Monthly Archives: October 2010

Ten Things Tuesday

I’m taking a cue from Mamie and listing ten things that I say (often multiple times in a day) over the course of my professional life.

1.  Less talking, more writing!

2.  I don’t know; what do YOU think?

3.  You know I can hear you whispering, right?

4.  ONE butt to a chair, please.

5.  Did you REALLY just say that out loud and in front of witnesses?

6.  ….AND….?  Give me more!

7.  Oh, DO quit your whining.  You have to do ONE homework assignment; your teachers have to grade and enter them ALL….

8.  If you don’t ask, the answer is always ‘no’.

9.  Stop saying “like” (this usually renders them temporarily speechless, often amusingly so).

10.  You know I love you, right?  (usually uttered before the delivery of some form of verbal smack down).

I discovered the other day that some of my freshmen are keeping a running log of the things that I say that they think are funny.  I know for sure that they copied down “I need to take up coffee… or maybe rum,” the other day, which was my response to their being completely wound up and uncontrollable at 8:00 on a Monday morning.   When the list gets to ten, I’ll publish them for you; I think you’ll be surprised by some of the things that get said in my classroom…


Filed under funniness, I can't make this shit up..., I love my job, I've got this kid...., little bits of nothingness, really?!, self-analysis, speaking, Teaching, The Job, Yikes!, You're kidding...right?

“My Bad” Monday


Teenagers suck sometimes.

Here’s the thing; they KNOW what they’re supposed to be doing.  If anyone pulled one of our students aside and said “Hey, Kid; how do you format an English paper” or, “Hey, Kid, where do you find out what homework you have in your classes?” every single one of them would be able to spit out the answer without a second’s hesitation.

It is becoming obvious, though, that KNOWING something and DOING something are, for this population, at least, COMPLETELY unrelated.

This morning, my babies were supposed to show up in class with a printed draft of their paper IN THEIR HANDS.  I put it on the website, I even wrote it on the board IN ALL CAPS AND IN BRIGHT RED PEN on Friday.

How many of ’em do you think actually had their papers?  How many of ’em do you think had their papers, but didn’t print them?  How many of ’em looked up in wonder and said, “what papers?!”

Exasperated, I asked them to get a piece of paper and write me a Dear Mrs. Chili letter in which they try to explain to me exactly where the disconnect is between what I’m asking and what they’re doing.  I’m meeting them more than halfway, I explained, and I’m not sure what else needs to happen.  I got a whole lot of “you could do this” or “you could do that” and not a whole lot of “yeah, I’m totally fucking up here.”  Some of them got it, though; here’s my favorite response:

Dear Mrs. Chili:

I am extremely dependent on our website.  I love how you post what we need to do in detail so I can refer to the post while I write.  Also, having a due date posted keeps me on track.  I have a very hard time remembering things as my brain is cluttered with pictures of cute kittens and facts about Star Wars that will get me nowhere in life, so having things posted helps keep me organized.

Maybe if I posted cute kittens and Star Wars pictures, they’d pay more attention?



Filed under concerns, dumbassery, frustrations, I can't make this shit up..., really?!, Teaching

Working it Out

I’ve got this kid, let’s call her Hannah.  Hannah has been one of my ‘projects’ for the past year; she came to me convinced that she doesn’t have anything important to say, and convinced that she’s a rotten writer.  I’ve been working hard to disabuse her of these notions.  It’s not that she can’t do these things, it’s that she’s never been given the tools to do those things, nor has there been an expectation placed on her to actually do them.  In fact, she kind of hated me last year because I DID expect her to do these things, and I pushed her way beyond the edges of her comfort zone.

For all that I made her crazy last year, it very clearly did some good.  I have seen over these last 7 weeks an incredible jump in the quality of her writing.  Is she still struggling?  Yes, but the point is that she’s actually struggling – she’s trying, and I’ve been really excited to see the kinds of thinking she’s been doing.

