I’m putting together a syllabus for my Film and Literature course at CHS, and I’m considering a question I don’t trust myself to answer on my own. Tell me, friends and colleagues; do you think that teaching both the novel and the film of Stephen King’s The Green Mile is junior-senior high school appropriate?
Monthly Archives: December 2009
I’m spending at least part of my holiday break putting together syllabi for classes that I might be asked to teach next term at CHS (such is the joy of being a teacher in a poorly-funded charter school!). So far, Carrie has expressed an interest in my teaching either English III (which is the least likely option, as the class is probably going to the other English teacher, but it may still land in my lap), a Film as Lit class (which I can pretty much do on the fly), or a Short Story Reading and Writing course (which is what I’m asking about today).
I’ve got the syllabus for the Short Story class pretty much fleshed out – all, that is, except for the actual stories. I have a set of good objectives, I’ve got a lot of the foundational, “elements of fiction” bases covered, and I’m pretty clear about the path we’ll take through the writing process. What I DON’T have is experience sufficient enough with short fiction to know which stories are, you know, good.
So, Dear Readers, I’m asking for your input. Give ms some of your favorite short stories, and so much the better if you’ve got them in PDF format or as links online somewhere; remember that I have exceedingly limited book access at CHS.
The field trip went better than I expected, though that’s not to say that it wasn’t without its own brand of drama and excitement. One thing in particular stood out as a spectacular little bit of teenage dumbassery.
I’ve got two kids (and yes, they were two of MY kids, from MY class, not my colleague’s). One of them is a gay boy who we’ll call Ben for our purposes here. The other is transgender, female to male, who’s just recently come out and requested that the school refer to him by masculine name and pronouns; we’ll call him Mitch. I wouldn’t point these identification details out under normal circumstances, but they are important to the story.
My colleague, Mrs. D., had wandered over to where these two kids were because another boy near them was putting his feet on the furniture. While she was over there, she noticed that Ben’s drawing book had something written on it that seemed to be making another boy – we’ll call him Jon – uncomfortable. When my Mrs. D. got up to get a closer look, Ben snapped his tablet shut and tried to cover by talking to Mitch.
Later, she found Ben and confronted him about what was in the notebook. Ben denied it several times, but Mrs. D. wasn’t giving in. Eventually, he ‘fessed up and showed her the page, on which was written “Jon’s gay!” with little stars and swirls. It was clearly written in Mitch’s handwriting, but it was in Ben’s tablet. Mrs. D. took the page and scolded the kids, telling them that there will be consequences at school when we returned.
Now, here’s the thing; Jon IS gay. That’s not particularly secret, and I’m expecting that the kids didn’t consider that their calling him so would have upset him. It DID upset him, though, and they seemed all the more intent on showing him the page when they saw that it did.
I understand that kids tend to prey on those they feel are somehow “less” than they are, even and especially kids who feel marginalized themselves. What happened on the trip yesterday was completely unacceptable, however, and I came to school this morning with the intent of taking these two kids aside and reminding them that CHS is a safe place for all students – and that it’s not just the grown-ups who bear the responsibility for making it so. Both of them are absent today, though (coincidence? I wonder…), so they didn’t get my all-school, morning meeting speech about the power of language and how we are responsible for the work our words do when we send them out.
I hope they understand that their being out today won’t get them out of this with me; of all the people in the school, these two – who’ve been shown nothing but acceptance and kindness here – have no business making someone else feel left out.
I’m taking the entire freshman and sophomore English class on a field trip today – one not of my planning, and with a colleague who… well, let’s just say that our personalities aren’t exactly compatible.
It’s going to be a LONG day.
I’m trying very hard to be positive about it, but the truth of the matter is that the dread set in around 1:00 yesterday afternoon and dug in. Send me good energy, will you, please? I’ll report back when it’s all over.
…and I love it.
I’m taking my I/II kids on a field trip on Monday (I may write more on that later, but for now, suffice to say that it was not a trip I would have planned). That means that my III/IV kids are going to be essentially on their own on Monday.
