the jury is still out – I’m not sure I ever really make my mind up about anything (I think a closed mind is a terrible, terrible thing…):

* I can completely understand Kizz and Elena’s comments. It’s important to me that I set up a classroom environment that is safe and supportive, and I can easily see how my using old student emails would undermine those efforts.

That being said, however, I think that the emails that I’ve chosen to highlight are so far out of the realm of believability that it would be hard for most people to be overly concerned. I receive tons more email that are mildly annoying – along the lines of “hey mrs chili could you plz tell me what the homework was cuz i was asbent yesterday” – that I just let fly right past the guards.

Despite the image that I might portray here, I’m not a wicked grammar witch. I don’t correct my friends’ grammar, I don’t go around in the comments correcting incorrect comma use, I don’t roll my eyes when someone makes a spelling mistake. Want to know why? Because I’m a human being, not a dictionary or a style guide or a computer. I make mistakes, too.

My readers – and my students – rightly get the impression that I eat, sleep and breathe grammar because of the environment I’ve set up here and in my classrooms. That’s what I do HERE. My students are with me for eleven short weeks, and my job is to get them closer to understanding the rules and conventions of clear and proper communication during our brief time together. The things I write here are centered around the work that I do as a teacher, so of course I’m going to be focused on rules and conventions, and on noticing when they’re being ignored (or outright butchered).

THAT being said, I think it’s important for people to understand that this is not the ONLY part of me. I’m not the Grammar Gestapo. I’m sorry if ANYONE feels intimidated out of leaving comments here. While I recognize that I can’t control my readers’ feelings about my work and writing, I also don’t want to stifle anyone’s desire to communicate because they’re afraid of me. I don’t correct comments unless someone emails to ask me to do that (I find all KINDS of mistakes in my own comments on others’ sites that I don’t see until AFTER I hit “publish,” and I’ll email the blog author to ask them to fix my gaffs. California Teacher Guy has done that here, too – see above, re: human). I’m far more interested in getting a dialogue going than about whether or not all the commas are in the right places.

* I’ve been wondering why it’s okay for me to use shining examples of student work, but not the duds. I feel as though the pendulum has swung pretty far into the “we only want to accentuate the good – if we ignore the bad long enough, it’ll go away” mentality, and that’s not serving anyone. I’m betting no one would have objected to my using positive examples of really stellar student writing, and I’m not sure how comfortable I am with the attitude that goes alone with that.

* I DON’T ridicule my students. While I may go a bit overboard here, that is my right – this is my forum and it’s the perfect place to let off steam; it’s safe, it’s anonymous, and I get to hear back from other teachers who experience similar things, so I know I’m not out here alone – I never, EVER do or say anything even REMOTELY disrespectful in the classroom (or in the real world, even). You’re just going to have to take my word on that.

* Finally (for now, anyway), I think I’m going to continue to use the handout, at least for the short term. One of the most important points I try to get across to my students is that it is vitally important to understand what kind of image they make for themselves; I want them to be aware of how they seem to the professionals they’ll be dealing with in their careers.  I want them to start with me.

The head chef tells the story of a young man he had in the culinary program a year or two ago. This boy worked hard in his classes, earned decent grades, and wanted to do his internship at the Ritz in NYC. He worked diligently on his resume, wrote a great cover letter, and sent the packet off via registered mail. Then waited. And waited some more. Finally, after a few weeks, he went to Chef and asked him why he’d not heard back from the restaurant. Chef knew the manager of the place (Chef knows EVERYONE who is ANYONE in the culinary business) and was told that the student HAD been called. The manager reached the student’s voice mail (can you see this coming?) and heard “Hey, I can’t come to the phone. Leave me a fucking message and maybe I’ll call ya back.”

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I Need Some Inspiration

It’s time for me to change the display in GSA’s case, and I need help deciding what to do.  I had Black History Month stuff up in February, and a display to raise awareness of the violence that’s being perpetrated against GLBTQ folks up in March.  I need a new theme for April, and I’m coming up empty.  Any suggestions?

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I Guess it’s NOT Settled…

Betsy, it seems, is serious about contesting her grade.  I called in to the college this morning to get our fax number so Eddie could send me something, and when Joyce in the registrar’s office answered the phone, she said “OH!  CHILI!  Your name’s already come up this morning!”

Uh, oh.  That can’t be good.

Yep.  Betsy still thinks she deserves to pass the class, so I’ve gathered up all the materials I have from her and am heading to the college this afternoon to deliver them to my bosses.  I have NO expectation that the grade will be changed – neither Joe nor Dean will ask me to do that after they see that not only did I do my job, but that Betsy really didn’t.  Still, it’s unnerving to be so blatantly challenged like this, particularly by someone who so clearly has no legs to stand on.

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