Monthly Archives: May 2011

Themes

One of the really cool things we do at Charter High School is we choose a school-wide theme to work with during the year.  Generally, it’s something that’s started in the English classrooms and works its way through to the theatre production and music classes.

This year, for example, we chose “coming of age” as our theme.  I made nearly all of my book selections based on that idea, and the entire school read Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, which was discussed and analyzed in the English classes early in the year.  Later, the scriptwriting classes worked with it, putting together an original play.  After that, the stagecraft, acting, theatre production and puppetry classes took over to put on a really great show.

It’s about time to choose a theme for next year, and I’m at a loss.  Any ideas you guys can through at me would be greatly appreciated.  So far, I’ve come up with “friendship, family, and identity,” “war, politics, and diplomacy,” “Classics; stories we tell over and over,” “medicine, science, and technology,” “magic, faith, and fantasy,” and “The Journey; going away to come home.”  I’m circling around the ideas of  “duty and loyalty,” and I feel like I can make something work with “rights and responsibilities,” but I haven’t quite got there yet.

Which idea would you vote for as next year’s theme?

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What I Wish

Yesterday, I had guest speakers come to my poetry class and run a workshop.  One of the writing prompts they offered the class was “write a letter you can’t/won’t send.”  This is what I came up with:

Dear One,

    I wish, perhaps more than I wish anything else for you, that you end up on your face a few months after you leave here.  I want someone to take you down, and to take you down hard.  I want for you to spend at least a couple of days steeped in excruciating self-doubt; I want for you to be given just cause to really question the way you think about yourself and your place in the world.  I wish, perhaps more than I wish anything else, that someone who doesn’t know your penchant for irrational drama and litigation isn’t afraid to tell it like he sees it tells you exactly how little you’re going to succeed with that attitude and that sense of entitlement that you carry with you with such forthright pride.

    My deepest hope is that someone, soon, explains to you that you are not all that.  That you do have to earn what you get, and if you’ve earned nothing, that’s exactly what you will receive.  I want for someone to make plain to you that the big bad world doesn’t owe you a thing, and that the way you behave teaches people how to treat you, so when you start to wonder why everyone around you is such an asshole, you might begin to consider that the one constant in all your shitty relationships is you.

    I do not want these things out of spite, though I’m certain that you would believe, with every fibre of your being, that I simply want to see you fail because you’ve already decided that I’m a useless, self-righteous bitch.  While you may believe that, nothing could be farther from the truth.  The truth is that I want this devastating humiliation for you, this soul-crushing come-to-Jesus, to happen sooner rather than later so that you can get yourself together and realize the enormity of your true potential.  I want you to get knocked out so completely and totally that when you wake up, you will suffer the kind of amnesia that lets you forget your arrogance and entitlement and victim mentality and get on with the life that you were truly meant for.  You could be wonderful, but you choose to fight against your possibility with so much energy that you have nothing left to be who you really are.  You can’t begin to imagine how sad that makes me.

    So, Dear One, I hope that someone whom you respect and admire takes you out at the knees.  I hope that someone with more guts than I have tells you to knock your shit off and figure yourself out.  I hope that the next year brings you an existential crisis of monumental and staggering proportions, and I hope that you are strong and smart enough to come out the other side beginning to understand what I already know; you are your own worst enemy.

    Have fun storming the castle.

        -Mrs. Chili

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Filed under failure, frustrations, I've got this kid...., out in the real world, really?!

I Got to at Least One!

I don’t give final exams.  I hate them, not only because I don’t think that the bulk of a student’s grade should be dependent on one (high-stress, overly pressured) example of his or her performance, but mostly because I just don’t teach like that.  Really, it doesn’t matter to me if a kid can regurgitate a plot line or identify the main clause in a sentence; what’s really important is that the kid understands how to think.  I want my students to leave my class as more agile and critical thinkers than they were when they came to me, and that’s not something one can determine with a multiple choice final exam.

