January 31, 2014

to the wonderful girls who are now A Legacy

I wrote this Wednesday, and I have kept coming back to it and editing it. I want so much for my words to be the right words. I think I've finally gotten there.

There has been much on my mind since I got the call Sunday night letting me know that the girls’ PE and cheerleading coach, Cookie Valentine, had died unexpectedly. I know that for so many around me that loss is far greater than it could ever be for me. More than anything else, my thoughts have been with the cheerleaders. I can’t even imagine how difficult this is for all of those girls who spent so much time learning from her. This post is for them.

A great many of you girls have been through my classroom; a great many of you have not. But I know the kind of heart each of you has, the kind of heart Mrs. Cookie worked so hard to nurture in each of you. I know that each of you has lost someone who was so much more than a cheerleading coach to you. And I know it’s heartbreaking. But I also know that each one of you is a trooper. I know she taught you to work hard and to work together. I know she taught you to put your best forward and to not give up when things were difficult. She taught you those things because she loved each and every one of you. That’s just how she was.

One of the things I admired most about Mrs. Cookie was that she never saw herself as just a cheer coach. It was never just about teaching lifts and throws and dance routines for her. She saw all of those things as ways to teach you girls how to be better, how to grow, how to improve as humans not just cheerleaders. I remember a conversation we had a few years ago about the squad that year. We were talking because a good number of the girls in the squad were 5th and 6th graders, and she wanted to see how they were with each other in my class. We talked because she was so concerned about the motivation and attitude of some of the girls that year. She was concerned that some of the girls only wanted to be on the squad for the prestige, and it was causing some dissent and unnecessary drama. And the thing that spoke to me about her heart was this: she didn’t care if losing some of the girls meant they lost talent; she cared that dissent and drama was keeping her squad from being a team that cared about each other no matter what and put others ahead of themselves. The thing that made Mrs. Cookie so much more than just a cheer coach was that she wanted so much more than a squad that could win—she wanted a squad that learned the value of true teamwork, a squad of girls that encouraged each other, a squad that truly wanted to lift each other up and help each other succeed more than they wanted to win competitions. And it speaks so highly of her and of each of you girls that in seeking those things, she gained groups of girls who love each other, who respect and love her, and squads that won competitions.

Girls, in your future as cheerleaders and humans, you’re going to have teachers, coaches, and bosses who see winning as more important than anything else. You’ll be under the leadership of people who cause dissent in order to get “winners.” And in the short term, it’s tempting to buy into that. These people have a lot of checks in the win column. But when it comes down to it, they rarely have loyalty, respect, or true influence. When you’re in those situations, I want you to remember Mrs. Cookie. I want you to realize that you are part of her legacy. I want you to remember her heart for you. And I want you to stick to the path she nurtured. You and great many other people are feeling Mrs. Cookie’s loss not because she had a lot of checks in the win column, but because she cared about the kind of influence she had in your lives. She cared about who you were becoming through cheer, not just about whether you could cheer well or win. And that is such a great legacy in you. Don’t forget it.

Girls, I know it’s going to be so very difficult for you all for a little while now, especially those of you who have to go into that gym again, and she won’t be there; those who will have to get used to a new cheer coach (be kind—she’ll have big shoes to fill). If I could give each of you a hug, I would. I’m sure you need one. But know this: Mrs. Cookie always spoke with pride of her girls. She loved you all. She was so proud to see you grow and become better people, even more than she was proud of your hard work at cheer practice. She was so happy with your successes and accomplishments. She was a blessing to each of you, I know, and this loss is so difficult. I’m so sorry that you have to walk this road right now. But in your mourning, remember that she loved each of you. Remember the joyful moments and not just your sorrow. The difficulty will ease over time. You have each been blessed, and Mrs. Cookie would be so proud if you now take that blessing and spread it to others. She nurtured each of you—nurture each other. Be there for each other, and her memory and legacy will live on.

November 04, 2013

Mondays that need mulligans

Some days in the classroom are amazing and filled with light bulb moments. Most days in the classroom are largely mundane, filled with small frustrations and triumphs, tiny quellings, and modest encouragements. And then there are the days when your carefully laid plans crumble around you and grasp at the straws of survival as you are painfully reminded of your own fallibility and fragility.

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August 30, 2012

first time for everything

Well, we’ve begun a new school year in Room 208. Of course, two week in we got a raucous little holiday thanks to Isaac. I’m currently writing this on the dregs on my laptop battery and hoping they can take care of those tree-downed lines sooner than I expect they will. I’m also mentally castigating my father for leaving town to stay with his mother without setting up the generator first. So far it’s been an interesting year.

