Monthly Archives: March 2009

Back at It

I’m going to pop in to the composition staff meeting at Local U. after a lunch date with my husband this afternoon, and I’m very much looking forward to it.

I left Local U. last semester when my boss told me that there weren’t enough classes to keep any of the adjuncts, but that I shouldn’t move out of my office because I’d be back in the fall.  He also told me to keep coming to the staff meetings if that was something I felt I wanted to do.  It was, but it turned out that my email address was dropped from the notification list and, to be quite honest, Tuesdays were the only days I had completely off, so I wasn’t crazy about the idea of dropping everything in the middle of the day to try to find a parking space in the snow-buried lots and make my way to a drafty building for an hour’s worth of talk about a class I wasn’t teaching.

Bad attitude, I know, but there you have it.

Now, though?  Now I’m excited about going back.  I’ve put my experiences with TCC (mostly) behind me and am looking forward to re-integrating into the community of Local U.  I’m going to check in with my office (which has been occupied by a grad student this semester; I know my stuff is still there, but I have no idea what kind of space I’ll have to use for myself) and touch base with some of the people that I’ve discovered, once I stopped to think about it, I really miss.

I don’t know if I’ll SAY anything in today’s meeting – I suspect that, as a relatively “new” face in the crowd, it might be best for me to be quiet for a bit – but I am very much looking forward to being there, to thinking about Freshman Writing and how I’m going to structure my classes this fall, and to seeing some of the people I respect and admire.  More than anything else, though, I think I’m most looking forward to thinking of myself as a “real” teacher again.  I haven’t yet recovered all of the wind that the last TCC knocked out of me – the main reason I’m going to start attending these meetings again is to feel good about myself and the work that I do.

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Filed under colleagues, composition, I love my job, Learning, Local U., self-analysis, Teaching

Closure

I have it.

excusedfromclass

(From the Chalkboard Manifesto.  It’s not exactly my sentiments, but it made me chuckle nonetheless.)

I submitted the grades for my final course at TCC yesterday.

This class was unique to my experience at TCC in a number of ways:

•  For starters, there were 17 students in the class, but they were literally never in the same room at the same time.  Never ONCE, in the entire 11 weeks of the course, did I have the full roster in attendance.  That’s never happened to me before.

•  Four of the 17 failed outright.  Though that in itself isn’t all that unusual, I’m pretty sure that one of them took a record.  I’d have to do a bit of research to be sure, I’m fairly certain that I recorded the lowest grade ever – one student “earned” an 11.6.

•  I feel the least successful with this class.  I’m not sure why it is, but I don’t feel as though these students came away from our mutual experience any better off than they were when they started.  I didn’t see anyone’s proverbial light bulbs go on, and I fully expect that most of them felt as though the course amounted to little more than an inconvenient waste of their time.  Their work and performances certainly didn’t belie any particular effort or epiphanies on their part.

The upshot is that I’m glad to be done.  A small part of me is disappointed that I wasn’t asked back to teach another course; even though the college is closing in October, there are still a few students left who require English classes, though I suspect that most of them will either be hybrids or independent studies.  Looking back on this last class, though, I feel like I can walk away satisfied that it really is time; it wouldn’t be unfair to characterize the atmosphere around campus as depressing, and I think I’d have a hard time mustering up enthusiasm for another course.

I’m grateful for the experiences I’ve had teaching at TCC.  I’ve learned a great deal about myself and my practice as a result of my nearly three years as an adjunct professor within those walls.  The ride is over, however, and I’m looking forward to my next adventures secure in the knowledge that the skills and experience I’ve acquired during my tenure at TCC will serve me well.

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Grammar Wednesday

Again, I’ve been offered Grammar Wednesday GOLD. California Teacher Guy (thank you, Honey!  Keep ‘em coming!) emailed me this photo, suggesting that it might be appropriate for a post.

img00123

Really? It’s all I can do to restrain myself from commenting about not only the intelligence of the people who produced this decal, but more so on the intelligence of the people who both parted with money to purchase it, and who display it – no doubt proudly – on their vehicles for the world to see. Sigh.

Happy Wednesday, Everyone.

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Filed under bad grammar, Blogroll, dumbassery, failure, funniness, Grammar, out in the real world, politics, You're kidding...right?

Holding Teachers Accountable

Before I get going on the rant I have planned for today, I’d like to share this little tidbit, cut-and-pasted verbatim (with the exception of my name) from a student’s evaluation of our course:

Mrs. Chili outline and exprees good needs to lrean the best ways in communicated expectations for building speechs and dlivering speechs.

Sigh. CLEARLY, I didn’t, now, did I?

