Monthly Archives: October 2007

Programming Note

Grammar Wednesday IS coming – just not in as timely a manner as you may have come to expect.

Mr. Chili and I are on a haj to IKEA today and I didn’t pre-compose my GW post this week, so you’ll have to wait until tonight – maybe even tomorrow – for your weekly dose of English language snobbery.  I beg your kind indulgence and patience.



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I really am having a FANTASTIC semester.

I’m almost afraid of admitting that – I hear (and read) a lot of my colleagues’ trials and frustrations, and I feel a little guilty for have a truly stellar time of things so far. I’m also a little afraid of jinxing myself, but I just can’t keep good stuff quiet.

For a Tuesday, today went REMARKABLY well. Usually, my classes are subdued (read: comatose) on Tuesdays. My first class – the 8:40 composition group – is particularly challenging on Tuesday mornings; I find myself looking out on 13 sets of glassy eyes just BEGGING to be let out on a nice, long break – then let out of class early, to boot.

Not so today! Today, we worked on description, which is one of my favorite units. I started the class by giving them two writing assignments: they were to describe something (an object, an event, a person) from memory. Once they’d finished that, they were to get out of their seats and go out of the room and find something out in the world to describe.

I wanted to get them to see the different kind of work that has to be done when they are describing something from memory than when they are trying to describe something right in front of them. When they returned, I had them read their “right in front of them” pieces, and they managed to provide me with the entirety of my lesson plan: we covered detail (“was it a BAR stool, or was it a DINER stool?”); we discussed context (“would you have described that lamp any differently if it were hanging in, say, a Quiznos?”); we talked about how individuals bring different experiences to their reading (“when you said ‘the tree looked like a carnation, only green,’ I was transported back to Beanie’s birth – which happened the day before St. Patrick’s day – when I was given a green carnation on my breakfast tray the next morning. I’m not sure that’s the image you wanted me to have…”). It was a fun, engaging, and interesting conversation, and we BARELY had time for the synonym game I had planned for the end of class. We may start with that on Thursday.

My Lit. kids are ROCKING MY WORLD. While most of them admitted to not being able to do much reading this weekend (only two of them had made it to chapter 21, which was the last section of the book I’d given them), they were all able to discuss the first five or so chapters. We talked about the importance of literacy in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (“It seems like no one actually TALKS to anyone in this story, doesn’t it?” one of my kids said, “they’re always writing these LONG letters…”). They, MUCH to my geeky delight, were able to tie Walton’s and Victor’s childhoods together in a very meaningful way (“they were both self-taught through books, both their fathers thought they should do something other than what they wanted, and they both sought glory and the ‘bettering of future generations.'”).

I gave them my friend Rick’s blog and magazine article about his experiences reading Frankenstein with me last year (it nicely dovetailed with a conference he was tasked to cover as part of his job) and we discussed the novel in the context of medical ethics (I’ve got two med. assist. students in the class) and some of the issues facing science and medicine right this very second. Later, we talked about Milton’s Paradise Lost (I had to fill them in on the high points of the story – I was the only one in the room who’d slogged through that tome) and the Bible and how the big ideas of those stories related to Victor’s character in very meaningful and rich ways, particularly in terms of humans’ desire to learn – to KNOW – perhaps more than they should..

I had to let them go early – I had a commitment that started about a half hour before the class ended – and they told me (GET THIS!) that they were DISAPPOINTED that I was springing them ahead of schedule! Not only that, but they want to start a BOOK CLUB on campus! Can you BELIEVE it?

I am head over heels in love with this bunch and, right now, I’m SO glad I do the work that I do.


Filed under colleagues, fun, great writing, Learning, Literature, out in the real world, Questions, reading, success!, Teaching, the good ones


I don’t really like the built-in site meter that WordPress offers, but I’m not computer-smart enough to figure out how to get any other (good) site meters to work on this forum. For as much as I hated Blogger (and I really did hate Blogger), they worked with SiteMeter, which is, as far as my limited experience goes, an ass-kicking site meter.

