Category Archives: General Griping

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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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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Wordy Wednesday: The Conversation We Should be Having

Go get yourself comfortable; this could take a while.

By now, 5 days after the horror of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, we’re pretty well steeped in the hysterical rhetoric coming from both “sides” of the political spectrum; the “left” is screaming for rational gun control legislation and humane mental health services while the “right” is advocating arming teachers and eliminating “gun-free zones.”  The fighting is as predictable as it is pointless; background checks wouldn’t have prevented this tragedy, the guns used in the shooting were obtained legally, guns are not the problem, you can’t plan for the crazy people, there’s evil in the world and there’s nothing you can do about it, The Second Amendment….

Blah, blah, blah.

This is not the conversation we should be having.  We don’t have a gun problem; we have a humanity problem.

Are there reasonable things that we should be doing as concerns guns and weaponry that we’re not doing?  Of course there are.  I’m not going to go into them now, though; I’m betting you’re sick of hearing about them (I am) and anyone who knows me, even if they only know me here, knows that I have both feet firmly planted in the pro-gun control camp.

I don’t want to talk about guns or lobbies or the NRA.  I want to talk about culture.

A few months ago, my grandfather observed how difficult raising kids is “nowadays.”  I kind of called him on that; I said that raising kids is just as hard now as it was when he had kids, or when he was a kid himself, and that it might in fact be easier given all the modern conveniences and health care and safety equipment.  He shut me down, though, and this is how he did it; “When I was a kid, we didn’t have a telephone, but my mother would know that I’d done something wrong before I even made it home.  The whole neighborhood watched out for everyone else’s kids.  If I did something I wasn’t supposed to, my friends’ mother would take it out of me at the scene, then my mother would take it out of me when I got home.  When my kids were little, it was still like that.  No one looks out for anyone else anymore; they’re all too worried about lawsuits.”

While I’m not sure it’s the lawsuits that people are worried about, Grampa’s point has merit; we don’t look out for each other anymore.  We have drawn very clear and very rugged lines around our lives, such that it is the rare person who will step up to correct another person’s child, or even to offer to help someone else.

Case in point; the other day, I was in a department store.  Little kids love to hide in the clothes racks (I did, and I bet you did, too), and, look at that!   I found a small person in a clothes rack.  I looked up and didn’t see an accompanying adult, so I asked the kid where her grown up was and stayed with her until said grown-up appeared (which, I might add, was not immediately, and when the grown-up did arrive, she was not in the state of panic I would have expected of a parent of a small child in a department store around Christmastime, but I digress).  She scolded the child and ignored me completely, which left me feeling as though the help I offered by staying with the kid (or, not for nothing, discovering her whereabouts in the first place) was both unnecessary and unwelcome.

I have been “spoken to” many times in the course of my professional life for “caring too much” about my students; for being interested in them as human beings, for listening to them when they spoke about their lives or their frustrations or their goals, for offering advice and support and, yes, love.  It wasn’t my “job” to nurture them as people, it was my job to stuff “knowledge” into their heads, to provide opportunities for them to spit that knowledge back out, and to assess their competence in doing so.  I was told that it was the counselor’s job to take care of the kids’ emotional needs, but then listened as that same counselor said, out loud and in public, that he didn’t “do” crying kids.  A facebook friend observed that “Hell, I remember when everything shifted. Prior to my junior year in HS (that was 83-84?) the counselors went from just that, someone you could go to get help or just talk, into someone who helped with ONLY curriculum and college placement. Now they see a kid with a problem they call the idiots at CPS and all hope is lost for the poor child!

I don’t think he’s wrong.

We don’t take care of each other, plain and simple.  We aren’t allowed to check in to make sure that things are okay at home; pediatricians were asking, not too long ago, for legal permission to inquire about guns in the home.  They were told ‘no.’  When a teacher sees something in a kid’s behavior that raises red flags, we’re told that we have to wait until there’s a clear and obvious crisis situation before we’re allowed to call someone else, who may or may not intervene.  We mind our own business and keep our heads down.

