Monthly Archives: October 2011

I NEVER Thought I’d Say This…

… but I’m kind of hating the weekends.

I’ve got a couple of (my favorite) kids whom I’m keeping a wary eye on lately.  Things aren’t good for either of them; Margot’s just been released from a hospitalization and is dealing with debilitating panic attacks, and Jeff is neck-deep in a really unpleasant home environment.  They’ve both come to me for support, and I’ve been more than happy to give it to them.

I’m finding, on this lovely Friday afternoon, that I’m worrying about them more than I did last night, or on Wednesday.  I’m sure this is because, on every other night, I know I’ll see them first thing in the morning (and, if I don’t, I know how to find out where they are and whether they’re safe and upright).  The idea of going two days without laying eyes on either one of them is proving to be disconcerting.

I’m less worried about Margot.  She’s got a strong family support system and is being well cared-for at home; I am confident that she’s safe and loved.

Jeff is another story altogether, though; he sent me a text message on Wednesday asking me to sign onto facebook so we could chat, and he told me that his home life is fast becoming untenable.  So much of his situation reminded me of MY life at that age – parents (or, in this case, a mother and a new boyfriend) who give every impression of loathing the mere presence of him and make no effort to disguise that fact but who, inexplicably, won’t let him leave the house.  Jeff is angry and frustrated and, I think, scared; he’s recognizing that all of this is wearing away at his already tenuous self-esteem.  I spent a good bit of our chat time explaining to him why *I* think he’s an amazing kid who’s growing into a good and decent man, and how I’m deeply proud of him.  I know, from my own experience, that while hearing these things from me is probably helpful, it’s not enough to salve the damage being done by the people who are supposed to love him, and that’s the part that’s killing me.

I had a conference with Mitch (the new guidance counselor, whom I really, really like) and our assistant dean (whom I’ve not yet given a pseudonym; let’s call him Brad, okay?) about exactly where my line has to be with Jeff.  They both agreed that everything that’s happened thus far has been not only okay, but good; they both recognize that Jeff needs someone he feels he can count on, and he clearly feels safe with me.  When I brought up the idea of having a sit-down with Jeff’s dad, my men searched all of Jeff’s files and discovered that we’ve got nothing in the way of custody orders or other official paperwork that would forbid such a meeting, so Dad and I are having coffee tomorrow afternoon.

In the meantime, I’m keeping my cell phone on – and on me – at all times.  I need to be available if either of these babies needs me.

Monday can’t come fast enough.

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Grammar Wednesday

I’m recycling topics, you guys.  If there’s an issue you want me to address, fire off an email, please.  Otherwise, you’re going to keep getting retreads:

Less vs. fewer

image credit

This is really a question about whether one understands the difference between a count and a non-count noun; which one we have will determine the adjective we use.

A count noun is… duh… something you can count.  Remember that it’s not something you WOULD count, necessarily – snowflakes and stars are both count nouns – but they’re things you COULD count.  When you’ve got a countable noun, you would use fewer:

There were fewer fans at the football stadium once the team started their spectacular losing streak.

The new brand of oil means your car requires fewer oil changes in an average year.

A non-count noun is… duh… something you can’t count, even if you wanted to.  They’re words like money (but not dollars), rain, (but not raindrops), and furniture (but not chairs or couches; see the difference?):

The area had significantly less rain this summer than last, which means fewer trees will reach their full autumn color.

Joni makes less money than Jack, even though she does twice the work and makes fewer mistakes.

All those signs in grocery stores that direct you to the “ten items or less” registers are wrong because items is a count noun (as are groceries, and pretty much anything that you can put on a conveyor belt).  Tell them so for me.

 

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Ten Things Tuesday

I love all of my students, but some of them are much closer to my heart than others.  Here are ten of my favorite kids (in no particular order), and just some of the reasons I love them.  I have changed the names, but the kids are all very real.

1.  Bart.  He’s my “school son;” I love him like my own.  He is kind and gentle, he is generous and thoughtful, and he is wicked smaht and funny as hell.  He and I have settled into a kind of familial intimacy that makes me grateful every day that I took this job.