So, as the topic for a persuasive speech, one of my students chose to speak in favor of strengthening the No Child Left Behind Act. This student has a child in the public school system and feels that the child is being under-served by his teachers. The student argued against the practice that some school systems have of lumping the under-achieving students in a special “other” group which, if I’m understanding the gist of the speech, produces portfolios instead of participating in the standardized testing in order to demonstrate the achievement that NCLB requires. According to this speaker, the more advanced students in public schools get all the attention, the middling students are pretty much left to their own devices, and the poor students are foisted off with pointless busy-work that they can do well so that cute little portfolios can be put together and presented to the people who oversee such things. To hear this argument, one would imagine that no real learning is done by anyone but the brightest kids.

The upshot of this student’s speech is that the teachers need to be held accountable for the performance of their students – even more so than they already are. Students who perform poorly or who fail to make adequate yearly progress should be, according to this student, an indication that the teacher is failing.

To a certain extent, I agree. If a teacher is consistently at the head of under-performing classes, then he or she ought to be subject to a certain amount of professional scrutiny to determine if the problem lies with the teacher or his or her methods or his or her preparation (or lack thereof). I welcome my colleagues into my classroom; I WANT that kind of observation and constructive feedback and I LIKE collaborating with my colleagues about things like activities, assessments, and what I can do to make my classroom a more engaging, more productive learning environment. Even if my classes are going well, I welcome my fellow professionals into my environment because I know that their being there is going to be helpful to me as a teacher.

Let me add, however, that I take serious issue with the assumption that a poor student is necessarily the product of a poor teacher. While I will never claim that I’ve “got it” – that I’ve reached the pinnacle of my profession and don’t need any more workshops or education or critique – I will say that I’m a pretty damned good teacher right now. I care about my discipline; I think it’s important, and I want to share my love of language with my students. I care about my students and I want to have a part in giving them what they need to be successful and self-sufficient in the world. I strive to behave in a way that will make other people think well of teachers in general – I am ethical and professional, I come to class prepared, I am fair in my dealings with students, and I consistently strive to learn more so that I have more to share.

All that being said, am I to be held accountable for the student in my class who earned a 38.6 grade point average this semester? How is “accountability” to be determined, and who is going to be making the decisions about where the line of responsibility is drawn? If I meet all of the goals set out in my syllabus, the contract of the class (and, in fact, exceed those standards by making myself available to my students outside of class, or giving them my personal cell phone number and email address) and students still fail spectacularly, does this reflect poorly on my skills and professionalism?

I guess what I’m asking here is have we slipped past the point of expecting that students take some personal responsibility for their own success or failure? How does a failing student – especially an adult student who signs up for a class and agrees to the terms of the syllabus from the outset- become MY responsibility? Have we made some subtle shift between the idea that learning is an active process on the part of the learner rather than a passive activity where a student expects to sit back and have content poured into them without their having to actually do anything?

It’s bad enough that I beat myself up over the kids I can’t reach; I don’t need someone else blaming me for their failures, too.

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Filed under bad grammar, concerns, critical thinking, dumbassery, ethics, failure, frustrations, General Griping, Learning, politics, Questions, self-analysis, speaking, Teaching, Yikes!, You're kidding...right?

Grammar Wednesday

This week’s offering was submitted by California Teacher Guy a few weeks ago.  I’m sorry I’m just getting to it now; I’ve been a little out of sorts lately and not really doing such a great job of staying on top of things.  I’m getting better now that our portion of the globe is tipping a bit more toward the sun, however, so things might just be looking up in my world.  Anyway, thanks CTG.  Keep it coming (and keep nudging me when I’m too slow)!


My dear Mrs. Chili,

While staying at a well-known chain motel over Presidents Day weekend,
I couldn’t help but notice this sign high on the wall behind the front
desk. I asked permission to take the photo, and I’m forwarding it to
you with great glee and affection.

Fondly,
CTG

feb09grammarwed-005

Anybody know what “incure” means?

On a slightly different note, I was in a drug store yesterday looking for something to nourish and soften my lovely curls, when I came across this stuff:

images

Grammatically, it’s correct; fortifying is used as an adjective to modify the noun fortifier, but all I could think of when I saw it (after doing a double-take) was an angry second grader – “You lying liar!!!

Happy Wednesday, Everyone!

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Filed under Blogroll, colleagues, funniness, Grammar, little bits of nothingness, out in the real world

Yes, They Have No Shame

As I was whinging to O’ Mama this afternoon over lunch about the abysmal performance of some (okay, most) of my students this afternoon, she suggested a blog post title of “Have They No Shame?”  I decided, though, that I wasn’t up for the sarcasm and figured I go with the bald truth.  They have no shame; a fact which several of them reinforced in me today.