The message that sends is that there’s no one to go to if you need help.  If you’re in trouble, if you’re confused or frightened, if you’re bullied or harassed, if you’re feeling hopeless, there’s nowhere for you to go unless you’re threatening yourself or others; the situation needs to be escalated to crisis mode before there are any systems in place to help you, and by then it may be too late.  There’s nothing that can be done; you just have to suck it up and deal with it because you know what?  Life is hard.

I’m calling bullshit.

The problem we have isn’t with guns, though guns are certainly an exacerbating factor.  The problem we have is that we don’t know how to manage a basic level of common human decency.  We don’t know how to care about one another, and we don’t know how to accept that care without its being perceived as some sort of judgment about our fitness.  We’re so wrapped up in ourselves – our rights, our privileges, our perceived greatness -that we fail to recognize that our lives are inextricably wrapped up in others’ lives, too.  We listen to our politicians use violent rhetoric and watch them work tirelessly to further disadvantage those who are already behind.  Our entertainment glorifies violence and the loner; the rugged individual who keeps to himself and does whatever he has to do – up to and including hurting others – to ‘get the job done.’  We have, as a culture, completely swallowed the myth of isolation; that we are alone in the world, that the only things we get are the things we get for ourselves, and that everyone else should, at best, be viewed with suspicion.

I reject that mentality wholesale.  We can totally fix this gun problem and this mental health problem by just being decent to each other.  Let teachers care for their students.  Ask for help when you need it (and accept it when it’s offered).  Be willing to think and look critically at the habits and traditions you follow, the ways you solve problems, and the ways you talk to and treat other people.  Think cooperation before competition, and abandon the idea that someone else’s success means that there’s less for you.  Hold a door open, yield the right of way, look people in the eye and really listen.

Let’s try being decent and see what happens.

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Quick Hit: Vindication

I attended a seminar yesterday on the Constitution and the ways in which the document continues to change and evolve as society does.  It was a fascinating day – much more so than I imagined it would be – and I’m eager to sign up for the rest of the programs in the series.

One of the panels featured a lawyer who does extensive work with issues of privacy.  After her session, I made my way to the front of the lecture hall to try to get a moment or two with her, which she graciously offered me.  I quickly told her to story about what happened to me at CHS last year, giving her a thumbnail sketch of the proverbial ‘facts of the case,’ but stopping just short of the fact that I was let go at the end of it all.

Her very clear and unhesitating diagnosis of the situation was that a school representative, working with the express permission of a parent, has the right to disclose personal information of a medical nature about said parent’s minor child.  It seems that  HIPA has a clause that allows for the release of information by the subject party or the subject party’s legal representative – in this case, a parent – and, in the absence of a clear school policy forbidding such disclosure (which there wasn’t), there is absolutely no wrongdoing if said school representative gives information about a student to the school community.

The attorney literally gasped when I told her that I’d been let go as a consequence of the story I told her.  She went on to tell me that I absolutely had actionable cause (which I’m not going to pursue) and that this never should have happened.

I said the things that I said that day with the express permission of Sweet Pea’s parents (and Sweet Pea concurred when she was well again and I was catching her up on what was going on at CHS).  I knew what I was doing was right when I was doing it, but I walked away from the conversation yesterday feeling incredibly vindicated.

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Teaching the Pigs to Sing

Honest to God, you guys; I feel like barnyard the choir director.

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The last few weeks have been an unending shit storm of apathy and belligerence.  Tuesday, for example, 4 out of my 25 freshmen actually did the reading I assigned.  FOUR.  Out of TWENTY FIVE.  They had a major project due – for which I’d given them at least 3 in-class opportunities to work – and only two of them were able to present the project on time (and of those two, one of them was so poorly done as to be laughable).

This morning, three of my 16 seniors read the article I posted on the website.  I should mention here that the reading was due Tuesday, but I extended the date to Thursday because no one had read the article on Tuesday, either.

The thing that astounds me about all of this is that no one can give us any indication of what the cause of the problem is or of how to fix it.

I’ve about had it with this shit; I’m disheartened, I’m tired, and I’m sick unto death of caring more about the students’ grades than they do.

Thank God vacation starts tomorrow.