Since we started reading A Christmas Carol, the III/IV kids have been campaigning to have me let them watch A Muppet Christmas Carol.
Today, I decided that I WOULD, in fact, have them watch it – on the Monday that they’ll have a sub. Here is the handout that’s going to go with the film:
English III/IV Muppet Christmas Carol essay test
(You didn’t think that I was going to let you watch this film without making you EARN it, did you…?)
Film, while it may be influenced by written work, should be considered an entirely different piece of art for the purposes of critique and analysis. Keep this in mind as you consider the following questions. Please answer ALL of the questions as thoroughly and in as much detail as you can; use specific references to the film or the text in supporting your answers. These are due, printed and in proper class format, at the BEGINNING of class on Tuesday morning.
• Clearly, the audience for A Muppet Christmas Carol is primarily – though not exclusively – young people. Consider the ways in which Dickens’ original story was modified to make the themes more accessible to a child, and in what ways the adults who are watching the film with their children are addressed, as well. How does the film engage its intended audience in ways that perhaps the written work would not? What ideas from the novel are very effectively carried over into the film (and remember that the plot or narrative doesn’t have to be “faithful” to the book – just that the themes are effectively conveyed). Where do you feel that the film falls short in getting its message across?
• Think about the story’s narrator and about the way Dickens chooses to tell his tale. What role does humor play in the novel? How do the comic aspects of A Christmas Carol interact with and support the moral and ghost-story aspects? How does Dickens blend comedy and horror? Consider these same questions in terms of the Muppet retelling, then discuss the ways in which each work uses both humor and horror, and to what effect.
• An allegory is is a form of extended metaphor in which objects, persons, and actions in a narrative are equated with the meanings that lie outside the narrative itself. The underlying meaning has moral, social, religious, or political significance, and characters are often personifications of abstract ideas as charity, greed, or envy. Thus, an allegory is a story with two meanings, a literal meaning and a symbolic meaning. Consider not only the role of characters in A Christmas Carol itself as allegory, but consider, as well, the “characters” from the Muppet ensemble that play those characters in the film version. Why are human characters part of the film; what effect does that have on the audience? Why are particular Muppets given particular roles, and what effect does this have on the way we’re supposed to understand their larger significance as allegories?
Their heads are going to explode…
I just hit “submit” on the final grades for my Local U. class! WOOT! Another semester in the can.
I’m so relieved.
That was my word for today.
(Chili’s note; I wanted to call them “dumbasses,” to their faces, but the term “dumbness” applied as a general observation rather than an individual label was far more appropriate for the classroom setting.)
So here’s another one in the category of “I can’t MAKE this shit up.”
Today was the day that I handed out new books to my students; we begin discussing A Christmas Carol next week, and I wanted to get them started on the reading this weekend. Before classes began, I took all the copies of the story, tipped them on their sides, and wrote “CHS” and a number on each one. Then, I got a new book sign-out sheet, put “A Christmas Carol” across the top, and listed the books 1-20.
Still with me here? I know it seems fussy to go over the details, but trust me; they’re important to my story.
So, the end of my first class rolls around and I ask the kids who among them needs a copy of the book (many of them already have one, so they don’t need a school copy). Seven hands go up, so I pass out the books and hand the sign out sheet to the first kid. “Sign out the book you have and pass it on to the next person. Please make sure the last person gets the list to me when you’re done, please!” I say as I head out of the room.
The “last person” brings me the sign out sheet. She’s signed out book seven. Books four and six are blank.
Here I’m thinking, “Are you fucking kidding me?! WHO’S got books four and six?!”
I lost my shit in a way that was, to be honest, pretty funny (I had to mask it in humor because I was so astounded at this newest level of idiocy that I was afraid I’d really hurt someone’s feelings). I marched into my colleague’s classroom, asked him if I could have his class for a moment (he said “sure!” I think he knew from the look in my eye that this was the only acceptable response) and I played out the following scene.