Today was the next-to-last day of class.  Half of the class were expected to present their persuasive essays and speeches today – speeches and essays for which I passed out detailed rubrics and standards, mind.  Speeches and essays whose topics were supposed to be cleared through me prior to their beginning their research (a concept which, given the representative speakers’ performances today, I find caustically laughable, by the way).

Let’s set aside for a moment the fact that the six students who presented did not offer anything even remotely resembling a persuasive effort – no one researched decent arguments, no one bothered to articulate the argument or present the opposition’s case, no one asked the audience to change their thinking or called their listeners to action.  Let’s not even think about that for just now, shall we?

No; let’s consider that despite my repeated, loud, and gorgeously articulate exhortations to come to me with their topics and to begin their work early, no fewer than two of my students came to me – AFTER class TODAY – to ask if they could “do” their speeches on this or that (and one of the geniuses decided he wanted to address a question about a judicial policy that doesn’t even exist, for crying out loud).

Because I care very deeply about the work that I do – it’s a calling for me, not a job – I am torn between wanting to throw my hands up in impotent exasperation and feeling like I’ve somehow let these kids down.  A reasonably close examination of my work this term shows, however, that I came to every class prepared, that I assigned work that was both relevant and meaningful, and that I was entirely available to students outside of class should they have needed me.  I held that door open; that a few of them stubbornly refused to go through it is entirely out of my control.

Sigh.

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Filed under concerns, dumbassery, failure, General Griping, rhetoric, self-analysis, student chutzpah, Teaching, That's your EXCUSE?!, Yikes!, You're kidding...right?

Grammar Wednesday

Don’t you just LOVE these emails?  I seem to be getting more than usual lately; perhaps the scammers are feeling the pinch of the contracting economy?

BMW® HQ Germany Plant:Heidemannstr. 164 DE-80939 MUNCHEN Germany.
From:THE BMW® (UK) Ltd Registered Office:
Ellesfield Avenue, Bracknell,
Berkshire, RG12 8TA.
United Kingdom.

Congratulations,
The Board of Directors,Members of staff and the International Awareness Promotion Department of the BMW Automobile Company, Wishes to congratulate you on your success as one of our TEN(10) STAR PRIZE WINNER in this year’s BMW Automobile International Awareness Promotion (IAP) held on Tuesday 10th of March,2009 in Berkshire.

This makes you the proud owner of a brand new BMW 7 Series,730d Sports Saloon car and a cash prize of 750,000.00 GBPs (Seven Hundred and Fifty Thousand Great British pounds).

In order to redeem your prizes contact Mr.Thomas Peters R ,Bmw Claims Manager of the Claims Department with the verification form below duely Filled and sent
through email to:
Mr.Thomas Peters R,
DIRECT EMAIL:bmwgroup035@live.com
Tel:+44(0) 7031925534.
VERIFICATION FORM:

1.)Full Name: 2.)Current Address: 3.)Country: 4.)Age: 5.)Sex: 6.)Occupation: 7.)Phone Number: 8.)REFERENCE NUMBER:BMW:25515600DS

There’s just so much to mock here.

I forget which of my readers suggested it, but I think s/he’s right; I do have a number of students who might just have a future writing these emails…

Happy Wednesday, Everyone!

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Filed under about writing, bad grammar, dumbassery, ethics, failure, funniness, You're kidding...right?

If At First You Don’t Succeed, Sue

Seriously.

Okay, here’s the story; TCC’s parent company decided, a little over a year ago, to close the school.  I don’t understand all the machinations that brought them to that decision and, frankly, it doesn’t matter to me, but it’s an essential piece to this story, so there you go.

When the decision to close was made, a group of people got down to the business of figuring out what had to happen between now and the close date to make sure that all the students had access to all the classes they needed to complete their degrees.  I’m assuming some sort of graph or spreadsheet or cork board with tons of index cards and yards of twine was created that laid out all the courses the students would require, who would teach those courses, and when those courses would be offered so that required sections wouldn’t conflict with one another.

So far, so good, right?

So, I’ve got this student.  We’ll call her Sasha.  Sasha took a course last term that is required for her degree – let’s say it was an algebra course.  She took that course.  She failed that course (and, from what I hear, failed it in pretty spectacular fashion, but that’s really neither here nor there, now, is it?).

Under normal conditions, this wouldn’t be much more than an inconvenience; Sasha could just take the course again in the next term.  Well, the spreadsheet-or-whatever decided that this would be the last algebra course to be offered… ever.  Sasha, seeing her problem (because, you know, she’s smart like that), went to her advisor and told him that she needed to take the class again.  I imagine that the conversation went something like this:

Sasha: I failed algebra, but I need it for my degree.  You need to put another class on the schedule.

Advisor: Um, no, we don’t.  You need to go to another college – there are plenty around – take an algebra class there, and we’ll transfer the credits.

