Category Archives: ethics

WHY Are You Here?

*Background; this semester, I’m teaching composition classes at Local U. and Not-Local Community College.  I’m also teaching a teacher intern seminar and fitness classes at two different places, so I’m effectively working five part-time jobs.  I’m so frazzled, I often have no idea how I make it to the end of the week.  That being said, I’m more than a little surprised by how well things are going in general, and I’m not sure what to make of that…**

So, this happened;

The other day, instead of reflecting on a quote, I had my Local U. composition students write me a brief note about how the writing of their first paper is going.  I asked them a bunch of questions to spark their thinking, ending with “is there anything specific – a grammar question or an issue with organization or comprehension of the source materials – that you’d like me to go over with you?”  That was the question upon which I based our post-writing discussion.

With the exception of a couple of kids who just finished an associate’s program within the University, every single one of my students in that class is a fresh-out-of-high-school freshman; that’s important to know.  The very first kid to volunteer to speak asked about MLA formatting and how much of it they were supposed to do for this paper.

None of it,” was my answer, and 22 pairs of eyebrows shot toward the ceiling.

“Look,” I said, “you’re working with two sources; MLK’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail and President Obama’s A More Perfect Union speech.  As long as you identify them in your introduction and are clear about which source you’re quoting from in your body paragraphs, you’re fine.  MLA citations in this rhetorical situation would be unnecessary and distracting.”

It was at this point that another girl chimed in with, “can I just say that you’re NOTHING like what my high school English teachers said you’d be like?”

If the preponderance of nodding heads is any indication, her answer to my query about what she was expecting was affirmed by nearly everyone in the class; they were pretty much universally told that they would have to hit the ground running with a full and competent knowledge of citation, structure and process, and academic vocabulary, and that anything less than skillful and consistent display of these qualities would have them shamed and ostracized in their classes.  From the sounds of it, fully half – maybe more – expected to fail out of college within the first few weeks.

It was at this point that I stopped them – literally held up my hands in the “whoa, Nellie!” position – and asked them what, exactly, they were doing here.  “WHY are you here, You Guys?  What is the POINT of your being in this class?”

Genius boy in the corner pipes up with a hesitant “to learn stuff?” (reminding me that I should probably show them Taylor Mali’s “Like, Um, You Know?” poem).

“YES!” I bellowed, making a couple of them literally jump in their seats.  “If the POINT of your being here is to LEARN STUFF, then why the HELL would I expect you to KNOW any of it ALREADY?!  What would be the POINT of this class if you already KNEW everything I came here to TEACH you?!  Can you IMAGINE how BORING that class would be?  Seriously; I’d want to gouge my own eyeballs out by the third class!  GAH!”

One of the things I’ve observed in my teaching practice over the last year or two has been the fact that students would rather sit in silence, confused – and frustrated by their confusion – than speak up and admit they don’t know something.  I can’t tell you how many times I read an article aloud to my classes and stopped after a particularly challenging concept or a $5 vocabulary word to check comprehension, only to have them assure me that they “get it” but not be able to explain it to me when I asked them to prove it.  At some point, the system the way we practice it beat out of these students the kind of curiosity that encourages questions.  It discouraged them from admitting that they don’t know something, which is devastatingly ironic given that the one place we should ALWAYS be able to admit we don’t know something is in a goddamned CLASSROOM.

So, now I’m on a mission.  I am crusading to get kids to start ‘fessing up when they don’t understand something, to ask for help if they need it, and to not let teachers get away with assuming that someone ELSE taught them what they need to know to do well in class.  I’m done with that shit.  I am a teacher; my job is to help people learn, not assume that they should already know everything.

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A Year Ago Today

It was a year ago today, and at the literal last possible moment, that I was told that I would not be coming back to Charter High School for the next year. I had absolutely no warning or indication that it was coming and, in fact, had been explicitly and repeatedly told that it wasn’t by people I foolishly trusted; I have copies of emails and instant messages to prove it.

