Daily Archives: September 13, 2010

Dropping Like Flies

We’re only a couple of weeks into the school year and I’m already losing students.

Here’s the first real assignment in my Film and Lit. class:

Your homework for the weekend is twofold.  Please read this entire assignment carefully.

First, please write a brief (about 2 page) response to Willow as a coming of age story.  Remember that coming of age means self-discovery as often as it means physical maturity.  What are the elements of Willow that make it a coming of age story?  Who is the story really about?  What are the particular scenes in the film that lead you to the conclusions you reach?

Second, please finish The Secret Life of Bees, annotating the text as you go (I WILL check for your notes; you’ll get a grade for them, but you needn’t turn them in).  Be ready in class to discuss the book in depth and detail; I want to know what you really think, and WHY you really think it.

If you have questions, concerns, or problems, please email me (sooner is better than later; don’t email me with a problem on Monday night…)

Here’s an email I received at – wait for it…. – 7:20 on Monday night:

Dear Mrs. Chili,

I don’t think I can complete Film& Literature becuase of the work load, it is increadibly stressful and I physically do not have the time to do all of this homework, on top of my other classes. The amount of stress that is being put on me to succeed is highly over whelming, In all seriousness I am getting gray hairs on my chin from the stress and the stress is putting a mental block on me which makes my other homework seem harder than it is, I eventually hyper ventalate and give up for a while. I feel like if I could take a class that doesnt involve as much work I could  have a better chance to succeed in school. So I wanted to let you know that I will not have my homework tomorrow in class and I will discuss this further with you in person.

Thank you,


I would like to point out to you all that this assignment was given on Thursday afternoon.  This class only meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  That gives the kids Thursday and Friday nights, two weekend days, and Monday to do the work, not counting the M/W/F 45 minute homework periods every student gets, plus whatever study halls they have built into their schedules.

I predict that this kid’s going to have a very, very long year.


Filed under concerns, failure, film as literature, I can't make this shit up..., I've got this kid...., really?!, Yikes!

Standardized Testing


In the fall of every year, our great state tests its 11th graders in the areas of math and English (specifically, reading and writing).  The spring brings the excitement of social studies and science tests.

While I understand (to a certain, limited extent) the desire for the State (capitalization intentional) to come up with some way of determining that its schools are doing something worthwhile, I resent the fuck out of standardized tests.

For one, these tests don’t really measure anything worthwhile – at least, not in my discipline.  I don’t think that tests, per se, are a good way of gauging how proficient a student is in a language (and, lest we forget, “English” classes are, at their heart, language classes).  I mean, sure; we can test how well a student can spout back vocabulary, whether a student can discern and understand the roots of words (and thereby guess their meaning), and we can test whether a student “gets” a passage of writing by asking her to answer pointed questions about the piece, but I really don’t think that’s where the true nougat-y goodness of language learning is.

To my way of thinking, true proficiency in a language is determined by the skill and facility with which a speaker or a writer can convey rich thought, meaning, and emotion; and, of course, how well they can receive the same through spoken and written words.  While I’ll admit that the tests my kids are taking are astoundingly better than the tests *I* took as a kid,  I have still yet to see a test that does any justice to that goal.

Instead, the tests that my juniors have to take every year (and that my own children take at varying intervals throughout their career as public school students) are more about how well they can decipher the questions that are being asked.  As I prep my juniors for the English portion of their standardized tests, I’m focusing on three main things; how to interpret a question so they know what’s really being asked, how to organize their thinking so they can be sure they’re answering the question they’re really being asked, and how not to panic.

I’ve got three weeks’ worth of prep time with my kids.  We started today, and some of the poor, panicked babies barely got through the practice test I gave them.  I’m going to need every minute of those three weeks; we need to hit these tests out of the park if we hope to renew our charter in two years.


Filed under concerns, failure, frustrations, General Griping, politics, really?!, Teaching, Yikes!