ALL RIGHT! Everyone in Mrs. Chili’s English class, stand up! Everyone NOT in Mrs. Chili’s class, sit the heck down, because this doesn’t concern you and believe me, you don’t want it to!
(five kids stand up).
JENNA! What book number do you have, Honey?
(I consult the list) GREAT! Good girl! Sit down, please.
DANIEL! What book number do you have?
Book number, Sweet; what number is on the book I gave you?
Daniel, DARLING; would you please bring me your book?
Daniel comes to the front of the class with his book. I remove it from his hands, show him the number (he had 6) and bop him on the forehead with it.
DANIEL! Sign out your stinking book! GAH! DUMBNESS!!
I did this with FIVE other kids in two separate classrooms (I’ve got great colleagues; have I mentioned that lately?) In fact; Daniel and Melody failed to sign out their books at all; Peter (my boy genius), Bobby, and Serena just put their names in random spots without regard to what book number they had, so I had to straighten THAT out.
Needless to say, I was pretty worked up by the time I started my III/IV class, and it was a good thing I’d set the day aside as a workshop day for their papers, because I was in no condition to be leading a class (of course, they’re all laughing at me by this point, even the kids who were the recipients of head-boppings and cries of “DUMBNESS!”).
I did make the mistake, however, of asking the big kids to sign back IN some of their books (“what the hell?” I figured; I already had the book log out). One of my geniuses went to his locker and retrieved his book, then stood there next to me in front of the log that was open next to my computer.
No, I mean it; he just stood there……
For a really long time….
MIKE! What are you doing, Honey?
No, really; what are you doing?
Mike: I don’t know what you want me to do.
Mike, are you KIDDING me right now? Give me your book, please.
He hands me his book, and I bop him on the forehead with it. He starts to laugh (good thing, because I did, too).
MIKE! HONEY! See this number right here? (I angle the book on its side so he can see the number written on the top.)
See THIS number right HERE? (I point to the book number next to his name on the log.)
Are they the SAME number?
GREAT! Put today’s date in “date returned,” then go sit the heck down before I whack you again!
Yesterday was our first snow day here in my neighborhood.
The city’s public school system has a spiffy new phone message alert program that calls all the families and lets them know that school has been canceled. I hate it. My phone rang at frickin’ FIVE THIRTY in the morning. My alarm rings at ten to six. I NEED those twenty minutes, y’all! Besides, I much prefer my method of nudging my husband and having him open his laptop to the school closing page on the news station’s website – it’s MUCH quieter. Of course, I REALLY preferred touching an icon on my iPhone and checking the closings, but the damned news station changed its website (ironically, to make it work for iPhones, but now it doesn’t work for mobile devises at all. Whatever).
ANYWAY, I didn’t start this post to complain about the how we find out that we have no school. I started this post to brag about what CHS is doing to make sure that we get credit hours during snow days so we don’t have to go to school in July!
The tech guy (LOVE HIM!) at CHS decided that, as part of his Master’s project, he would implement a system by which CHS students could attend virtual classes on days when the building was closed, whether for snow or lack of heat or insect infestation (I guess that was a problem last spring. Ewww…). He researched a bunch of online class platforms, decided on one, and got the whole school up and running.
We had a trial run a few weeks ago – that class made up for a day we missed in October because there was no heat in the building – and it went pretty well. Yesterday was the first spur-of-the-moment class, though; school was canceled at 5:30 in the morning and the kids were expected to show up for online classes according to the schedule we’d handed them when we implemented the program.
Overall, it went pretty well. The biggest problem I ran into was that I gave the kids MY log in address by mistake, so whenever someone new came to the class using the link I gave them, the system kicked ME out because the kids were coming in on my address and the class wouldn’t let “me” in more than once. We fell back on a plan B that had us all meet on our website, though, so it all worked out in the end.