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May 26, 2011

i like simple things

Update: Well, circumstances (and bank balances) worked out such that I did turn in my signed contract. But with a view to the future. Now, I've got a goal and timeline, and off we go. Here's to getting a job in London for the 2012-2013 school year. Anyone with connections--I'm so all about using those. hahaha

Have you ever found yourself in the throes of a decision you didn’t know how to make? Where one choice is simple and direct and the consequences are easy to see, and the other choice is more like jumping off a cliff and hoping there’s a nice deep body of water underneath? I’ve got one of those right now. At least, it feels that way. And I hate it. The thing is that since last summer, England has owned a large portion of my heart. A big enough one that I’ve been surreptitiously applying for secondary English teaching positions for the past few months. I haven’t gotten a job, though, and now I’m down to a week (a gracious week given my incredibly gracious principal) to make a life-altering decision. I’m still holding out for that call or email that says, “Hey, come on over--we have a position just for you!” If I don’t, then I’m a bit stuck. Without a job offer, I’m left with the simple, direct choice--turn in my signed contract, work at Victory for another year, look for a teaching position for the 2012-2013 school year while saving the monies--and the cliff-diving choice--go to England anyway on the small fundage I have, get a temp job(s) while looking for a teaching position over there hoping that I get something so that I can qualify for a visa before my six months of “tourism” is up. And the thing is, I just don’t know what to do. I guess when it comes down to it, I like safe choices. I like things I can count on. I like the security of knowing I have something to go to rather than going to find something. And I’m afraid that if I go, it won’t work out and I’ll be jobless in two countries and regretting every minute of it. Perhaps being impulsive and risk-taking is just another word for foolhardy. But on the other hand, I’m haunted by the thought that staying another year is cowardly, that something will happen and I’ll never get to England, that I’ll regret it. Maybe doing the responsible thing is just another way of saying boring and cowardly. I guess either way, I fear regretting the decision I’ve made. This whole thing would be so much simpler if I get a surprise job (!) in the next week.

At any rate, all that venting just shows my serious dislike of making decisions. At least ones like this where the outcome of my choices are a bit more permanent. Would it be completely irresponsible of me to base my decision on a Magic 8 ball?

February 26, 2011

if i were an artist...

Today, on "In the life of a 5th grader," we look at how a 5th grader finishes this sentence: "If I were an artist..."

...I would take photographs. If I were a photographer I would take pictures of cities. It would be about cities and buildings in cities. I would choose that so I could explore cities.

...I would make sculptures. I like making sculptures. My art would be about the swamp. Also the Civil War. I choose that art because I like it, and it’s interesting.

...I would write music. It would be about candy. I would choose that kind of art because I like music and candy.

...I would choose music and photography. My art would be about everything you can think of!

...I would write music. My art would be about love. Love makes great music and art.

...I would make sculptures. I would make sculptures out of video games. I think sculptures are cool to look at so that’s why I would make sculptures.

...I would take photographs. It would be about animals. I would choose this art because animals are awesome.

...I would write music. I’ve written about 7 songs, but they stink. Love inspires me; it gives me peace of mind. Music is AWESOME.

...I would paint. I love to paint. My paintings would be about anything. Painting is about expressing yourself. And not just painting one thing. Everything.

...I would take pictures. My art will be about basketball. I can relate to basketball.

...I would choose to paint and make beautiful scenery. My scenery would be by a beautiful ocean. And the grass would be tall, and the sand would be wonderful. Maybe throw in a couple of sailboats. I would choose the ocean because it inspires me to do anything!

...I would create paintings. I would make paintings of outer space with the stars, sun, and moon. I would choose that art because I could show people what outer space looks like. Also to show people important information about outer space.

...I would write songs. My art would be about things that happened in my life. I would choose that art because I love music. I like to dance and sing, so I like to write songs.

...I would paint. Not just paint, but I would paint scenery, flowers, and animal life. I would choose that kind of art because I feel that it would express my true feelings about specific people, places, things, and ideas. I also feel that it would show the world who I really am.

...I would sculpt. My art would be about mostly abstract. I chose this kind of art because it’s what I enjoy the most. And my name (Tyler) does mean builder.

...I would take photographs. My art would be about beauty. I want to take pictures of the beautiful, breathtaking sites I can see. I would choose that kind of art to bring beauty to the world.

...I would choose to paint. My art would be about animals. They would be all different animals. I would choose this art because I like to paint animals.

February 16, 2011

african-american heritage month. and don't you forget it. i mean it.