ANYWAY, I was checking out my WordPress meter this morning, just to see what was going on at this little blog. One of the categories it gives me is “Search Engine Terms: these are terms people used to find your blog.”

It seems that, yesterday, someone found me simply by typing “frustrated” into their favorite search engine.

I’m not sure how I feel about that because, really, I haven’t been particularly frustrated lately. Of course, now that I’ve used the word “frustrated” three times in one post, I’m probably increasing the likelihood of someone finding me this way again, aren’t I?

Frustrated, frustrated, frustrated!

On another note, does anyone know of a really great site meter that works with WordPress? I miss SiteMeter’s detail and I’d like to have something better than what WordPress is offering me. SaintSeester suggested Activemeter, so I went and got an account, but they really don’t tell me much more than the WordPress meter does – most of the reports on my Activemeter account are “UNAVAILABLE.”

Grrr. Gee – I guess I AM a little frustrated!


Filed under frustrations, funniness, little bits of nothingness


I may be “cheating.”

It was my turn to choose a selection for the Dark and Stormy Book Club, so I’ve got us reading Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which also happens to be the novel I’m teaching my lit. class this month.

I started the class by showing them the Hallmark interpretation of the storyI’ve mentioned this production before – I really do love it.  I’ve never seen the Boris Karloff film – can anyone give me a rundown of the story as the old filmmakers imagined it, please? – but I know that they involve a big, green guy whose only purpose in “life” is to terrify innocent villagers.  The Hallmark story really does a decent job of telling the big ideas of Shelley’s novel – it touches on ambition and hubris, humanity and literacy, love, fear, and responsibility.

I think that the film, for all it’s really good stuff, has a few weak points, though.  Frankenstein’s childhood story is altered a fair bit in the movie.  He makes a couple of realizations in the film that he never quite gets to in the novel.  The depth of Frankenstein’s obsession isn’t as serious in the movie as it is in the story.  Lastly, the Creature, as played by Luke Goss, is a little too handsome in the film; I bet that, if seen in dim light, he wouldn’t be instantly repulsive or frightening.

My students, while admitting to being overwhelmed by the amount of reading I’m asking them to do in a short amount of time (“It’s a literature class, kids – you had to expect a lot of reading”), told me on Thursday that they were enjoying it.  Only one student of the eight has had any experience with the text before – she read a portion of the novel in high school – and the rest of them seem pretty enthusiastic to get into it.  One of my students – my only boy – told me, after reading through chapter four, that he understands why it’s my favorite novel.  I’m still working out why it’s my favorite story, so I’m really looking forward to discussions with this group.

Their only homework this weekend was to keep reading (I’ve given them through chapter 21).  I’m going to have to rely pretty heavily of my memory of the story (good thing I’ve read it about seven times already) because, since this is a Yoga National Guard weekend, I’ve got about zip-point-shit for reading time.  I’ll probably get through to about chapter 15 or so – I was ahead of their reading last week, anyway – and we’ll start discussions on Tuesday.  I can’t wait.

Have YOU read the novel?  Do you like it?  Let’s start a conversation here: gimme what you got!


Filed under admiration, Literature, reading, Teaching, the good ones

A Difference of Perspective

I’m not an innocent. I know that everyone has a different view of the world and that no one sees anything exactly the same way. I’m okay with that, even – it makes life interesting and, on good days, it challenges growth.

October 11th is National Coming Out Day. In honor of the day, and to promote awareness of TCC’s fledgling GSA, I took my multi-colored markers to every white board I had access to. I put up a big, pink triangle in a corner and wrote “It’s National Coming Out Day – do you know who you are?” then drew a rainbow flag and “TCC’s GSA” at the bottom of the point. It didn’t take up THAT much room on the boards, and I thought it was important to get that message out to our students.