I do like the idea of a culminating project, though, and mine is designed around the portfolio model.  Kids gather up examples of their work and reflect on what they did over the course of the year.  My goal for this is twofold; I want them to review the work we’ve done over the course so they can revisit both their successes and their shortcomings, and I want them to have an opportunity to see the growth they’ve made since September.  Most of the time, I understand their advancements far better than they do, and asking them to reflect on their work gives them a chance to see what I see.

Not every kid gets that, though; most of them aren’t quite mature enough for that kind of self-aware, thinking-about-how-they-think work that I ask them to do in their final projects.  Every once in a while, though, a student is able to articulate something remarkably close to what I would say about him if someone asked me what his greatest leap was during the year.  Today, as I was reviewing project drafts to offer feedback, I opened this, from a junior who’s planning on graduating early:

Second Semester Reflection
    For the most part, I really enjoyed this last semester. Although there were many assignments that I found to be difficult and did not like too much, I learned a great deal from them, and learning is something that I enjoy doing. Being a naturally creative person, I enjoy having the ability to write what I want to write about, and although the assignments usually require students to focus the writing on a general subject, the creative control and freedom that students have been given this semester is tremendous compared to the high school that I came from; a school that follows state requirements and guidelines exactly as they are written, and that incorporates little to no creativity and freedom into the curriculum.
    

Personally I was not a very big fan of the first semester, since it was very structured and guided, however I realize now that it more or less served as preparation for the level of independence allowed in during the second semester, which I have enjoyed greatly. As a student who is graduating a year early from high school, independence is an extremely important skill to learn, and I believe that after completing the various assignments given throughout the second semester, I have become a much more independent person in school and out. Having come from a school that gave me a rubric and guideline for everything, it was nice to finally have some independence, however it was also very difficult.
    

Throughout the course of the second semester, I learned that independence is much more difficult than it seems. Although it was not easy, I was able to manage it by essentially learning how to critique my own work as if I were a teacher grading the work. Overall, being able to handle independence is one of the most important skills that a student can learn, and based on my experiences throughout the second semester, I can safely say that I have successfully learned how to be independent.

I’m not convinced that early graduation is a good idea in general, but I’m reasonably comfortable letting this one go early.  He’s got a very clear idea of what he wants to do (he’s going into a music production and management program), and while I know a lot of teachers who question whether a 17-year-old can really know what he wants at 17 years old, I knew I wanted to be an English teacher since I was in about 3rd grade, so I’m willing to cut the kid a little slack.  He very clearly has some decent communication skills, he’s working on that self-aware, critical thinking piece, and I think he’s going to be just fine.

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Filed under critical thinking, I love my job, I've got this kid...., Learning, self-analysis, success!, the good ones

Fingers Crossed!

I’m in the process of trying to reach Leif Enger, the author of the gorgeous Peace Like a River, which my juniors, seniors, and I are reading as our culminating novel for this year.

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My goal is that Mr. Enger will consent to an Skype conference with my class to discuss this beautifully written novel, his craft of writing, and life in general.  I’ve sent messages through a couple of avenues; I’m hoping one of them gets through.

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Wish me luck, would you?

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Filed under about writing, admiration, book geek, great writing, I love my job, out in the real world, Questions, winging it

Professor Chili

I got an email from the head of the freshman writing program this morning.  He wants me to come back to Local U. to teach next fall!

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Frankly, I’m more than a little surprised.  I mean, I absolutely believed my boss when he assured me, after telling me he couldn’t hire me last year, that he’d keep me on his list; that’s not the surprising part.  What’s really got me stumped is that our state is in the process of eviscerating funding for the university system.  Really.  Every single department in the University is under both hiring and salary freezes.  Mr. Chili is concerned that the group for whom he works, which has been operating in cooperation with the University, may now consider breaking off and founding an independent institute.  My girlfriend, who works for the business school, is actually doing two jobs because the school hasn’t hired someone to replace her partner, who had to leave due to medical issues two months ago.  It’s bad out there, and I strongly suspected that this would mean both a reduction in the number of freshman writing sections being offered and a far lesser likelihood of my being invited back to teach.

Not so, it seems!  I’ll be heading up a Monday-Wednesday evening section of freshman composition, and I’m really looking forward to it.  I’ve missed being at LU’s English building, and I’m very much looking forward to being back.