I know it's halfway through the month, but I've been oddly absent from my blog lately. All the things I want to write about are unformed or too hot-button or my thoughts fizzle out before I can successfully conclude a post. Therefore, I offer you a simple post: an admonition to spend a little time honoring the incredible contributions African-Americans have made to our national history by learning something new. And don't give me that excuse, "Well, I just don't think one minority group get a whole month of focus, so I'm not going to give in to political correctness and observe it at all!" Frankly, I find that attitude snotty, self-righteous, and a bit prejudiced. You may feel an entire month's focus is unwarranted; don't let that keep you from discovering what decades of segregation and biased history curricula left out of the education system. As I told one student today, I figure a month's focus on the achievements of African-Americans is but little we can do to make up for 200+ years of slavery and for 100 years of maltreatment and abuse. Take a few minutes to discover one new person, one previously unknown journey, one door of knowledge. Take a few minutes to recognize that no one today can truly empathize with the struggles of blacks before the Civil Rights Act. Take a few minutes to understand why it's important to go that extra step, to make that extra bit of eye contact, to say "Sir" and "Ma'am." It will be a worthwhile few minutes, I promise you.

Some resources (articles, photo galleries, and interactive media) you may enjoy:
The History Channel
The History Makers
The Census Bureau
The Smithsonian

January 21, 2011

an admonition to parents

I would just like to take a moment to encourage parents: if your child's teacher(s) or pediatrician(s) has consistently suggested that you have your child tested for a learning or developmental disorder--do it, please. I understand that you may fear your child will now be "labeled" for the rest of their life. I understand that you fear what a positive diagnosis might involve. I understand that you want to avoid your child having an excuse to not give their all or do their best academically. But I understand some other things as well because I am a teacher.

Your child's file will have a label not your child. Unless your child chooses to tell his classmates that he has ADD or Asperger's or dyslexia or receives accommodations, they will likely never know. Certainly, if your child's symptoms are evident, his classmates will know. Much of the time this is a helpful not hurtful thing, however. I have seen my own students be far less than kind to their classmates. I have never seen them taunt an autistic classmate. Ever. And the younger they are when their classmate is diagnosed, the more they work together with them, the more leeway they give that classmate. If you are still concerned, talk to the administrators and teachers; see what a diagnosis would mean. Many parents have an understandable fear of their child being in a "special ed" program. In many schools, a learning or behavioral disorder diagnosis means nothing more than certain in-class accommodations, some behavioral interventions, and special resources tutoring during inconspicuous times. Having an educational exceptionality doesn't mean segregation.

You will be better equipped to handle your child's struggles and symptoms if you know what you are dealing with and how best to deal with it. With a diagnosis, you have a guide. Without a diagnosis, you will be subject to the very same difficulties only with the guide, without the support of therapists, without the extra aid teachers can give. Having your child tested and diagnosed is far better than flying blindly through frustration after frustration because your child continues to struggle in school or behaviorally, and your best efforts aren't working the way you'd hoped.

You are the one who sets the expectations for your child as ever. I have had numerous students who have learning struggles and who receive academic accommodations; I am aware of one whose parents allowed her to use that as an excuse for work that was below her abilities. You will teach your child how to view their struggle: as an excuse for not meeting their potential, or as a challenge to beat every time they do better than they expected.

But the biggest issue, the one that inspires this post today: if you avoid testing and diagnosis, you are robbing--yes, I said robbing--your child of the aid and treatment he needs to get the step up to grade level acquisition and success. Delaying testing merely means that your child will be older and less able to respond to therapy and coaching. For instance, for many learning and behavioral disorders, 5th grade is hitting the upper age limit on therapy. This means that if you wait until your child is finally hitting a wall in upper elementary, you've already missed the time period when therapy and coaching is most effective, and you're quickly approaching an age when it will be nearly ineffective. And trust me when I say, this is no help to your child. No help at all. Delaying diagnosis means your child will struggle and be below grade level in every grade. By middle school, this will start to be very frustrating for him. And by high school, unless he is able to self-construct coping mechanisms, it will be defeating. The earlier the diagnosis, the more able intervention is to put your child on a path of success. For some children, it's enough to eliminate any hindrance to grade level or above grade level accomplishment. For all of them, it equips them with the tools they need early on so that when they reach upper levels and difficult subjects, they already know how to approach them. They already are prepared.

Watching a student continue to struggle, continue to slip behind, merely because his parents failed to heed admonitions to have him evaluated is not fun. It is frustrating. It is difficult. You do everything you can, but without well-developed tools and skill patterns, it is very difficult to help a student in that position by 5th grade. As a teacher, I fear for this type of student when they reach middle school and high school. Not only will they be coping with more and more difficult work, they'll still be struggling to acquire and integrate the skills they need to accommodate for whatever struggle they're facing. Please, parents, do not hinder your child because you fear labels or opinions or complications or excuses. Do not let your fears and anxieties get in the way of what will best equip your child for the future. Don't put yourself or your child in a position to regret that fear. The outcome isn't what you hope. Heed admonitions--if it's clear that evaluation is recommended, have your child evaluated early. You will only be helping them to discover the best ways to prepare for success.