I am proud of my school for being on the leading edge of this wave; we’re the only high school in the state (so far) that is making use of this technology, and it’s pretty cool to not only be able to save ourselves having to make up the snow days in the pretty weather of spring, but also to be able to teach class in my pajamas!
Ten components of my teaching repertoire
1. Reading, reading, reading! I try to always have something going in the classroom – a novel, a speech, a short story – something. I really do think that reading much is the key to learning how to write well.
2. Writing, writing, writing! Though I have fallen a bit behind on this with my CHS kids, I do try to keep my kids writing all the time. Most days, my kids come to class and find a writing prompt on the board (usually having to do with the reading we’re doing – imagine that!). I also try to keep them working on extended writing pieces, as well.
5. Talking, talking, talking! I am not at all fond of lecture – either being the recipient or the giver. I find that MY learning style is much more attuned to the give-and-take of conversation, and that many of my most thrilling “Ah-HA!” moments (both as a learner and a teacher) have come when someone else said something that led to something else that led to my making a connection that really, really worked.
4. Vocabulary. I’ve never been a proponent of random vocabulary lists – even as a kid I thought they were the wrong way to go – so all of my vocabulary instruction comes from the things we’re reading. I find that I have minimum success with vocabulary lists – the kids don’t quite ‘get’ the exercise of finding and defining the words (or, at least, defining them in a way that they can understand) – but I keep working at it.
5. Critical thinking questions. I’m not a huge fan of the “tell me what happened” school of education; anyone who’s even minimally aware can tell you the plot of a story (though, come to think of it, I’ve got a couple of kids who don’t even meet that standard). No; what I’m interested in is the answer kids give to “tell me WHY this happened.” I have been delighted to the point of giddiness by some of the answers a couple of my students have offered to some of my more complex questions, and I continue to ask the tough questions because I want my kids to leave my class knowing how to THINK.
6. My websites. Oh, how I LOVE my websites! I spent quite a bit of time getting them off the proverbial runway, but now that they are (proverbially) airborne, I find them to be fantastic CYA mechanisms. No longer do I have to deal with “…but Mrs. Chili, I was absent / I lost the assignment sheet / I forgot what you said in class…” excuses. They don’t even get to do the “I don’t have internet” excuse, either, because there are computers available for the students to use on campus. I also love being able to pull up ANY assignment at ANY time so that when a student complains about a grade, I can show them the exact requirements I asked for so they can see the (often myriad) ways what they handed in just didn’t cut it.
7. PDF documents. I am often horrified (HORRIFIED, I tell you!) at the amount of paper I go through – I am, after all, an English teacher in a school with no books (well, not NO books, but precious few good ones, at any rate). I love being able to create a document as a PDF and give it to my kids online. Let THEM print them out if they want to!
8. Movies! I am one of those English teachers; I incorporate movies into my curriculum wherever I can (though, strangely, I’ve not shown a movie in either of my classes in months. Huh). I find that kids take very well to watching films in class, and because I don’t ask lame plot questions, they have to REALLY pay attention to what’s going on because they KNOW that I’m going to make them think when the credits roll. (next up, A Christmas Carol!)
9. Contact-ability. I make a big deal about being available to my students. While I haven’t gone after them as friends on Facebook or given them my phone numbers, I am pretty much always available via email. They have two of my addresses, and both of them go directly to both my home computer AND my cell phone. I’m in regular contact with several parents, and I stay at school on more days and for WAY longer than is strictly required in my (very part time) contract. I tell my kids that I will not chase them down, but I also make sure that I’m very, very easy to find.
10. Colleagues, professional development, and study. A huge – HUGE, I tell you! – part of my teaching practice is the part that I share with my coworkers, colleagues, and friends (that means you, you know!). I make a point of never thinking I’ve got it all figured out; I’m ALWAYS learning. Since I know that I’m a collaborative learner (see #3), I make a point to participate in as many opportunities for discussion and cooperation as I can, and this blog is a major component of that strategy. Thank you for your part in it!
Happy Tuesday, Everyone!