Monthly Archives: June 2010

Quick Hit: Never Mind

It turns out I don’t have to teach summer school.  I’m both relieved and disappointed, but I think relieved is winning out…

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Credit Recovery

HELP!

I’m trying to put together an 8 week credit recovery program for the students who failed junior English this term, and I’m bumping up into a serious creative wall.

I want for the program to be largely self-directed; that is, I only want to meet with the kids once a week and have them do the rest of the work on their own.  I also want for it to be substantial; I’m resisting the urge to reign in the material because, well, if they couldn’t handle what I gave them in small doses every day for 15 weeks, what makes me think they can handle a lot on their own in 8, right?  The point is that they COULD handle the work, they just chose not to and besides, the point here is for them to prove that they’re ready for senior level English; one of the main themes of that class is moving toward independent, self-directed work.

I’ve got the first week knocked; they’re going to write a personal literacy narrative in which they relate how a literacy has helped to shape how they read, write, think, or behave.  It’s an assignment I do with pretty much every writing class I teach; what I want for the students to understand is that reading and writing are intimately connected and not, as so many of them think of the experiences, discrete activities.  I can point to any number of books that have been instrumental to shaping how I view myself and my place in the world, and I want for my students to be self-aware enough to understand where their influences come from.

After that, though?  I’m stumped.  I can’t decide if I want to continue the theme of social justice that we were working on over the semester (though I am leaning heavily in that direction) or if I want to branch into something completely different – adventure literature, say, or biography.  I can’t land on whether I want to teach one book in-depth, or work from a collection of short novels, stories, and film.  Further, I can’t decide if I should make the summer term all about critical analysis, or if I should make it a straight writing craft course (though, to be honest, I’m likely going to keep pushing the critical analysis, as that’s going to be the primary objective in senior English in September).

I’ve got a stack of potential books on my desk; A Long Way Gone; Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah, Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, Beloved by Toni Morrison (or possibly Song of Solomon), The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien, and American Gods by Neil Gaiman are all in the running, as is The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman (because my plan is to work that book with juniors next year, and these students, if they complete the summer session successfully, will enter September as seniors, so they won’t have to work the book twice).  I’ve not read the Beah or Gaiman books yet, and it’s been a very long time since I’ve read Conrad or Morrison, so I will have to work those right along with the kids, but I’m not opposed to that.

What do you think?  How would YOU go about building a summer school term that had a heavy independent study feel to it?  Thoughts?  Suggestions?  Please?

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Filed under book geek, critical thinking, failure, frustrations, I've got this kid...., lesson planning, Literature, reading, self-analysis, Teaching, The Job, winging it, writing, Yikes!

Commencement

I’m attending CHS’s graduation ceremonies this afternoon.  I’m feeling that familiar, oxymoronic feeling of giddy excitement and a small, aching loss.

Several of these students have been in my classes, and a couple of them are precious to my heart.  I’m terribly proud of them and can’t wait to see them off on their next adventure while at the same time being a little mad at them for being seniors during the year I arrived at CHS – they won’t be in my classes again next term, and I’m saddened by that.

Then again, though, there are a couple of kids I am relieved to never have to see on my rosters again.  I truly believe that the Universe craves balance.

All of this bittersweet is tempered by the fact that the kids I love aren’t going very far away; I’m certain I’ll see them every once in a while, and I’ll be delighted to have them sitting in on my classes when they come back to visit.  There’s nothing they can’t do, and I’m eager to see them bring their own frequency of light into the world.

Look out!  Here they come!

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Quick Hit: NOT Awesome

One of my students – a senior who has never really been engaged in our class – told me today that it’s a wonder anyone ever does anything.  After all, he explained, everyone’s going to die, anyway, right?  So, why bother?

Why, indeed.

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Quick Hit: Awesome

Yesterday, I sent home permission slips so my juniors and seniors can watch Brokeback Mountain.

This morning, I was talking to one of my colleagues about my lesson plan.  He also teaches film and will occasionally drop a work into his curriculum that he knows is “risky,” but which he believes is absolutely valuable enough to take the chance.  We were just talking about what I would do with kids who don’t come back with their permission forms when one of my students popped into our conversation.

“My father refused to sign my permission slip,” he told us.  “He said that he doesn’t need me ‘to see two gay guys getting it on, and all puffballs should go to hell.’”

I turned to my colleague and said, “Like this kid, for example.  Where do I put him while we’re watching the movie?”

My colleague was just about to tell me he could take my student in his class when the boy piped up – with an enormous, shit-eating grin on his face – “Oh, no – it’s okay; I got my MOM to sign it!”