January 18, 2011

if I were a superhero in a secret lair...

I asked my kids what super power they would choose if they were a superhero, and what they would want to accomplish with that power. They gave me some really interesting answers. Also, some had trouble limiting themselves to one power. haha

*If I could be a superhero, the power I would choose would be to turn invisible.

*If I was a superhero, I would want lots of powers. I would like to be able to fly, have a force field, and have invisibility. I would go by the name Super Leighton. One thing I would like to accomplish would be to kill all the villains.

*I would choose the power of making money. My name would be “Richest Man on Earth.” I would like to accomplish getting 1 million every time I say “money.”

*I would want to have invisibility. I would go by Invisible Person because I wouldn’t want anyone to know who I was. My life as a superhero would be awesome because nobody would see me. There is nothing I would really want to accomplish. I would just like to be invisible.

*My power would be to rewind and fast-forward time. My name is Remote Guy. It would be awesome. If I got a bad grade, I could reverse time to redo it, or I could fast-forward to Saturday. I would want to accomplish better grades with my super hero power.

*If I were a superhero, I would choose the power to shapeshift. I would be the name Bob. My life would be crazy because I would constantly have to save people, but I could also shapeshift into a normal person. One thing I would try to accomplish is to shapeshift into a monkey and climb like a monkey.

*I would choose flying. I would go by the name Superkid. My life would be awesome because everyone would love me. I would try to accomplish ruling the world!!!!!!!

*If I were a superhero, my power would be super stealth. I would go by the name Phantom of the Peace. The life of a superhero would be pretty hard with real life and crime fighting. If there was one thing I could accomplish, it would be squeezing in time.

*If I was a superhero, I would be part of a superfamily. My super powers would be able to see what’s happening in a different place. So me and my family would be sitting on the couch, and then I would say that the bank is being robbed on the corner of Flannery Road and Parnel Drive. We would save the day and call ourselves “Justice Force.”

*If I could be a superhero, I would have the power of telepathy. My name to go by would be Brain Man. People would have bad thoughts to destroy the city, and I would run behind them and catch them. If bad criminals were breaking the law, I would catch them and turn them over to law officials. I would help law officials any time they needed help. I would try to clean up the streets in cities.

*I would have multiple powers. I could do anything I wanted. I would go by Super Kid. My life would be great! Saving the world one step at a time. I would try to save the world before dinner and make some superfriends along the way.

*If I was a superhero, a power I would have would be that I’d be able to fly. My life as a superhero would be cool. I would try accomplishing being the best superhero ever. I’d hope I’d save the world from evil space monkeys.

*My power would be to turn invisible. My name would be “Super Pink Awesome Cute Power Girl.” My life would be fighting crimes and saving the world. I would try to accomplish being invisible for 48 hours (2 days).

*My power is strength. I’ll be called Alexander the Great. I’d use my power to help people and hurt criminals. I’ll help with the war.

*I would have laser eyes, night vision, being invisible, super strength, and fly. My name would be Ultra Guy. I would try to go around the universe and fly over planets.

*The one power that I would like to have is probably to move things with my mind. My life would be fun. I could move things and nobody would know. I could be invincible. Everybody would like me (I guess).

*If I was a superhero, I would have the power of telekinesis. My name would “Super Kid.” My life as a superhero would be cool cause I could get stuff instead of having to get up and get it. I would try to accomplish getting a satellite dish out of space.

And on a slightly different note, which pet would you pick--Monkey, Snake, or Goat?

*I would pick a monkey. I would choose a monkey because they’re awesome. My parents would probably NOT let me keep it. I would need to have LOTS of bananas and some toys to entertain it.

*I would like a snake as a pet because I would keep it in my glass cage. I would want a snake because it would not leave droppings anywhere. I think my parents would not let me have a snake. I would get a snake sitter to take care of it.

*I would choose the snake. I would choose it because they are cool (and I could freak the girls out with it)! My mom would say, “NO!,” and my dad would say, “YES!” I would need a glass box, grass, sticks, and leaves for the house, and lots of gerbils to feed it (it would be a python).

*I would choose a monkey because they like bananas. Goats smell, and snakes would bit everything, but you can teach a monkey a lot of tricks. I’m not sure what my parents would say. That is hard to predict. To care for it, I would need lots of bananas and fruit. And by the way, I would want an Orange Tameran.

*I would want to have a goat. I would choose that one because he is fuzzy and soft and he looks sweet. I think my parents would say “put him outside!” I would probably need lots of grass and lots of water.