This afternoon, she hopped onto instant message to talk to me about an assignment I gave her class in which I asked them to read and reflect on a fairly complex scholarly article about Alice in Wonderland.  My goal is to get them used to wading neck-deep into stuff that they may not understand until their third or fourth go-round with it; I don’t want them to have as rough a time adjusting to the kind of thinking this work requires as I did when I first got to college.  I remember slogging through my first article – it was about existentialism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness – and thinking that I was just too dumb for college.  I have very clear recollection of sitting in the L.U. library, not being able to make any sense of this work I’d been given, and trying to figure out how to break it to Mr. Chili that I needed to drop out.  Clearly, I got over it, but it was a lot harder than I think it should have been; I want to give my kids some experience with this kind of stuff now, with me right there to help them, so they have at least SOME practice with this kind of theoretical and analytical thinking,.  My hope is that, when they get to college, they won’t feel completely lost.

I think, little by little, I’m getting through to Hannah.  Witness our conversation this afternoon and tell me whether you think I’m right in my optimism; I really do think that I’m this close to getting through to her:

trying to write about the Studies in Alice is hard. this is the third time I’ve tried writing it

What are you focusing on, Sweet?

I don’t even know.its not easy to write about something that you don’t understand

I get that.  Which chapter are you looking at?

Chapter one like you assigned

OH!  You’re working on TODAY’S homework!
Sorry; I thought you were working on the things we started in class.


Okay.  Basically, what this guy is saying is that there’s a LOT of cosmic imagery in the first chapter of Alice, and that almost all of it has to do with this idea of humans’ constant search for the divine; do you get that?


Okay, so what I’m asking you to do is to go through the chapter and talk about all the places where that fits. Think about her falling through the hole…what does that make you think of (and it’s okay to think about religion…)?

but that’s basically the only thing that happens in this chapter so i don’t know how i can make that into much writing

That’s so NOT the only thing that happens.  Think about it – she started out being bored and wanting something to do, so she followed this weird rabbit into its hole.  Can you connect that at all to Adam and Eve? It’s not a perfect comparison, but they ended up doing something they probably shouldn’t have and ended up… wait for it…. FALLING from God’s grace, right?


If you wanted to, you could totally go to Milton’s Paradise Lost.  There’s a whole scene of the rebellious angels (Satan among them) LITERALLY falling, just like Alice.   Hang on…let me see if I can find that passage… Yeah, I can find it, but I think it might frustrate you more (it’s written as a poem, and it’s hard to pull stuff out and have it make sense without all that comes before it).


Let’s just agree, though, that “Falling” is a pretty hefty theme in Christian theology

it is very actually

So, Alice is falling, for a really, really long time.  She did it to satisfy her curiosity.  She lands completely unharmed, where she starts eating and drinking (and getting bigger and smaller) in her efforts to get to… wait for it…. A GARDEN!!  HELLOO!!!  Where have we see THAT before?

i know. I’ve been talking to pretty much everyone that I’ve talked to about Alice and why the garden is so important to the story.she is always trying to get to the garden which is like trying to regain “purity” to reenter the garden

GORGEOUS!  You should be able to write about this for a while, I think; there’s a lot in it.  The garden imagery, and ALL the trouble she has in trying to get to it… is that a metaphor for humans and our struggle to make peace with our existence?  Do you think you can make a case that Alice’s story is representative of our trying to figure our spiritual and cosmic shit out?

i know that there is a lot to write about with this but i don’t know how to go about writing it this time.

Where do you want to start?

i don’t know. i was thinking of going backwards in a way


but i don’t know how that would work really. i think that i want to start with the food and drink and relate it back to the fall and the “garden”

DO that!  There’s nothing that says that you need to take the chapter chronologically.  Let’s try to keep in mind here that she’s DREAMING.  All she really has to do (like Dorothy) is click her heels and will herself to get what she wants.  She goes for all kinds of ritual and outward stuff, though, without doing the “cosmic” work.  There’s every reason to start with that and explain why she ends up so frustrated and confused as a result…

i don’t think im going to have enough time to do it now though.

That’s fine; you can have an extension; you’ve proven to me beyond a doubt that you’ve been thinking about this stuff, and you get major points for that.  Can you get it done by tomorrow?


Okay, then.  If you’re still having trouble with it tomorrow, come and talk it out with me; I only have first and portfolio, though I have a meeting during second, I’m free the rest of the day

alright. well i’m going to start working on this now.thank you Mrs.Chili

You’re welcome, Sweet.  I’m excited by the thinking you’ve done with this!!

alright.i’ll talk to you tomorrow.have a good rest of the day

You, too!


