Monthly Archives: January 2012

Quick Hit: Grading Essays

I need to get better at planning when major papers come due in my classes.  Somehow, even though I TELL myself not to do it, I end up under a virtual avalanche of essays.

Today, I’m going to get through all the senior’s efforts to critically analyze a major theme in The Help.  So far, so good; I’ve gotten through three of them that have gone from “okay” to “good” to “damned near perfect” – I can always count on Marie for a solid, thoughtful effort, and now I’m kinda kicking myself for not having saved her essay for last.

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Filed under about writing

Guest Post: Sending Out an SOS

Help a blog buddy out, would you?  I think we’ve all felt like this at one point or another; how do YOU get through the impossible classes with little or no outside help?

*Note; I’ve changed some of the identifying details, but the rest is as my friend wrote it to me*

I can’t blog about this, as some of my co-workers read my blog, and I have to tell someone, so I figured who better than someone 2,000 miles away who  doesn’t even know where I work?!

I left work early yesterday.  I concocted this story about feeling a migraine coming on.  It was during my second class of the day, a senior class, so I had three classes of juniors remaining.  Here’s the thing, I wasn’t starting to see halos, I just had to get out of there.

Backstory: I hate my 5th period juniors.  I hate them with every fiber of my being.  Walking into the class makes me bristle and turns me into a completely different person.  The problem is this; in a class of 34 I have, depending on the day, 7-10 boys who are hellbent on making my class awful.  They’re rude, disrespectful, and generally awful.  They make me feel like I’m 16, that I’m stupid, that I have no control over my class.  I’ve NEVER in my 8 years of teaching felt like that.  From day one I’ve been (OK, I’m going to sound like a real fucking asshole here) a great teacher.  I’ve had control and respect and it’s seemed as thought I was born to do this.  But these boys make me question everything about my job and my competency to do it.

So yesterday, sitting in first period, I started having a panic attack about having to see my 5th period.  I just couldn’t handle it.  So I made up the story, got a sub, and left.

Am I a completely terrible person?  Am I going to some sort of teacher hell?  And an even bigger question, how the fuck do I make it through the next 17 weeks of my life without a) murdering someone, or b) killing myself.  Any thoughts?

I wrote back and asked her if she could go to anyone for support, or if she could implement any structures that would help.  Here’s what she replied:

I’ve tried everything.  I’ve sat down with individuals, pointed out their behavior issues, and asked them to be class leaders.  I’ve kicked kids out.  I’ve instituted bathroom passes because they asked to go every day (I’ve NEVER had bathroom passes before because I believe by 16 you should be able to be responsible for your own bodily functions).  I’ve taken away behavior points.  I’ve written kids up.  I called security once.  I’ve talked to everyone can I think of, counselors, my dept chair, my co-workers, basically everyone says the same thing “suck it up”.  I’ve tried having a good attitude, which is harder than anything else.  Nothing seems to work.

I thought that maybe it was just me, but several co-workers have subbed for me (I leave early on one afternoon about once a month for a workshop) and they all agree that if they had that class, they’d murder them.  

I keep a bright pink feather boa in my classroom.  I bought it when one of my co-workers from another dept, who I’m particularly close with, was voted grand marshal for the homecoming parade.  Now I keep it around for when I or my co-workers have bad days.  I wore it yesterday morning.  🙂

So, my beloved teacher-blog community; what kind of aid can you offer?


Filed under colleagues, compassion and cooperation, concerns, failure, frustrations, I've got this kid...., really?!, student chutzpah, Yikes!, You're kidding...right?

Snow Day

Today is the first snow day of the 2011-2012 school year.   My charter school does online snow days.  This is both terribly cool and incredibly frustrating.

It’s cool in that we get credit for the school day; we made our case to the DOE when we first implemented the online school day program, and they determined that we met the requirements for a countable day.  That means that we don’t have to make up snow days in the spring the way traditional schools do (last year, we got out a week and a half before the rest of the state).  It also means that we suffer no interruption in the curriculum because of a missing day.  This is particularly helpful to us because we run a college-like, M/W/F – T/Th schedule, and a snow day on, say, a Thursday would mean that the T/Th kids would miss fully half their week.