*I would have a monkey. I would choose a monkey because they’re fun to play with and fun to have around. I think my parents would say, “A monkey? Are you serious? A monkey?!” I would need lots of bananas, fruits, and milk to take care of her. Her name would be Serena. The name Serena is so exotic.

*I would want the monkey because the goat would eat my pants, and the snake would eat my parents! Plus, monkeys would eat pesky bugs if they could catch them. To care for my pet monkey, I would need a brush, a comb, a bunch of bananas, a cage, a monkey leash, and a sweater in case she got cold. My parents would wonder why I have a pet monkey.

*I would want a snake. I would want a snake because I can teach it all different tricks. My parents would say Noooooooooooooooo. I would need to have a lot of animals for it to eat.

*I would rather have a monkey. My parents would say keep it in its cage. I would need a cage, bananas,
and something for the monkey to hang on.

*I would have the monkey. I would choose the monkey because we could train it like a human. But I think my parents would say they would rather me get the goat. To take of it I’ll need a cage or extra room, fruits, potty training supplies, diapers, and hair trimmers. If it’s a girl, I’ll need a bow.

*I would rather have a snake because a monkey or a goat can hurt you worse sometimes, and snakes are more interesting. I think my mom would say no. My dad would probably say yes if I take good care of it. To take care of a snake, I would need a five foot long, three foot wide, and four foot tall glass cage with many mice in another cage as the food source. I would also need two heat lamps with spare bulbs and many decorations in his cage.

*I would rather have a monkey. I choose him because monkeys are cute. My parents would totally disagree. I would dye the monkey blue. I would need to care for him by brushing its hair and giving him baths. I would have to train him. I think it would be fun.

*I would have a goat. I would like a goat cause my dad really wants one. He said we could make a goat farm and make cheese. I would need food, space, and water.

*I would have a snake because they are cool. I would get him a jungleish cage. My mom would say, “Get that thingy out of her NOW!!!!!!” But my dad would say, “Awesome!” I want a snake because they are awesome.

*I would have a pet monkey. I chose a monkey because it won’t chew my furniture up like a goat does, or bite and kill me like a snake does. My parents would probably say no, but if I was spoiled then yes. I would go tot he vet to get it shots. I would have to search from store to store to find monkey food. I would have to work extra to buy my monkey a bed and other stuff. That’s the kid of pet I would have out of a monkey, snake, or a goat.

*I would have a snake for my pet. The reason I picked a snake is because I can use it to scare my enemies and my brother.

October 12, 2010

another peek into the 5th grade mind

Well, here is another installment of 5th grade insight. I've been going through a "would you like to be" phase these days. Also, I don't have anything more substantial to talk about at the moment, though I have some thoughts currently growing through their fetal state. I suppose we'll see where they go.

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October 07, 2010

politics in a 5th grade classroom

A bit of an impromptu blog today based on something that happened in class that I've been mulling over all afternoon: how to handle real-world political discussion with 5th graders. It's a tricky situation, and one for which I admit being woefully unprepared. It happened in Language class this morning.

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October 02, 2010

thoughts from the 5th grade side of things

So I thought I would share a selection of sentences from my students with you. Every day I put a writing prompt on the board for them to respond to. Their answers are really interesting windows into the minds of 5th graders and how they see the world.

Prompt: The pledge talks about "justice for all." What is justice? What does it mean when it says "for all"? Can you think of any examples of justice applies to everyone?

"Justice is like freedom because if you have justice, you will also have freedom."

(It was interesting how at least half of my kids in some way equated justice with freedom or liberty.)

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January 19, 2010

of tenuous misanthropy and not so tenuous tests

I really would like to write something informative and thoughtful and to the point, but lately I'm finding that my reactions to things are just snarky and aggravated. Maybe it's the cold. Maybe it's the feeling that I've come to a place where I can voice some opinions with some and other opinions with others, but never al of my opinions to anyone without causing anger of aggravation or disappointment. And then I go to war with myself: the rebellious part of me really wants to post inflammatory things just to get a reaction that I can them mock with "See? I told you" sarcasm. The other part of me more realistically eschews beginning a debate that I will tire of and wish to just quit prematurely. And none of me really wants to deal with anyone else's preconceived notions at this moment. Don't get me wrong, I have preconceived notions, too. It's just that some days I don't mind taking them into account, and other days I just want to punch the wall. Ok. Maybe not punch the wall, but you do get the point. I'm fighting a certain level of misanthropy at the moment for completely unknown reasons. Although I suppose it all comes back to the fact that I feel as though I must divide myself in order to retain approval. Or at least, equilibrium, as I've already mentioned that I wouldn't mind really aggravating some people at the moment. I've never exactly understood my penchant for rebelling when considered in light of my nigh desperate desire for approval. Sigh. At any rate, I'll probably go on to include at least a minor rant in order to justify this wanton revelation of personal emotional status. I'm not sure which one I should include, though. I'll probably avoid it, though, since all the things I can manage to find words about are political. And I tend to try to avoid that particular teapot tempest around here.

