Monthly Archives: February 2009

Grammar Wednesday


from the Chalkboard Manifesto

I am not really looking forward to going back to work today.  The kids are delivering “special occasion” speeches and we’ll watch Bill Clinton give a commencement speech, but that’s all I’ve got planned for the afternoon.  I’ll report back on how many kids actually handed in mid-terms.  Wish me – and them – luck.


Filed under concerns, dumbassery, frustrations, Grammar

How Low Can You Go?

I’m expecting my students’ mid-term exams back tomorrow. I’m trying to keep my expectations very low, but I fear that they’ll manage to surpass even my dimmest hopes.

I’ve got 17 kids in the class. Never once, in the six weeks we’ve been meeting, has the entire complement of students been present in the same room at once. Further, two students weren’t in class on the day I handed out the assignment and, because of computer problems beyond my control over the past week, I wasn’t able to send out an email until Saturday. Now, that still gives the kids three days to answer five questions about Dr. King’s I Have a Dream speech, but I’m certain I’ll hear that my failure to send the email in a timely fashion is the reason that some students didn’t do the work.

I’m fully expecting that about a third of them won’t hand the assignment in at all. Of the two thirds left, probably 70% of them will have done the least possible thinking required to put words on the page – up to an including Incomprehensible Boy – and the rest will have done a decent job of it.

Sigh. I’m really not in the mood for this right now…


Filed under concerns, failure, frustrations, General Griping, That's your EXCUSE?!

Grammar Wednesday

I almost forgot what day it is!

Our local bagel shop has recently put pictures of the high school varsity teams on the wall.  CLEARLY, someone doesn’t understand the use of the plural possessive, because the pictures (which I’m unable, for some unknown reason, to get off my phone and into my computer… sorry) all say “BOY’S JR. VARSITY BASEBALL” or “GIRL’S VARSITY SOCCER.”  I’ve considered calling the school and pointing the error out, but I’m not really sure it’s worth it.  I might just leave a sticky note on one of the pictures the next time I’m in the shop.

Oh, and that seafood restaurant you’ll be reading about tomorrow on The Blue Door?  Check this out from the “menu” section of their website:

Salad’s, Lighter Fare & Desserts

Um… not so much. This is an example of a GOOD correction, though; I emailed the place to warn them of my seafood allergy (what kind of asshole goes to a seafood restaurant with a seafood allergy, anyway?!). While I was at it, I gently suggested that they contact their webmaster and point out the error. The manager wrote me back to assure me that they would do their best not to kill me, and;

As to the webmaster? He would be me, and all I can say is “oops.” Thanks for the catch.

See? Not everyone takes offense when the grammar police issue a citation…


Filed under Grammar


Dear Readers, I pose to you a question to which I want your honest answer – not just what you think I want to hear:  would you ever decide to change an assignment that a teacher had given you?

Remember, a LONG time ago, Henry (Dear Henry) decided that he just couldn’t bear to watch a speech delivered by Bono? Well, at least Henry gave a reason for his reticence (albeit, a lame and unacceptable reason).

Well, my Incomprehensible Boy is at it again.  I had given the students Obama’s “A More Perfect Union” speech and told them to answer a question using the text and the information they learned in a chapter of their textbooks.  The exact assignment was “Please read chapter 8, “Organizing the Body of the Speech” and do an organizational analysis of Barack Obama’s “A More Perfect Union” speech.”

IB opened his paper with, and I quote;

“I chose not to use Osama’s speech so I would not case a confession and chose a speech statement form an interview on hand banner’s bog.”

Um, no.  Even if I understood half of what he said (which I’m not sure I did), it is totally NOT cool to decide that he doesn’t want to do what was assigned and make stuff up on his own.  The rest of his paper is equally indecipherable (“A realization of giving up what I know until I have experience it, this would avoid process and possible bad habit of blinking the sure fire answer.  This means current answers may not protein to a person you don’t know and if this said person chose not to run away form a situation that has created bproblems but learns from a safe positive way of knowledge within moving forward in the improves of there own life.” I swear; I’m not making any of this up.  I have a headache now).

I’m afraid that this kid might be playing me.  I’m trying to offer him the benefit of the doubt – and that’s a pretty big doubt – but I’m not sure that my kindness is not being taken advantage of.


Filed under concerns, critical thinking, failure, frustrations, self-analysis, Teaching, Yikes!


My plan for today’s class was to execute an over-achieving lesson plan – one that multi-tasked and snuck a lot of learning in the back door.

My students’ next scheduled speech is a “special occasion” speech, and to give them an example, I chose to investigate both Reagan’s comments to the nation following the Challenger tragedy and the eulogy he delivered at the memorial service for the seven astronauts who lost their lives that day in January of 1986.

As I was thinking about these speeches, I had a flash of reality check.  It occurred to me that, with two possible exceptions, every single one of my students was born after Challenger went down.  I wondered how many of them had any frame of reference for the kind of impact this tragedy had on the nation at the time, given that it was something they may not have even studied in school.