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Filed under about writing, colleagues, composition, I love my boss, I love my job, Local U., success!, Teaching, The Job

A General Announcement

When writing a note, email, or letter to an English teacher, it’s probably best not to use words like “gonna,” “wanna,” or “hafta.”

I added to it to expand my point, i had an incomplete for my grade, I’m guessing that meant i could re-work it. If you wanna look at it that would be great. thanks.
-Sharon

Also, “I” as a personal pronoun is always capitalized.

That is all…

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Filed under bad grammar, dumbassery, frustrations, little bits of nothingness, really?!

I Love These People

“You want to make it illegal to say “gay”?  We’re gonna fuckin’ say it anyway!”

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Filed under Gay/Straight Alliance, GLBTQ issues

Buy a Watch *EDITED*

I’ve got this kid.  Let’s call him Sam.

Sam’s one of those kids.  Sam has the ability to exude disapproval and annoyance from across the room.  Sam is bossy and loud and is completely unaware of boundaries.  Sam is of the opinion that the greatest tragedy in the whole of human history is that the world does not, in fact, revolve around him, and he takes every opportunity to try to change that.  He’s quick to judge others, with an almost vicious harshness, for the very same transgressions that others find particular to him, and he has no inkling of the irony.  He is hypocritical in the extreme and seems to take great delight in being the victim, even when no crime has occurred.

Sam also can’t tell time.

Sam has senior privileges and can come to and leave school according to his class schedule.  Sam has been late to our English class 9 times since the semester began.  We don’t meet every day, so nine times works out to be a significant portion of the class.  Also?  He’s can’t just come quietly into the class.  No; Sam’s got to make an entrance.  Sam’s got to be noticed.  Sam’s got to distract the kids who did show up on time and who are trying to get some work done at the beginning of class.  In fact, Sam proudly announced today that he had no excuse for being late; he just blew off his alarm clock.

Today was my straw day.  The same four kids, of which Sam is a sort of ceremonial figurehead, sauntered into my room anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes late for class, even after the talking-to I’ve been giving them for the last month or so about the importance of showing up to scheduled events on time.  Today, I dropped the hammer.  This little band of merry delinquents will be sharing a silent lunch with me tomorrow as detention, and they will do so again every day they choose to arrive for class on their own schedule.

Everyone but Sam took the news like men; Sam, of course, put up a stink.  “I get to leave after this period; I have senior privileges,” he told me, not a little petulantly.  My response was that senior privileges are just that, privileges, and can be revoked if they are abused.  Since Sam is late to class far more than he’s on time, I am revoking his privilege to leave tomorrow; he’ll be dining with me, instead, and perhaps, though it seems too much to ask, he’ll be ruminating on the importance of being prompt.

*Edited to include* Did I call it, or what?  It seems Sam is “too stressed out” to sit quietly for 40 minutes and serve a lunch detention.  He went to the counselor and raised a big enough stink that he was capitulated to.  I have officially given up on this kid; I’ll give him the 70 he needs to graduate and say “good riddance.”  Have fun stormin’ the castle, Kid, and don’t come back.

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Filed under dumbassery, failure, frustrations, I can't make this shit up..., I've got this kid...., Learning, really?!, student chutzpah, That's your EXCUSE?!, You're kidding...right?

Quick Hit: Teacher Appreciation

Here’s a letter I sent to two teachers who really made – and who continue to make – a profound difference in both my professional and my personal lives.  I wouldn’t be who I am without the love and influence of these two remarkable teachers.

Dear Terry and Tom,

    I wanted to take a minute to send you both a message to remind you, again, of how very much you mean to me.  

    Both of you were instrumental in helping me live the life I imagined; I am joyous in my profession, and I recognize that I wouldn’t be here but for your instruction, your example, and your encouragement.  Thank you for believing in me (sometimes more than I believed in myself) and for seeing to it that I had the tools I needed to be the person, and the teacher, I wanted to be.  I aspire to the examples you still set for me, and I am honored by the support and friendship you continue to extend.

With much love,

           Chili

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Filed under admiration, colleagues, I love my job, Mrs. Chili as Student