Instead, I'll say this: I hate giving tests.


I haven't figured out, yet how to teach Language without them, but I hate them. I'm working on how to either get rid of them entirely or change the format of the ones I'm using to be more advantageous to my goals for my students. Perhaps I should specify more particularly the context in which I hate tests. I hate the Language tests that accompany this curriculum. I also don't like giving Language tests to elementary level students. At the high school level, I gave numerous tests to my Literature students, don't get me wrong; but I feel that tests, especially unit tests are of little use in an elementary Language classroom. And here's why, parts I and II.

I: Why I don't like the tests in this curriculum.
I dislike the tests in this curriculum for three reasons:
A) They are too spaced out, which means they end up weighing too heavily in the grading structure even with the weigh modifications I make. This also means that they cover a great deal of material. More on that in my third reason.
B) Many sections have multi-step instructions. While this may seem like a minor problem, for 5th grade students it isn't so minor. Especially when said students are tremendously concerned with making a good grade/not forgetting the information they need. So what happens it this: They read the first instruction, and eager to insure they manage it right, they move directly through the exercise completing step one. At this point, many of them might remember that there are more instructions. These students go back and read instruction 2. Again they immediately go through and just complete step two. The ones who felt a sense of completion after finishing step one have already gone on to the next section without realizing they missed an instruction. The students who did remember will usually complete step two, but rarely remember that there was a step three. To make it worse, these instructions are not divided up, they are in a single paragraph with numbers like this 1) placed before each step. I rarely used multistep instructions with high school students. Doing so with elementary students, who are just beginning to grasp critical thinking and application of processes, is really making things unnecessarily difficult.
C) While the units in the book are generally confined to small groups of skills (modifiers or punctuation use or prepositional phrases), the tests tend to be vaguely cumulative. If every lesson contained review skills, this would not be a problem. Instead, review skills are relegated to a couple of review pages at the end of the unit. During the unit they've been almost exclusively focused on a single skill or closely related group of skills. Now, I do review in class, but the written work does not typically contain review. 5th grade students are barely at a level where they are able to easily recall past information and apply it to a new set of circumstances (different sets of exercises). This is compounded by the relatively long length of time between the tests.

II: Why I hate tests in elementary curriculum in general:
Frankly, as noted above, elementary students aren't at a cognitive level to perform well on tests. They are also starting to develop a certain level of test stress that can impede strong performance. Like I've mentioned previously, I have tested and would test (were I still teaching at that level) high school students. The reason for the difference has much to do with the developmental difference between elementary and high school students. High school students have a deeper ability in test-taking situations to take acquired knowledge and apply it. Elementary school is where they need to develop this knowledge, and in my experience, this is better done through written work and quizzing rather than outright tests. I also find that parents tend to place far more weight than necessary on test grades, leading to teachers' tendency to review/put on the study guide problems that are identical to the test problems. I would far rather offer them multiple ways to learn/express the skill and give small, focused quizzes on that material. This would alleviate the stress of tests from students and parents while still allowing me to evaluate knowledge/skill acquisition. Tests just seem to create an atmosphere of higher stress and unreasonable expectations with little more benefit than other evaluative approaches at the elementary level. At any rate, that's where I've come to stand on the issue of tests in elementary curriculum. I think there are just better ways on a regular basis to achieve student evaluation.

Having used several 5th grade grammar curricula, I feel this one's method of using tests is deeply flawed. A curriculum that I have used before and truly enjoyed pedagogically, reviewed all necessary skills almost every day and tested weekly or bi-weekly. Further, the tests were, in essence, just another worksheet page that happened to count as a test. This, in my experience, rendered a much better result: tests were less stressful and were a better representation of what the students actually grasped on a day-to-day basis. I have a feeling I'm going to be spending some time reconfiguring these tests and how they work in the curriculum. Right now, I feel like I'm handing a lot of my students a huge mountain to overcome two or three times a quarter. That's not really advantageous for them in showing what they know or for me in evaluating it. Tests have a place, but maybe not in the form with which we are familiar. The way they currently exist, I hate them. Time to re-evaluate, I suppose.