Filed under about writing, analysis, compassion and cooperation, critical thinking, I've got this kid...., Learning, rhetoric, success!, Teaching, the good ones

Still Here

You’d think, given my lack of consistent posting, that I wasn’t doing anything worth writing about.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  In fact, it’s been a couple of hellacious weeks at CHS, so much so that I’ve not really had time to do much writing beyond what has been strictly required for work.

The short version is that we’re all neck-deep in Alice in Wonderland (and the kids STILL think that Carroll was a stoner pedophile… sigh), and we’ve got about three weeks before grades close for the quarter, so I really need to light a fire under their collective butts to get a major writing project done early enough before the quarter ends for me to have sufficient time to grade and register them.  We managed to get through mandatory state testing (hallelujah!), though, and I’m feeling pretty confident that everyone is finally clear on the new English Department standards for the culminating project that is required of every student, so YAY on that!

The next few weeks will bring some plot and character analysis, along with a little bit of play with symbolism, for the freshmen and a crash course in how to interact with scholarly articles for the juniors and seniors (I’m going to write, in a day or so, about the complete and total FAIL a couple of my kids pulled the other day – watch this space; it’s going to be a doozie).  I was able to get my credentials reinstated at Local U (many thanks to my once and future supervisor!) so I’ve been combing the databases looking for articles my kids can sink their teeth into without feeling so inadequate that they give up on the idea of college altogether.  Really, I’m trying to be for them what I wish *I* had when I started college; I remember jumping into my first “real” critical analysis and wondering whether there were something essentially and terribly wrong with me.  I could understand all the words, but the way they were put together made NO sense to me the first, oh, I don’t know, 2 dozen times through.  If I’d had someone to walk me through how to unpack those dense and complex articles, I’d have felt much more confident about myself.  I don’t want them to have to freak out on their own; I’d much rather they freak out with me there to reassure them that they ARE smart enough to run with the big intellectual dogs.

Lastly, I want to give you this.  I very rarely laugh out loud over this sort of thing, but this one hit me exactly right.  I’m only glad that I hadn’t just taken a sip of something when I opened it…

1 Comment

Filed under little bits of nothingness

Painfully Clear

So, here’s the scenario: I have a freshman English class and a portfolio class (the idea behind the portfolio class is unimportant to the story), the rosters for which are nearly identical.

A number of weeks ago, I gave an assignment in the portfolio class that required the kids to complete a certain number of activities.  A few weeks after that, I gave a second assignment in the English class that asked them to complete another set of the same activity.  I made it very clear that the kids who are in my portfolio class had to complete the required number for BOTH classes; that they had already done a set for the portfolio class DID NOT excuse them from having to do it for English.

I got this email from a student who, clearly, didn’t hear what I said:

Dear Mrs. Chili,

You said since your adviosy already did 5 rationales on the writing that we just had to do reading so thats what did.

Was it just that you werent clear or something




My response:


No, Mia, I was perfectly clear.  Please refer to the written assignment, posted on our website:

For homework next week, please complete 5 Written and Oral Communication and 5 Reading rationales.  These will be due in the drop box (remember to put them in .doc format!) by Friday.  Please see the “Standards” page on the website for PDFs of the frameworks.  On that same page, you will find the English Department expectations for completing the standards.  **Please note; if you are in Mrs. Chili’s advisory, you should already have completed 5 writing rationales.  Please do 5 MORE for this assignment.**

Not only was I clear about my expectations in the writing of the assignment, but I also made an announcement, for which I made everyone stop and look at me, reinforcing the idea that advisory students had to do ALL the work for the English assignment.

I make it a point to be very clear in my instructions.  If you’re ever not sure about an assignment, please come to me and I’ll explain it for you.


Mrs. Chili


She’s a freshman, so I’m going to cut her a little slack, but they need to learn that you don’t ever – and I mean EVER – try to pin your lack of work on my instructions.  EVER.

Goddess, but I love the accountability the website demands!


Filed under dumbassery, failure, frustrations, General Griping, I can't make this shit up..., I've got this kid...., really?!, student chutzpah, Yikes!, You're kidding...right?