Sasha: No, I’m getting my degree from TCC.  You have an obligation to give me the class.

Advisor: We DID give you the class.  You failed it.  We’ve fulfilled our obligation to you.

Sasha: Well, if I have to go to another school to get the class, you have to pay for it.

Advisor: No, actually, we don’t.

Sasha: I’m suing.

No lie.  The kid is suing the school over a course SHE FAILED.  And it’s not as if the course were a wiggly one in terms of grading, either; in math, you either get the concepts and come up with the correct answers, or you don’t.

Guess how Sasha’s doing in MY class?

I went to my boss a couple of weeks ago, after I heard Sasha tell me the story about how she’s suing the school (she seems kind of proud of it, as if she’s not even a tiny bit embarrassed by  her abysmal performance in the course and won’t be mortified when the judge chews her out for wasting the court’s time because she was too lazy to do her damned homework).  I want to know what kind of exposure *I* have for recording this kid’s failing grade for my class, too.  Do I need a lawyer?  Should I invest in some sort of litigation insurance now?  What, exactly, are we coming to?!

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Filed under concerns, dumbassery, failure, General Griping, student chutzpah, That's your EXCUSE?!, Yikes!, You're kidding...right?

T-Minus Two Weeks…

The semester at TCC is almost over.  Class is meeting today (despite the snow – see below for a bit of funny about that); after today, we’ve got Wednesday, then next Monday and Wednesday, and we’re done.

Today’s class will be spent talking about what makes good persuasion and about how to write a decent persuasive essay.  I’ve got a couple of examples to give to the students, and I’ll give them an overview of Aristotle’s appeals (ethos, logos, and pathos), plus the rubrics for both their final speeches and the papers they’ll need to research and write for the last class.  I’ll give them Wednesday to work on their projects; the last two classes will be set aside for presentation.

Most of the students took me up on my offer to accept late work for a D grade (I’ve made this deal before, and I’ve decided that even though it undermines my “no late work” policy, I like it for a couple of reasons – one; it gets the kids to actually DO the work, which is really the point, and two; it saves a number of students from failing).  As of right now, only 4 of my 17 are failing – that’s down from the 9 I had at mid-term.  I suspect a good many of them won’t be happy with their grades, but I am entirely confident that their grades reflect the quality of work they’ve given me to this point.

I have been thinking about this class and the grading policies that I follow.  Since this course (public speaking) is far less about knowledge per se than it is about demonstrable skills, I find that I’m far more careful about how I assess the students’ work.  I’m very careful to put out rubrics; in fact, the students will receive the rubrics for both their oral presentation AND their written piece today, so they’ll know what I’ll be looking for before they even start putting their projects together.  The truth of the matter is that once a student gives a speech, it’s gone – we can’t go back and review the grade because the performance is over and was not recorded.  Because of that, I’m found in the back of the room frantically scribbling notes and quotes from the students’ speeches as a means of backing up the grades that they receive.

I’ve got a story about one of my kids and why I’m nervous that she’s failing, but I’ll save that for another day.  For now, enjoy this email, sent to me by a student who is concerned about coming to class today in the snow (who still doesn’t understand how to open a polite letter (will they EVER stop addressing me as “Hey”?!) and who, it appears, speaks a dialect of Martian – anyone know what bexaiawnod means?):

Hey are we still having your class today bexaiawnod the snow? Because the roads are pretty bad where I’m at and it takes me 30 minutes to get there so I’m just wanting to make sure so I don’t have to drive there foe no reason

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Filed under about writing, composition, critical thinking, dumbassery, failure, funniness, General Griping, rhetoric, Teaching, The Job

Because, Of Course, “You’re a Racist” Was the First Thing I Thought…

Ugh.

Remember the kid who decided to do a different exercise than the one I assigned?  I turned his ungraded paper back to him yesterday with the note on it explaining why he got no credit (he only got it yesterday because that was the first time I’ve seen him since the assignment was due).  He sent me this email last night:

I answer the assignment on a speech I’m more comfortable with. The specific statements that will help me improve in building many passionate public speaking challanges.

The reason I did not chose Obama’s speech is based on his views of policy not that he has black skin or based of creed. I don’t discriminate and would like to go over this papers subject mater in more depth. I made clear views and also learn on organizational method to improve my deliverance that is within a speech. I explain very clear and thoughtful ways in building a verbal understating on not just Obamas speech but as well many others from all kinds of differant backgrounds.

Thank you for your time I will review the visual speech many times until it’s preferred understanding the class audience and what they find important.

We’ve got two weeks left and I’ve seen no improvement in this kid’s written or verbal communication skills.  He’s not going to pass the class.

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Filed under about writing, concerns, dumbassery, failure, frustrations, General Griping, rhetoric, speaking, student chutzpah, Teaching, Yikes!