2.  Margot.  She and I are just now starting to connect.  I had her in class last year.  Some days I thought we clicked, other days I was sure she hated me; I could never tell where we stood.  I found out the other day when she had a panic attack, left the school, and called me in near-hysterical tears asking me to come and get her.  I cannot tell you how important it is to me to be a safe person to my kids; knowing that she is comfortable enough to call me when she felt most vulnerable is huge.

3.  Kermit.  Kermit and I clashed HARD last year; to the point where he actually transferred out of my class.  I will admit to being nervous to have him this year, but something is profoundly different between us.  He’s energetic and engaged, and he’s dug into the work that I ask my kids to do – to the point that he’s kinda rocking my socks.  His parents told me that something clicked for him at home, too, and he’s totally making it all work.  He and I are laughing and really talking, and I am delighted to be sharing this year with him.

4.  Caroline.  She’s a new kid this year, but something in her resonated with me from the moment we met.  She is open and sweet, she has a sublime sense of humor, and she’s eager to learn and to find her place in our community.  She’s got some self-esteem problems that I’m working on (she was convinced at some point that she’s a bad writer), but every time we talk, I get the feeling that she’s going to be one of my kids.

5.  Jeff.  Jeff is one of my guitar boys and, like Kermit, we did not connect our first year together.  In fact, Jeff was one of the kids I was sure we were going to lose; he just wasn’t working.  I kept at him, though, even though I know he sometimes hated me for it.  Last year, something in him turned, and he started the year really rockin’… until he wasn’t.  At one point, he came to me and admitted that things were bad at home.   I looked him in the eye and told him that he could call on me for anything he needed.  Ever since then, he’s been my kid, and I love him like I love Bart.

6.  Trevor.  Trevor is a new kid, but he’s already grown on me.  He’s open and sweet, he’s sharp and funny, and he seems a genuinely happy to be with us.  I have no idea if he’s going to be one of mine (really, the kids choose me), but I wouldn’t object if he wanted to be.

7.  Nick.  Nick is also a new kid, and I am deeply impressed by him.  He is infectiously, deliriously friendly, he is wickedly smart and observant, and I’m pissed that he’s a senior because it means we’re only going to have him for the year.  He seems to me the kind of kid who will put himself out for other people, and I already feel like he’s going to be a huge part of my school life this year.

8.  Hannah!  There are a million things to love about Hannah!, not the least of which being that she signs her name with an exclamation point.  She’s in it; she wants to learn, she wants to read, she wants to suck everything out of this experience, and I adore her.  She isn’t really mine – while we get along fantastically, I think she’s bonded much more to another teacher at the school – she is one of the kids I look forward to every day.

9.  Arthur.  Arthur was another kid I thought we were going to lose last year, but who’s somehow managed to come back to us this year; he’s not quite wheels-up, but he’s definitely on the runway and picking up speed.  We’re really starting to connect; he’s looking me in the eye, he’s joking with me, he’s starting to trust me – and himself.  I have a good feeling about this kid.

10.  Betty.  I adore Betty.  She is a firecracker, but I think that a lot of that energy is her way of trying to cover up some pretty hefty insecurity.  She admitted to me, in a piece of writing, that she’s going through some things.  I wrote back to her and told her that she didn’t have to go through them alone; that I would be there for her if she needed me.  We haven’t spoken about it – that’s not the way Betty operates – but I know she knows I’m here.  That may be enough – just that knowing – but if she needs more, and I can give it to her, all she has to do is say the word.

I am so incredibly lucky to be able to do this work, and to work in a place that lets me love my kids the way I need to.

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Quick Hit: This Cracked Me Up *EDITED*

I’m a closeted fan of passiveaggressivenotes.com.  I found this there this afternoon, and it gave me a giggle.