The Alice Light Bulb Moment

Yesterday, I posted an entry on the Blue Door in which I said that I was too busy to blog about some things, and one of the things I was too busy to blog about was the fact that in every single class I ran on Thursday, I was able to pull off  what I call “Helen Keller” or “light bulb” moments; that glorious few seconds when a kid leaps from “I don’t get it” to “OH!  NOW I see!!”  I live for these moments, and the fact that I was able to execute the same one in all three of my core English classes was kind of a record for me.  I needed to share.

The entirety of CHS is reading Alice in Wonderland.  Several of the kids have read it before (and a number of them are familiar with bits of the story through various film interpretations), but none of them has analyzed it yet; they’ve read it for the surface stuff, but really haven’t taken the time to really think about all the weird shit that happens in the novel.  I had suspected that the kids were blowing through the book without really getting what they were reading, and I suspected that they were missing some of the funny stuff, so I decided to point something out to them to see if I was correct.

At the very outset of the story, Alice impulsively follows a waistcoated white rabbit down his hole and finds herself falling for what feels like forever; she has time to observe the walls around her and to investigate an empty jar of orange marmalade, and then she starts thinking about how she’s going to apply this experience to her life when she returns to it (though she doesn’t really give a thought as to how she’s going to get out of her predicament; her impulsivity is something which serves as a constant through the novel).  She thinks to herself:

“After such a fall as this, I shall think nothing of tumbling down-stairs! How brave they’ll all think me at home! Why, I wouldn’t say anything about it, even if I fell off the top of the house!” (which was very likely true.)

I read that passage aloud and asked the kids to really think about what was being said here, both by Alice and by our narrator (who, it turns out, has a flair for snark).  They read it, and read it again, and really didn’t see anything much to it.   Just when they started thinking that I was seeing something that wasn’t really there (“because English teachers do that all the time, you know; they try to find something deep and meaningful in everything!”), one girl gasped and her eyes got HUGE and I pointed at her and said “SHHHHH!  Let them work it out for a little longer!”

Of course, this got them all riled up; they HATE it when one of them is in on a joke that they don’t get, so they went back to the passage and tried to will themselves to figure it out.  One by one, a few more kids got the joke, and when about five of them were bouncing in their seats wanting to explain it to all the other kids, I pointed back to the first girl and said “GO!”

“YOU GUYS!” she said, “The narrator is telling us that she wouldn’t say anything if she fell off the top of the house because she’d be, like, DEAD!  She LITERALLY wouldn’t say anything about it because she’s be a smear on the sidewalk!”

Yes, my lovely; that’s it exactly.

That scene played out, in almost exactly that way, in all three of my classes.  It was awesome.  My hope is that this little exercise will inspire my babies to read more carefully, and with an eye toward the snarky and ironic.  We shall see if my hope is well-founded.

I love my job.


Filed under analysis, book geek, fun, funniness, great writing, Helen Keller Moment, I can't make this shit up..., I love my job, Literature, little bits of nothingness, reading, success!, Teaching, the good ones

Checking In

* The first progress reports are done.  Next week we run parent-student conferences for three days straight (Bob; rum and Coke at Chez Chili every night!)

* I feel like I have fewer failing students than I’ve had in the past, but those who are failing are doing so with gusto.  I also have at least two students with perfect scores.  Everyone else is in the middle.  It would be interesting to see a graph of how that settles out.

*I’ve got this one kid, let’s call him Terrance, who sends me emails that look like this:

can u tell me whr i can get the book

That’s it.  No salutation, no capital letters, no punctuation and, in some cases, no English words.  Even better, some of the papers he’s handed in for a grade have text-speak in them, as well.  I’ll be beating proper grammar conventions into his entire class next week.  I hope his classmates appreciate it.

* I’m working on co-creating an outreach club at the school.  I have connected with an activist mother to get some students mobilized with the goal of promoting acceptance for GLBTQ kids in our community.  I feel like we’ve got that issue pretty much knocked inside the walls of CHS, but I know for sure that it’s not that way in the town at large.  More info on this as it happens; we’re literally in the nascent, “how-do-we-make-this-happen” stages.  I’m really excited about it, though; I can’t just sit by and let another baby take his own life.

How’s YOUR school year going so far?



Filed under little bits of nothingness