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Filed under colleagues, funniness, I can't make this shit up..., I love my boss, I love my job, I've got this kid...., lesson planning, parental units, student chutzpah, success!, the good ones

Doing the Happy Dance

My professional life just got a whole lot more awesome.  This afternoon, Carrie hired the guy I really, really wanted to work with me in our fledgling English Department next year.

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I’ve mentioned we’re starting to re-build the school from essentially scratch, right?  I wanted her to hire someone I knew I could work with and who would have the same kinds of goals (and ethics) that I have, and I got him!  The board still has to vote on his contract, but there is no reason to think, given his resume (which includes theatre experience) and his credentials, that they’ll have any objections.

This means that the English Department next year will consist of me (Carrie called me “department head” today, in front of people, even!), Will (who’ll be teaching poetry as an artist in residence until he gets his teaching credentials), and this guy (let’s call him Mike, for the sake of clarity and, you know, obfuscation).

What I’m trying to tell you here is that English is going to KICK ASS next year, and I can’t wait to get started!

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Doing My Own Homework: Shifting Perspective

We had a Autism Awareness presentation yesterday, and as homework, I asked my Writing Workshop kids to write a poem in which they explored an alternate way of seeing:

What is “seeing”?  How does your perspective affect the way you understand the world and how you express yourself in it?  What happens when your way of seeing is vastly, drastically different from others’ ways of seeing?

Here’s what I came up with:

The roaring in my ears is incessant, lending the perfect soundtrack to the pounding of my heart  I knew this would happen  I brought myself here to this place of buzzing lights and cockroaches, of screeching metal on metal protests – No, no!  I won’t do it; you can’t make me - of casual carelessness, jostling and touching and nearly tripping, of intimacy with strangers I’ll never see again.  As newspapers and paper bags bearing the oily ghosts of someone’s breakfast chase each other in the stinking breath, hot and dusty and sharply metallic the train arrives and I knew this would happen and - No, no!  I won’t do it; you can’t make me.

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Jealous Seafood

I love my job.

One of my students – let’s call him Andy – is having a spot of trouble with his longtime girlfriend, and he’s confounded by it.

It seems that an underclassman has a crush on Andy, and she isn’t really being very subtle about showing it.  Andy’s girlfriend, Marie, isn’t at all pleased about this, and even though Andy’s done nothing to encourage the crush (and, in fact, has actively discouraged it), Marie is still uncomfortable and insecure which, in turn, is creating problems for Andy.

Really, though, that’s not what this story is about.

Andy corralled me this afternoon to ask my womanly perspective on the matter, having already received advice from my “work husband” – a man who is starkly practical and matter-of-fact – so Andy was looking for a kinder, gentler take on his problem.  As he’s explaining the situation to me, Graham, a favorite student of mine, was half-listening.  As Andy is telling his tale of woe, he mentions the “green-eyed monster,” knowing that I would be impressed by his remembering this turn of phrase from our recent wrestling with Othello in English class.

Graham TOTALLY misheard what Andy said, though, and piped up with, “Wait…  what’s a green-eyed lobster?”

Snort!

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Doing My Own Homework: Persuasive Essay

My juniors and seniors have been given the task of writing a persuasive essay in which they tackle an educational issue.  From among the choices we brainstormed on the board, I chose extending the school calendar as the focus of my piece.  Please keep in mind that this is a first draft; we’ll be workshopping them in class tomorrow, so I may well post a revision then.  As always, I welcome any comments or suggestions you have to offer.

**************

Every so often, the idea of a school year that runs around the calendar is brought up for consideration at school board meetings and educator conferences.  As communities look for ways to solve what they see as some of their more pressing educational troubles – most particularly the lack of sufficient student achievement – more time in the classroom is invariably considered as an option.  Despite what may seem like a number of logical reasons why schools should institute a longer educational calendar, the  twelve-month school year is a bad idea.

The most convincing argument against the year-round school year is the fact that an overwhelming number of school systems have barely enough funding to run their current calendars.  School budgets are universally underfunded; school districts scramble for the funding required to run their payrolls, maintain their buildings, and pay for materials, and they very often fall well short of what they need.  Teachers everywhere will testify that they buy their own supplies – pens, erasers, and other necessary classroom materials, as well as supplies like notebooks and lab materials for their students who can’t afford them.  Rare is the school district that can say that they have sufficient chairs, books, or copy paper to meet the students’ needs.  The question becomes; if we can barely afford to keep the schools open for the traditional ten-month calendar, how will we find the funds sufficient to add more time to the school year?

Proponents of the year-round school calendar will say that the traditional ten-month scheme is based on an antiquated agrarian model.  Young people in earlier eras were released from their school responsibilities so that  their labor could be utilized on family farms during the summertime when the workload there was greatest.  Since this economic model no longer exists, proponents argue, a ten month school year is no longer necessary.  There is no arguing with that claim; it is absolutely true that most of the country’s school children do not live on farms, and those who do are protected under child labor legislation from having to work on them.