A lot has changed in that year, but what really hits me is what hasn’t changed. I still, to this day, have not any reliable explanation; no one has bothered to give me the decency of telling me exactly what happened to me or why it happened. I’ve heard different stories from different people, each told to me in almost embarrassed tones, like the speaker didn’t really believe what they were saying. None of the principle players involved in this little drama has ever reached out to me, either to explain or to apologize.

For a year now, I’ve held doors open; I’ve been available and accessible in the hopes that someone would grow a conscience and send me a message, to offer me some kind of explanation, to tell me the truth. No more of that, though; I’m done. I’m not accepting the apology I never got, but I’m not going to leave myself open anymore, either. I’m too hurt – and too angry – to keep hoping that they’re going to suddenly become decent or ethical. I need to move on, and in order to do that, I need to lay this baggage down.

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Filed under compassion and cooperation, critical thinking, dumbassery, ethics, failure, frustrations, General Griping, history, Mrs. Chili as Student, really?!, self-analysis, That's your EXCUSE?!, Yikes!, You're kidding...right?

Unhappy Anniversary

It was a year ago today that events set into motion the crash of my professional life.

I didn’t think that today was going to be a big deal, really; it’s just another day, nothing has happened that changes my thinking or feelings about the whole mess, and, if anything, I’m more and more glad that I’m out of that deeply broken culture every time I talk to those who are still struggling to stay sane and ethical in it.

I’m finding, though, that I’m wrestling to put down the last of my bitter feelings toward the people who, for whatever reasons, let things happen the way they did.  I’m trying to come to some sort of peace with the fact that people looked me in the eye and outright lied to me.  I’m trying to find ways to forgive people for their callous disregard for the obvious needs of the students and the staff.  I’m trying to let go of the rage against the perfect storm of incompetence and utter failure of ethics that nearly led to the loss of a precious life.  I’m working on releasing the anger and disappointment I feel for someone who participated in all of it despite the fact that I just know he wanted no part of it, but did it, anyway.  I’m practicing detachment from some people who said that they cared about me – loved me, even – but whose actions were anything but caring and loving.

I am cautiously hopeful that my professional plane is about to taxi down a new runway and this crash was not fatal.  Once I’m proverbially ‘wheels-up,’ I think I’ll finally be able to put this experience well and truly behind me.  In the meantime, I’m working on focusing on the good that came out of this terrible, horrible, no good, very bad experience; my chosen daughter is healthy and whole and has done nothing to harm herself since that day, and I’m as adamant today as I was a year ago that, even had I known the hell that was to follow, I wouldn’t do a single thing any differently.

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Filed under colleagues, compassion and cooperation, critical thinking, ethics, failure, frustrations, I can't make this shit up..., I've got this kid...., Mrs. Chili as Student, really?!, self-analysis, Teaching

Where Does Work End and Life Begin?

I got an email from Punk’s high school this morning.  In it was an attachment of a letter to parents from the principal, letting us know that there was an “incident” involving a substitute teacher.  Here’s the pertinent part of the letter (the emphasis at the end of the note is mine):
Today we were informed that a recent substitute teacher at Local High School was involved in an incident in the community last night that resulted in criminal charges.
We have met with Local PD and have been assured that the event was not related to LHS, and we have no reason to expect any issues here.
The district has taken appropriate action in response to this information.
While this incident did not involve our students we wanted to be sure you had the information in a timely manner.

 

Here’s what I want to know; if the incident had nothing to do with the students, then why, exactly, does the administration feel it necessary to inform us about it?

I have long advocated for a clear and bright distinction between one’s personal life and one’s professional life; as long as your behavior off the clock does not impact your job, then it’s no one’s fucking business what you do in your free time.