While I was waiting for the professor who teaches in my second period classroom to finish his first period lesson, I drew my little announcement on the corner of the board of the room across the hall – the room that my coworker occupies for second period. He finished, we switched rooms and while I was drawing the notice on my board, he was erasing it on his.

Now, I should say here that I UNDERSTAND that it’s HIS board for the class period and that he was WELL within his rights to erase the message. That didn’t keep me from fuming about it, though.


I know, from what trusted people have told me, that this colleague of mine is homophobic and closed-mined. He believes what he believes, and no one is going to change his mind, regardless of how compelling the argument might be – or how shaky his foundations for belief are. Be that as it may, he is also a TEACHER and, as such, has certain ethical responsibilities to present his students with a range of information and ideas. While the NCOD message may not have been particularly relevant to his lesson plan, it certainly wasn’t HURTING anyone, either. As I said, it didn’t take up much white board space, it wasn’t offensive or pornographic or incendiary, it wasn’t ugly to look at and, most importantly, it wasn’t put there FOR HIM! I intended that message for the students in the class, and my coworker’s erasing it was, in my mind, equal to censorship.

My lit. students came into the room to find me at a low-grade seethe, and managed to get out of me what had been the trigger. A couple of my students (who, it turns out, had been students of Eraser Boy) decided that, when he dismissed his class for break, they’d not ONLY go back in there and put the sign back up, but they’d pass out GSA buttons and information to the students in the room while they were at it, which is exactly what they did.

Can you guess what happened when the teacher came back?

My class and I were all seated quietly around our table, the door to the room left ajar, listening for Eraser Boy’s reaction. He came in, took one look at his board, and said something to the effect of “YES, I KNOW who I am, so can we stop with the signs, already?!” and rubbed the message out again.

What. Ever.

I know I’m going to have a confrontation with this man at some point. I’m not going to go LOOKING for it, mind you – I’m not like that – but I know that, at some point, he’s going to say something ignorant and hateful in my presence and I’m not going to let it go because I promised myself that I WON’T let ignorant and hateful things go – my morality tells me that silence is tantamount to complicity in things like this.



Filed under colleagues, concerns, frustrations, Gay/Straight Alliance, General Griping, student chutzpah

Grammar Wednesday

Holy Crap! It’s Wednesday again ALREADY?!

This question was posed by a reader who specifically asked for anonymity – I’m not sure why, exactly, as there’s really nothing incriminating in it, but you ask and I honor – so I’m just going to post the question and leave it at that. This was on a high school English test:


Rewrite this THESIS sentence with the correct verb tenses.


images2.jpegIn Lord of the Flies, William Golding exposed humanity’s tendency to act selfishly even when faced with dire circumstances that threaten to sever the boys’ friendships, destroy lives and create irrational fear.


My daughter changed it to-

In Lord of the Flies, William Golding exposes humanity’s tendency to act selfishly even when faced with dire circumstances that threaten to sever the boys’ friendships, destroy lives and create irrational fear.


The three words that are underlined were underlined by her teacher as being incorrect- and she was marked down half a point. I KNOW her corrected sentence STILL is wrong, but I’m not sure WHY and I don’t think that the three words underlined are necessarily wrong.

Can you please #1 correct the sentence and #2 explain why the teacher underlined those three words?

THANK you so much.

I’m not making any promises that anything I say is right (you should all know by now that this disclaimer is implied in pretty much everything I say), but here’s what I think:

somewhere in the course of the sentence, the topic shifts. In the first part of the construction, we’re talking about how Golding is portraying humanity (and, by the way, your daughter was 100% correct in changing the “exposed” to “exposes.” We English types always talk about lit. in the present tense), but somewhere after that, the sentence shifts to talking specifically about the boys in the story.

Humanity is a collective noun and, as such, takes a singular verb, which is why I don’t really have a problem with the even when faced bit. It would be fine to say “Humanity has a tendency to act selfishly, even when faced with circumstances where cooperation is required” or something to that effect.