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Grammar Wednesday

Mrs. Chili is kind of reveling in the fact that she’s gotten to the bottom of ALL her grading piles. Of course, all that grading left me with PILES of Grammar Wednesday topics – pointing out the difference between then and than, getting the kids to write people who instead of people that, and beating into them that while it may be considered standard English to say different than, when they’re writing for me, they need to use the different from construction.

Gah!

Anyway, I’m eager to step back from my role as a teacher and get into full-on vacation mode, so I’m leaving you with this. I found it on Pinterest a while back, and it cracked me right up.

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Wishing Time Away

All my adult life, I’ve never been one to wish time away.  I try to be ever present in the moment and to engage as fully in the now as I can, because I understand that time goes by too quickly as it is, and wishing it away means I’m not paying attention to where I am and what I’m experiencing.

I’ve got to tell you, though, that I’m jonesing for December like nobody’s business.

My Local U freshman writing class is KILLING me this year.  This is, without exaggeration, the sorriest group of kids I’ve ever encountered.

I mean it; it’s like a room of dead fish in there Monday and Wednesday nights.  I’m energetic, I’m excited, I’m performing for them, and they’re sitting there, mouths slightly ajar, staring at me with vacant eyes and listless expressions.  They seem to think that every question I ask is rhetorical and I have to actually CALL on kids to answer me – though half the time, they don’t have an answer; it’s as if they never heard the question.  Even when I played a game with them, they were dull and disengaged.

My only consolation is that I’m not the only one having this problem.  I’m engaged in correspondence with my office mate (we have vastly different schedules, so we communicate with notes left on the desk in our teensy-tiny “office”), and she told me that ALL freshman adjuncts that she’s spoken to have been having the damndest time trying to infuse some life into their classes.  My misery is loving her company; I was worried that it was just me.

I’m at wits’ end with this class, and I find myself not only dreading Mondays and Wednesdays, but feeling stressed and anxious the rest of the week, too.  The class is over December 7th, and I’m literally counting the days until I don’t have to worry about this anymore.

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Nervy

I don’t know why, but I continue to be astounded by some of the things that my students will say out loud and to my face.

I’m currently sitting in the L.U. library with my freshman English class. The librarian gave a very useful and informative lecture about the numerous and, quite frankly, kick-ass resources available to the kids – databases and full-text online scholarly journals, citation makers, connections to other libraries’ resources; it’s a geek’s paradise. The students have everything they need to write their next paper literally at their fingertips, and I’m certain that they have exactly ZERO idea of how good they have it (in fact, I’m sitting here flashing back to my own time here as an undergrad having to hunt down actual books, can you IMAGINE?!).

The librarian’s lesson ended with about 20 minutes to go to the end of class. The students each have a laptop, plugged right into this treasure trove of intellectual gold, in front of them, and no fewer than THREE of them turned around to ask me if they could leave.

Really? No; REALLY?!

No, Babies, you may not leave. Knuckle under, use those brandy-new skills the nice librarian just gave you, and start working on your next paper. I’m sure that 20 minutes of focused work will not only not hurt you, but it may actually do you some real good.

Honestly.

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Grammar Wednesday

FANBOYS!

I have a number of pet peeves, so I’m going to work though them one at a time.  Today, you’re going to get the “coordinating conjunction starting a sentence”  peeve.

A coordinating conjunction is a word that connects a word, phrase, or clause to another.  Anyone remember Conjunction Junction?  Yeah – that; coordinating conjunctions are the words that put ideas together; For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, So – FANBOYS.

These words are not, however, words to start new ideas, and here’s where we get into trouble.  Except when writing dialogue (or in very casual writing situations), it’s not okay to start a sentence with any of the FANBOYS; doing so almost always results in a sentence fragment.  Observe:

But it was because I was hungry.

And then she left.

So I kicked her.

Do these things work in creative writing?  Yes; in fact, I love to use, “and ANOTHER thing…!” but it is almost impossible to make a complete sentence that begins with a FANBOYS word because the coordinating conjunction tells you that there’s another idea that needs to come before this one.

So don’t do it.

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