It’s frustrating in that I don’t really LIKE teaching online.  I don’t feel confident in the platform, and since most of my classes are discussion-based, the online teaching model doesn’t really work for the way I run my courses.  I’m in a constant state of low-level anxiety in putting the classes together; since I don’t want to teach separate, stand-alone lessons for snow days (I want the snow day classes to be relevant to what we’re doing in the classroom), I can’t upload ready-made lessons ahead of time.  I also get stressed out when things don’t work the way they’re supposed to; if a kid complains that he can’t hear me, I have NO idea how to fix it.

Despite all that, though, it’s a good system and I’m glad we do it.  I just wish that I had more confidence in the platform, and that I could make it work more closely to the way I run my classes.

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Filed under frustrations, hybrids suck, Learning, lesson planning, out in the real world, self-analysis, Teaching


Every so often, I get an email from a parent asking about a particular assignment.  Often, they’re just asking for the details of the work so that they can ensure that their children are completing it properly, but sometimes they want to know the rationale behind the assignment.

I’m never bothered by these “tell me why” requests.  I want both the kids and their parents to understand that I don’t give busy-work; everything I ask the kids to do has a meaning and a purpose and a place in the larger arc of the class.  Being able to articulate the reasoning behind an assignment – what skills the work is designed to practice or what concepts it is intended to reinforce – helps to keep me thinking about the purpose of the work I ask the kids to do.  I remember wondering “what’s the point” about a lot of the work I did as a student, and I really wish that someone had taken the time to explain to me what I was actually doing – even if I didn’t understand it at the time, feeling like someone had a handle on things would have helped, I think, to ease my teenaged angst.

Anyway, here’s the email I sent back to the dad.  I feel like I did a good job at explaining, in clear terms, why I want his kid to do this work.

As for the short story assignment:  the students were given class time in which they were to go to the website I gave them and read TWO of the short stories offered (there was a list of about 50 from which they could choose).  I handed out a two-sided worksheet that required the students to discern details and nuance about the “elements of fiction” ideas – character, plot, setting, that sort of thing – and to make assertions and articulate comprehension of the theme(s) of the stories.  They didn’t have enough time to finish both stories, so I set the remainder of the assignment as homework; I put both the web link and a PDF of the handout on the assignment.

This assignment was given as part of a lesson arc designed to get the kids thinking in terms of story construction.  We’re working on getting past the “what happened” ideas – they had plenty of that in middle school – and moving on to the “how did it happen” ideas; the ways in which writing is crafted.  I know that kids tend not to think about writing as a process, and that’s what I’m trying to get them not only to see, but to be able to use in their own writing practice.  This assignment, and several others like it, was designed to get them to start seeing the “strings” as it were, to discern that there is purpose behind the choices a writer makes, and to start thinking about – and using deliberately – the choices they make in their own writing.

I hope this helps.  


Mrs. Chili


Filed under analysis, doing my own homework, lesson planning, parental units, self-analysis, Teaching

Back at It

We return to school tomorrow after the holiday break.  This was a short break – Christmas falling on a Sunday does that – but it felt sufficient, nonetheless.  I’m not sure I’m 100% ready to go back, but then again, I rarely feel 100% ready after a vacation.

My freshmen should come to class tomorrow with a workshop-able draft of a creative writing piece, and my seniors should arrive with the same of their analysis work on The Help.  I expect a significant number of kids to not have those things, though – despite my having reminded them on facebook to have their papers with them – so I’m lining up a short story exercise for the little kids and the chapter on literary analysis from one of my favorite textbooks, The Curious Writer, for the big kids.

The juniors are working on an artist biography, a bit of work inspired by our most recent read, My Name is Asher Lev.  I’m reasonably sure that all the kids have at least SOMETHING to work with when we meet again on Wednesday.

This month is going to be spent prepping for our school’s Poetry Out Loud competition; as soon as I get in on Tuesday, I need to meet with the headmistress to see about lining up judges for the competition that I’ve scheduled for the third week in January.  I also need to line up new reads for each of the classes.  I know that the freshmen are getting The Book Thief (I always teach that right after To Kill a Mockingbird) and the Juniors will wrestle with Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go.  I haven’t quite decided yet what to read with my seniors; I need to get back into my room to look at the pile I designated as senior reads before I make my decision.

I am approaching the return to classes with a kind of renewed enthusiasm.  While I’d like another couple of days to sleep in, I’m eager to be with my kids again and to get back into the thinking and talking and learning that happens whenever we’re together.

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