I suppose the argument could be made that, since Golding is the actual SUBJECT of the sentence, that he is, in fact, the one being faced with circumstances. If I were asked to change the sentence on an exam, I’d do more than change verb tenses – this is just a rotten sentence. I’d probably do something like this, and then have a long and probably heated conversation with the teacher afterward:

In Lord of the Flies, William Golding exposes humanity’s tendency to act selfishly in the face of dire circumstances, and shows that even children bear out that tendency when he puts his characters in situations that threaten to sever the boys’ friendships, destroy lives, and create irrational fear.

I’m not 100% satisfied with that, even, but it’s better than what we started with. Anyone else want to take a shot at this?

Happy Wednesday, Everyone! Next week, a question from O’Mama!


Filed under Grammar

I LOVE My Job!

I’m having a really great semester.

I’ve got two classes this term – a composition course that meets at 8:40 on Tuesdays and Thursdays and a literature class that meets immediately after at 11:10. They’re both small groups – there are 15 in the composition class and 8 in lit. – and I’m loving every second of it.

This morning, there were only seven students in the composition class; I gather there’s some sort of rude bug going around and a lot of people are sick (I’ve been making hex signs and knocking on wood all day). We’re at the part of the semester where I introduce the idea of dispassionate observation, and I started the class by projecting this image of Samuel Bak‘s “Self Portrait” on the board at the front of the room with the words OBSERVE and WRITE written next to the picture:


(Click to see a larger image and recognize that the actual painting is enormous)

The students ROCKED it. I wasn’t in the room for most of the time I gave them to do the work – I planned it that way; I wanted to give them a chance to talk amongst themselves without my influence, and I didn’t want them to ask me what it meant. When I got back, I got a lot of really interesting comments – one student said that she focused in on the shoes, and did they belong to the image behind them or did they belong to the seated figure, whose feet we can’t see because s/he’s in that sack? One student thought that the figure with his arms raised over his head was trying to communicate with the seated figure, while another student thought that the seated figure was remembering the standing one. Only one student noticed the Star of David on the chest of the standing figure, and one student commented that the seated figure had a look on his or her face that was both challenging and vacant at the same time; “it’s like he’s looking straight at you, daring you to look back, but when you do, there’s really nothing there; it’s like he’s stunned. Maybe that’s what the pen’s for,” he went on to say, “he can’t SAY what he remembers, so he has to write it down.”

It was gorgeous; this may well be my favorite lesson plan ever.

My literature class is finishing up a unit on identity and self-actualization, which we started with a run through A Doll’s House and have completed with a selection of literature centered around the Holocaust. I didn’t get through NEARLY the amount of material I wanted, but what we did get to was fruitful and exciting. Today, I snagged a coworker from downstairs and together we read Dachau, a Reading in Two Voices for the five of my eight students who made it to class. I’m very much looking forward to reading their reactions of that experience. I also gave them the story of Simon Wiesenthal’s The Sunflower, in which the slave prisoner Wiesenthal is asked by a dying Nazi for absolution for his actions. The students’ assignment for the weekend it to comment on what Wiesenthal actually did in the face of that request and to answer the question he poses at the end of the story: what would you have done?

I ran into my boss this afternoon at the photocopier (it was only a minor collision; we’re both fine) and he told me to not love the literature class too much. The woman who usually teaches the course is out this semester recovering from shoulder surgery, and it’s likely that there won’t be many sections left for anyone else to take when she gets back. I’m a little upset by this; I feel most at home in this course, doing this work, and I’m not sure how I feel about any one professor calling dibs on an entire run of classes. Of course, there’s nothing I can do about it, really, except teach a kick-ass class and hope that word gets out that I’m really great for this course.

Regardless of what the future may or may not hold, I’m loving the present. Next up, the question of nature vs. nurture, what makes us human, responsibility and the power of nature, all wrapped up in one of my favorite books ever; Frankenstein!


Filed under I love my boss, Learning, Literature, self-analysis, success!, Teaching, the good ones