*Edited to include: Kizz commented that the handwriting in the grammar note looks a lot like mine.  It’s not, but she’s right: observe

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Grammar Wednesday Quick Hit

We’re in the middle of parent-student-teacher conferences here at CHS, so I’m in it up to my eyeballs.  Accordingly, you’re getting a quick hit Grammar Wednesday.

It’s people who and things that.

I had a kind of Abbott and Costello thing going on the other day with one of my freshmen.  She was starting an explanation with, “People that..” and I kept interrupting her with, “People who”  She couldn’t figure out that I was correcting her modifier; she thought I was asking for clarification of the people she was talking about and was starting to get annoyed with me that I wasn’t letting her get to the verbs.  Finally, I went to the board and wrote out “People who / things that.”  The light bulb went on over her head, but I’m still hearing her say “people that.”  I’ll keep at her – and the rest of her generation – about it.

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Grammar Wednesday

Tricky agreement question!

The other day, Carson sent me this question:

I saw a sign that reads “20 million pounds is distributed every year.” Janette and I contend that this is incorrect; however, her friend states it is right. Thoughts from the grammar queen?

(Let’s be clear here that the “grammar queen” moniker was his idea, not mine.  I make no claims to any kind of royalty, grammatical or otherwise.)

Here’s my answer to his question:

You and Janette are correct – the verb should be plural.

If you’re talking about the number, the verb that goes with it should be singular; “20 million IS a big number.”

Since we’re talking about a quantity of things, however, the verb should be plural.  We wouldn’t say “a thousand people IS marching on city hall this afternoon” even though the article that goes with “thousand” is “a,” which is singular.

Where this really gets people flummoxed is when we’re talking about percentages.  In fact, I think I came up with this on the side of a cereal box a couple of years ago… hang on, let me see if I can find it…yep; here it is.  The upshot of this problem is when we’re talking about ONE in some other number (whatever that number happens to be).  We’re talking about ONE, so the verb that goes with it should be singular: “one in five relationships STARTS online,” “one in 250 million people IS a redhead,” that sort of thing.  The problem is that people mistake the SUBJECT of those kinds of sentences (the ONE) with the MODIFIER (in the examples I gave, “relationships” and “people”) which is plural.

We have that same problem when it comes to other types of modifiers, too.  “That pile of rocks IS in my way,” “that group of students IS preparing for an exam,” or “the majority of Americans IS in favor of gay marriage.”  The subject of a sentence never comes in an “of” phrase, and “pile,” “group,” and “majority” are singular nouns.

I tell my students to figure out which verb to use by taking out the modifier, or the “of” phrase, and saying the sentence out loud.  Personally, I wouldn’t say “A million IS distributed;” I would naturally say “A million ARE distributed,” so I go with the plural verb.

Get it?

Love!

Chili

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Quick Hit: It Works!

Every morning, my English classes are expected to write for about 10 minutes on a bumper sticker quote I put up on the board.  The first class, they just get the quote; I want them to approach it fresh and as they would on their own.  They find critical thinking questions and prompts from me on the board when they arrive for subsequent classes.  My hope is that these will nudge them to think deeper or more carefully or from a different angle; my goal is for them to practice critical thinking skills, then to transfer that thinking into their writing.

For the most part, these exercises seem to go over okay.  The kids grumble about having to do them – especially the first-thing-in-the-morning kids – but with the exception of a couple of recalcitrant kids (who don’t write on principle, anyway), I get pretty decent engagement.

I had to kinda drag Hatcher through these last year; not exactly kicking and screaming, but for a while there, I was working harder than he was.  This kid is SO smart and SO insightful, but he would give me bullshit responses to the prompts, and it made me CRAZY.  I pushed him and cajoled him and harassed him all year, and he only once in a while let slip how brilliant he really is.

He ended up leaving the school this term (I’m not sure why, and it saddens my heart; I miss him every day).  This morning, I got this message on my facebook page:

Dear Mrs. Chili,

After the second day of [standardized testing], I can honestly say that I would have had an incredibly hard time on the writing sections without the daily quote writing from your class.

Thanks,

Hatcher

I live for these notes.

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