I also realized, after reading Reagan’s national address, that they’d likely have little comprehension of the Apollo 1 accident and that they’d probably have NO frame of reference for the “slipped the surly bonds of Earth” quote with which Reagan closed his address, so I went back to the computer and printed out some good information about both of these things.

More often than not, I end up teaching history in my rhetoric classes, too.  If the kids have no foundations upon which to start their investigations of these speeches, they miss so much of the richness and depth.  I just can’t let that happen, so I become a bit of an historian a couple times a semester.  I have to admit that I love these classes, and that I’m considering the possibility of another Master’s degree – this one in history.  But I digress…

ANYWAY, I came to work prepared – and excited! – for a class-long discussion and analysis of these two speeches.  Not only were the kids going to be exposed to a couple of really fine examples of commemorative speeches upon which to model their own efforts for next week, but they were going to learn a bit about how to use quotes in speeches, they would see how to reference relevant historical events, and they’d get a look at how the introductions and conclusions to commemorative/special occasion speeches are different from those of informational or persuasive pieces.  Further, I was going to spend quite a bit of time in modeling good analysis, which is the skill I’m going to ask them to exercise for their take-home mid-term exam on Wednesday.  ALL KINDS of good learning was going to happen today.  I was READY, I tell you, and I was jazzed.

Alas, it did not come to pass.  Only half my students showed up to class this morning.


image credit

Since I didn’t want that many kids to miss out on such an important and useful class, I changed direction in mid-flight and decided to wing it (please fasten your seat belts and put your tray tables in their upright and locked position in preparation of the captain’s making a sudden and severe course correction).  We ended up doing an exercise on spin by looking at two different versions of the same story and discussing how the word choices lent a very different feel to each piece, discussing connotation and denotation and implication and inference, and touching a tiny bit on rhetorical structures like chiasmus and synechdoche.

It wasn’t a wasted class, certainly, but the wind got sucked out of my sails in a big, bad way.  I’m hoping that I can keep my enthusiasm up for Wednesday, when I plan to execute my killer lesson plan, regardless of how many kids fail to show.


Filed under frustrations, fun, great writing, history, Learning, Poetry, reading, rhetoric, Teaching, winging it

Grammar Wednesday


O’Mama and I were in a local food store yesterday when I noticed this:


O’Mama gently and politely pointed the gaff out to the cashier while I was snapping the picture with my iPhone.  While I can’t attest to the cashier’s demeanor before we arrived, she was decidedly cold and unfriendly as O’Mama explained, kindly and without any snobbery in her tone, that the apostrophe is unnecessary in the sign.  The girl checked us out with a set jaw and without making eye contact, and I was sure she was thinking decidedly unhappy thoughts as concerned our persons.  O’Mama suggested on the way out that perhaps it was she who wrote the sign in the first place.

Dudley forwarded me this article yesterday.  The thesis of the piece is that stress from the weakening economy is causing an increase in incidents like O’Mama and I were a part of yesterday.  People, feeling helpless about things like the security of their jobs or whether or not they’ll be able to keep up with their mortgages, are finding it satisfying to pick on things they CAN control, like other people’s spelling and grammar errors.

I’m going to admit here that I’m pretty sure that theory does not apply to me.  I’ve been correcting grammar and spelling errors where I find them since long before the economy started gagging, so I can’t use stress as an excuse.


Filed under bad grammar, frustrations, General Griping, Grammar, out in the real world

The First Round

My communication class delivered its first round of speeches today.


I had a couple of really great presentations; so great that I was actually a little surprised.  One girl did a lovely, logical, and clear speech about the history of the Beatles and, though she was nervous as hell, she managed to pull off one of the better performances of the morning.

My winner kid offered up a presentation about police dogs that was informative, easy to follow, and crazy-interesting.  He did a fantastic job, and I held him back after class was over to tell him so.

The rest of the class, though, delivered what can best be described as average speeches.  This doesn’t surprise or dishearten me, though; the first speeches are NEVER really that great, and I don’t grade them particularly harshly as a result.  Kids are nervous, they don’t have a whole lot of practice organizing their thinking (or putting together decent notes or prompts for themselves) and they haven’t quite figured out yet what their “style” is.  Usually, by the end of the semester they’ve got a better idea of who they are “on stage” and end up delivering far better presentations as a result.

I learned a LOT from this morning’s speeches, though.  For starters, we need to work HARD on introductions and conclusions.  With the exception of the two aformentioned kids, EVERY SINGLE STUDENT started his or her speech with “I did mine on…” or some variation of that theme.  On the other end, EVERY SINGLE STUDENT (including, sadly the two aformentioned students) finished their speeches with “that’s all I’ve got…” or some variation on that theme.

Um…yeah… that’s not gonna cut it.

Wednesday’s class is going to be about introductions and conclusions, because I just can’t stand it.


Filed under concerns, frustrations, I love my job, speaking, success!, the good ones