November 24, 2009

personalization overload

Having allowed the following thoughts to carom around in my head for a couple of weeks (all the while shunting other thoughts around and through), I think I've formulated a post. haha. As I mentioned in the last post, I've been thinking about how we as Americans, as Westerners, too often find ourselves expecting to have things "personalized," and how our educational experience enhances or discourages this need to have every thing we own or do personalized. Now there are a couple of disclaimers that I must make before beginning:
1) I am only addressing this aspect of American life because it's the only culture with which I have personal experience. I suspect, by observation, that this need for personalization is present in other cultures (especially as it presents in multiple cultures here within the US regardless of cultural origin). However, I cannot speak to these cultures because I have only observed and not lived.
2) I am not here to decry all desiring to have things "your way." People are different from each other, have different likes/dislikes, and different senses of aesthetics. This post isn't about desire, it's about expectation. So please don't accuse me of trying to inflict sameness on the world. haha

So the reason this topic came to my mind was...myself. About four months ago, I bought a new MacBook to replace the iBook that was constantly full. 50G of space just isn't what it used to be. :-P As I pondered which to get and what to add to it, I was also pondering something else: Colorware. For those who don't know, Colorware provides a fantastic personalization service for the owners of certain electronics: they will take your product and custom-color it by applying a polymer-based coating. It's awesome. And $500. And yet, my desire to have a significantly unique MacBook found me with my mouse one click away from "Purchase." At which point I stopped myself. $500 dollars to give my lappy a custom color-coating when I could satisfy my need for a unique, personalized lappy with an amazing decal for a hundredth of the price? I did, however, discover another way to personalize my computer: one candybar purchase and [redacted] hours later, I have [redacted] sets of options with which to personalize every icon used by my computer. As the reality that I had spent [redacted] hours hunting down just the right icons for my lappy set in, I began to ponder the phenomenon of self-centeredness that seems to pervade society today. I have some ideas as to how it happened, mostly beginning with doting parenting, but nevertheless, we have a large group of people who do not merely desire to have things their way, but expect it. In fact, in some/many cases has become an extreme: my way, or else. These are the types who send back their hamburger because it came with pickles despite being ordered without when they could just take the pickles off. So the question becomes raised: Is the problem having the freedom to have things uber-personalized? I don't think that's the problem.

***To be continued in a second post...

*I mentioned some copywrighted and patented things up there. Those companies own that stuff, k? :-P

September 26, 2009

objective case and other tidbits

I invariably have a small amount of trouble teaching my students about objective case. I'm not sure why. It's pretty simple: when you use a pronoun as the object of a preposition, a direct object, or an indirect object, you use objective case. Apparently, this little nugget of grammar wisdom is skipped over too often, which is why people say things like, "Between you and I" (wrong), "My sister went to the mall with my mom and I" (also wrong), and "You are giving that to who?" (wrong, wrong again). There is a lovely little moment in The Office (US series) that deal with this controversy. I tried briefly to find the video clip, but YouTube is a vast marshland of video clipage through which I was unwilling to wade. Here, instead, is the text of the discussion:
Ryan: You know what I really want? What I really want is for you to know (the computer system) so you can communicate it to your people here, to your clients, to whomever ...
Michael: (Snort) OK.
Ryan: What?
Michael: It's whoever not whomever.
Ryan: It's whomever.
Michael: No. Whomever is actually never right.
Jim: Well, sometimes it's right.
Creed: Michael is right. It's a made-up word used to trick students.
Andy: No. Actually, whomever is the formal version of the word.
Oscar: Obviously, it's a real word, but I don't know when to use it correctly.
Michael (to camera): Not a native speaker.
Kevin: I know what's right. But I'm not going say, because you're all jerks who didn't come to see my band last night.
Ryan: Do you really know which one is correct?
Kevin: I don't know.
Pam: It's whom when it's the object of a sentence and who when it's the subject.
Phyllis: That sounds right.
Michael: Sounds right, but is it right?
Stanley: How did Ryan use it, as an object or a subject?
Ryan: As an object.
Kelly: Ryan used me as an object.
Stanley: Is he right about that ... ?
Toby: It was: Ryan wanted Michael, as the subject, to explain the computer system, the object, to whomever, meaning us, the indirect object, which is the correct usage of the word.

There you go. Short, simple, and sweet lesson in the use of objective case. So what brings this up in my blog today? This:

Now I realize the quality is rather awful as I was using my cell phone and had the setting such that I couldn't zoom. I apologize. The sticker says: Who freed who? Suddenly I understand why my students grapple with simple grammar concepts: adults surround them with ignorance. The end.