Several years ago, the principal of my town’s middle school was fired for having been busted for DUI, and I remember being deeply troubled by that; the fact that he acted with less than stellar judgement during his free time had nothing to do with the fact that he was (as best I could tell) a reasonably effective administrator in the school (though, of course, the DUI could have been the excuse the school district needed to get rid of him; I’ll admit to not knowing all the facts in that case).

My point is that, at least according to this letter, this substitute teacher at no point put kids at any kind of risk.  Why, then, did I get this letter?  What purpose could this possibly serve but to stir up angst, curiosity, or even outright panic?

Someone help me out here, because I really don’t get it.

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What Ever Happened to Professional Courtesy?

A few months ago, I applied to be a long-term sub at a local school.  I didn’t get the gig (it went to the intern working under the teacher who was leaving, which makes perfect sense to me), but after I got word that I’d been passed over, I sent a polite, professional email to the department head asking for feedback about my interview.  When I didn’t hear anything back from her (which seemed incongruous, given the impression she gave me when we met), I re-sent the email (with a preface saying I wasn’t sure it sent correctly the first time, to let her save face).  I have yet to hear a peep back.

Then, a few weeks ago, I caught wind of a job opening at a different nearby school district.  I put together a packet of all the things the posting asked for, crafted a solid cover letter, put everything in a professional folder, put that in a nice envelope, put on some nice clothes, and drove the packet to the district office.  That afternoon, I followed up on the delivery with a short, polite note to the principal of the school in question, introducing myself, directing him to my website, and making myself available at his convenience to meet or talk on the phone.

Here’s what I want to know; just how fucking hard is it to hit “reply” and send back a quick “thank you for your interest in our school; I look forward to reading your resume” note?  Not that hard, one would think, but I’ve gotten precisely bupkis from this guy.  Nothing.  Are you old enough to remember getting post card confirmations that your resume had been received by personnel offices?  Yeah; that doesn’t happen anymore, either.

Flapping in the breeze is a very uncomfortable feeling.  I get that the market is flooded, and I get that employers can afford to be dismissive and impolite to job seekers, but that doesn’t make it right.  At the very least, let us know that our resumes got to someone’s desk and please, if someone sends you a personal email, do them the basic courtesy of a brief reply.  So many of us are putting our hearts out on the block for impossibly long stretches of time; don’t further demoralize us by ignoring our communications and pretending we don’t exist.

 

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Improving My Argument

*A continuation of the Counting My Chickens series*

I’m soliciting advice on how to present a particular argument.  Your input would be most appreciated.

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I am prepping to give a writing workshop at CPS on Friday, and I was going through the folder of information Dr. Wong gave me a few weeks ago when I first visited the school.  In it are fliers about the grading system, the dress code, tuition, things like that.  Included in the packet is the school’s handbook, and in that handbook is a whole section about “Respectful Language.”

Oh, boy; here we go….

I’ve written about how I feel about “colorful language” a number of times (notably here. There are other posts, too, I’m sure, but I don’t have the patience to look them up right now).  I feel – and have always felt – as though it’s my job as a teacher to give kids a strong command of their language – ALL of their language – and to teach them when it’s appropriate to use which rhetorical strategies.  Sometimes, and particularly when we’re engaging in creative endeavors, a particular of class of words is required to get across the true tenor of one’s meaning.  Those words exist for a reason, and part of my job is to make sure my students understand both when they need to employ them and when the rhetorical situation allows for it.