Tradition, however, is a very powerful thing.  The summer break is often a time when families arrange vacations and when young people are free to participate in activities that they don’t have time for during the school year; namely summer camps, sports or theatre programs, or summer jobs.  If we do away with the summer vacations in favor of a year-round school calendar, many of those programs – and the vacations that families enjoy together – will suffer.  This time is important to young people’s development and should be valued along with time spent in classrooms; to say that a student only learns in school is to discount the many rich and varied opportunities for learning that summer programs can provide.

Teachers are required to attend a prescribed number of professional development hours in order to maintain their certification – and ethical teachers are invested in their own education in order to be the best teachers they can be.  A significant number of professional development opportunities are offered during the summertime; focused and academically challenging fellowships, workshops, and conferences give teachers valuable academic experience to bring back to their classrooms, as well as significant hours to put toward their certification renewals.  Being able to devote concentrated effort in academically rigorous pursuits means that a teacher can complete a significant workshop or seminar that really improves his or her work in the classroom; many teachers will say that summer lecture series and classes that require extended work on the part of the teacher are far more valuable than the “teacher workshop days” set aside for professional development during the school year.  A year-round school year would significantly cut into teacher development opportunities, as the short holidays and rotating vacation schedules make attending such extended workshops far more difficult than an open summer term allows.

A number of other countries, most notably Japan and South Korea, operate extended school years.  In fact, according to the Encyclopedia of Childhood and Adolescence, by the time Japanese teens have completed 12th grade, they would have spent the equivalent of at least three more years in school than their U.S. counterparts.  Additionally, Japanese students typically score significantly higher on standardized tests than students in the U.S.  This seems to be a very strong argument for extending the school year.

While it seems logical to assume that the increased time in the classroom is responsible for the improved performance of students who attend year-round schools, the link between class time and academic achievement may not be as clear as it may seem.  One would be wise to look closely at the variations in curriculum and teacher qualifications – as well as parental involvement and cultural and societal expectations – as more accurate influences on student success than the length of the academic calendar.  Improvements in student achievement could be better served by strengthening the curriculum, fostering parents’ involvement in their student’s life, and holding students to higher standards of quality than simply increasing the time a student spends in a classroom.

The studies that have been done on the effect of year-round schooling on student achievement have been spotty at best (Education Week), though many refute the idea that a year-round calendar is the solution to poor academic performance.  Paul von Hippel, a sociologist with Ohio State University, presented a study to the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in which he concluded that students who attended a year-round school did not exceed their traditional calendar peers in performance in math and reading.  His findings concluded that, because the year-round calendar is most often simply a reorganization of the traditional 180 day model, students weren’t actually spending more time in the classroom, only that the way vacations were organized had changed.

Several other practical concerns should be raised when considering lengthening the school year.  The extended calendar would require that more funding be devoted to  busing and school lunch programs.  Maintenance costs would increase as the school buildings would require year-round janitorial staff, and energy costs in lighting, computers, and possibly cooling would also go up; many school buildings will require upgrades that include cooling systems that are unnecessary in the ten-month scheme.  As many year-round calendars are staggered or “multi-tracked,” meaning that different groups of students take periodic vacations on a rotating schedule, some families might find the year-round calendar prevents them from having the entire family on break at the same time.  As the mother of children who, by virtue of the difference in their ages, attend different schools every three years, I would likely find that my older daughter has a different break schedule than my younger, thereby preventing us from taking vacations as a family.  As a teacher who may be contractually required to work during the “intercession breaks” in the twelve-month school year, I may find that my opportunities to spend time with my family are further impeded.

There are certainly a number of benefits to a year-round school schedule; to say otherwise would be disingenuous.  The benefits of that system, however, do not outweigh the drawbacks, particularly when one considers the difficulty schools already face in trying to command adequate funding for the calendar they currently use.  In fact, the school board in Muscogee County, Ohio is considering reverting back to the traditional school calendar after running a year-round model for the last ten years in an effort to compensate for drastic cuts in the school budget.  While many parents are upset with the possibility of having to rearrange their schedules to allow for a long summer vacation, others are pleased that all their children will be on the same school calendar.

There are a great many concerns about the quality of American public education that need to be seriously and carefully addressed.  Until more evidence is presented that the benefits of a year-round school calendar are significant enough to balance out the expense and disruption that switching to that schedule would cause, however, the focus of the efforts of parents, teachers, and administrators should be on improving the system we currently have; on quality rather than quantity.  In this case, more isn’t necessarily better.

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