Like a fucking lady

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The upshot of the section in the handbook is that if you have a strong enough vocabulary, you don’t need to utter imprecations.  I’m sorry, but I just don’t buy that, and I’m trying to figure out a way to present that case in a way that is clear, logical, and defensible.  If I’m going to be asked to join this staff, I cannot have a limitation placed on what I can and cannot accept from students in terms of their own self-expression (and, not for nothing, “blasphemy” is listed as a no-no, as well.  Insert derisive snort here).
I have success with my students because I work hard to build an environment where they know they’re safe to explore what they really think and feel, not just what they think they’re expected to think and feel.  I work hard to create a truly judgment-neutral zone in the classroom so that kids can dismiss their inner critics and stroll out on limbs of thinking they’re not certain will support their weight.  I want them to dig under their proverbial beds, to open their proverbial closet doors, and to peek at their proverbial boogeymen, and to trust that I’m going to be there to help them find a way to get those ideas out of their heads in satisfying ways;  the only way I can do that is if I let them know that – at least in this class – they’re free to express themselves as authentically and as openly as they’re able to.  Sometimes (often, in fact), that expression is raw and painful and ugly, and that HAS TO BE OKAY.  Sometimes, the only way into a really great idea or a profound self-discovery is through the fucking wars, and that HAS TO BE OKAY.

If I’m going to be asked to teach anything beyond the basics of grammar and business writing etiquette (I can NEVER spell that word right the first time!), I’m going to require that there be nothing off limits for my students to write or say within the walls of our classroom.  I will make certain that they have a very clear and firm understanding of social contracts, and I will continue to reinforce the concept of rhetorical situations and the importance of tailoring one’s message to one’s audience, but I can’t function if I’m to treat an entire mode of expression as taboo.

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Filed under about writing, concerns, critical thinking, ethics, frustrations, General Griping, great writing, job hunting, lesson planning, politics, rhetoric, speaking, Yikes!, You're kidding...right?

The Facebook Generation

Alternately titled, “Airing Grievances.”

Someone I know was unceremoniously (and possibly wrongfully; I don’t know) fired from her job a little while ago.

She’s not taking it well.

This has been difficult for me because it’s brought back all of the feelings I had been working so hard to compartmentalize over the last seven months.  Hearing about what happened to her brought them all rushing in again – the anger, the disappointment, the pain and frustration.  She’s coping with all of those feelings, too, and it’s been hard watching her go through that while I work on repackaging all the yuck that her dismissal brought back up for me.

The difference between her and me, though, is that I’ve been dealing with my ugly feelings in a mostly quiet, mostly private way.  She’s decided to take her anger public, though, and has launched a pretty forthright campaign on facebook, where she’s still “friends” with a lot of people at her old job.

I’m still trying to work out how I feel about that.

On the one hand, I admire her.  She is fighting against an injustice and making public those policies and behaviors that create an untenable environment.  She’s trying to spur the people who are left to action; she wants them to see what she sees, not just the nice, polite, politically correct face that gets put on for outside observers.

On the other hand, I’m made really uncomfortable by the raw and bitter that she’s willing to air in public.  I’ve been so engrained to be polite – to deal with things “through the proper channels” – that this kind of in-your-face campaign is foreign to me.

Some of the people still at her old workplace have logged in to comment – and to reprimand her – about some of the things she’s posted, and I’m betting that there’s an even larger conversation going on offline.  One person exhorted her to be a “grown-up” and “move on,” and it’s all I can do to not chime in to say, “Hold on a second; since when is it “grown up” to just shrug off bad behavior?  Isn’t the whole point of adulthood to stand up against what you think is wrong and NOT leave it for the next person to have to suffer?” but I’m not sure I’m willing to wade into the conversation at all.

I can’t decide how I feel about this tactic of hers.  Part of me  – and I’m going to admit here that it’s a pretty big part of me – applauds her for doing this.  I keep going back to the idea that Dr. King highlighted in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail in which he asked about how we are best to address our grievances when the authorities whose job it is to adjudicate those grievances are the offending parties.  I keep going back to the idea that silence always benefits the oppressor, and that evil triumphs when good men do nothing.  I keep thinking that she’s right to stand up and scream, loudly and persistently, about the wrong that she sees, and that she’s right to expect people who are still in the system to take a long, hard, critical look at what she’s yelling about and then maybe do something about it.  At the same time, though, I can’t help cringing at the bluntness, the bitterness, and the pointy bits.

In this age of social media, IS there a middle ground anymore?

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