Now that I have that out of my system, on to other tidbits.
* I'm in the middle of Season 3 of Lost. I'm very, very confused and completely addicted.
* You shouldn't drive too fast in a raging downpour. This is not because of any visibility issues, mind you, but because water splashing up into your engine is a bad thing.
* The school where I teach uses ABeka for the main portion of the Reading program. We also supplement using the Houghton Mifflin Reading series because it involves more critical thinking skill development, and it's the curriculum the state schools use for Reading at the lower grades. Last year, because I was catching up with myself all year due to coming in at the beginning of the second quarter, I only used the parts of the HM workbooks that stood alone (ie, didn't require reading the selections from the HM readers). This year I started using the HM readers as well. They're really quite nice. The stories are engaging (albeit a little dated at times--a problem that's inherent in some ABeka stories as well, so no biggie), there are many pictures to aid in teaching predicting skills, and really excellent summary questions that include writing connections. I really wish I had been able to integrate this more into the curriculum last year. Of course, I did integrate other comprehension and critical thinking exercises. It will be much easier and better with this particular resource, though.
* Toe socks are fun.
* Funny story: Yesterday, I was bustling about the classroom as usual. I had finished the Language lesson and walked over to my desk, set down my Language book, and picked up my Spelling book. I then taught the Spelling lesson and the Reading lesson. About 25 minutes later, I walk to the door at the back of the classroom to line up the students to switch classes before PE. I can see my computer monitor and notice that my open document is currently scrolling up and up and up. I look at it for a moment and realize that it's been scrolling up and up and up for 25 minutes. I realize that when I set down my Language text, the corner of it had landed on the "Enter" key of the number pad. When all is said and done, I had a Word document that was 1497 pages long. Yes, 1497 pages. Needless to say, I went to the top, copied the two pages I was supposed to have into another document and just deleted that one. Hahaha. What a day!

I supposed that's plenty enough for now, all. Have a great weekend!

September 04, 2009

how to catch an elf instead of doing work

Around this time of year (ie a week and a half before school starts), I begin trying desperately to avoid the final stages of school preparation. Mind you, it isn’t that I don’t have a moderately sick love of school things, or that I don’t appreciate the beauty of having well-done preparations. Rather it is my constant fault of getting to the 3/4 or 7/8 mark and being “done.” Surely my readers understand that feeling. It’s the one where you’ve been spring cleaning and you only have to beat out the rugs and mop the kitchen, but you have just reached your limit…you’re done. It’s the one where you’ve complete 5 hours of the 6 hour drive and you are beyond ready to have arrived…you’re done. This is where I find myself at this point in the approach to the school year: wanting to have the completed and beautifully organized lesson plans and preparations all finished, but no longer having the desire to finish them.

Typically, I reach this point and brace myself to soldier through. This year, however, I stumbled upon a better plan. More accurately, a friend slipped a thought into my brain, and I latched on. Rather than soldiering through, I should find some other person to complete my work for me. I should, in fact, capture an elf! Yes, the more I thought it through, the more it made sense. After all, elves do beautiful work. Their quality is unmatched; their ardour to complete a task unquenched. The idea of hiring one did, I will say, cross my mind, but was almost immediately stymied by the realization that elves do not typically advertise in the “job wanted” section of the newspaper. Furthermore, I suspected that money was not an object of their desire, and I could think of nothing that I possessed that elves might find a fit trade for their labour. No, no. The more I pondered the situation, the more I was left with only a single path: I must capture an elf if I wished to avoid my work.

The first question raised was, of course, what could I use to capture an elf? This proved to be problematic for my brain at that moment, so I pushed the question aside for later examination. Instead, I turned to the next question at hand: where to begin looking for my elf. Of course, it is common knowledge that the elven kind prefer greenery and poetic scenery, so I began my search in the gardens.

I looked into the rose vines first, thinking that although the blooms were spent, the nature of the rose would be attractive to the elves. Yet, I found none.


I turned next to some obliging daylilies.

lily fronds.jpg

Again, there was no elf to be found.

I checked among other flowers and plants that seemed conducive to housing or hiding elves.

plant search.jpg


I even ventured to look into a particularly intriguing tree.


Yet all my efforts were to no avail.

Seeking more information, I asked the local feline cabal.

They pointed me in the direction of a clump of rushes near the pond.


Although I looked quite carefully, I still had not found my elf.

At this point, it began to rain, so I was forced to postpone my search for a time. The rain was lovely, and I crossed my fingers in the hope that it might cause the elves to venture out afterward in search of after-storm beauty.


I began poking around behind the back shed, but my search was abruptly halted by a canine constable who advised me that trespassing in the area of the shed was “highly discouraged.”

canine constable.jpg

I obligingly removed my search to another location.


After having exhausted every place I thought likely to house an elf, I began to feel my quest a lost one. Out of places to check, I decided to sit by the pond and wait for inspiration.

ponder edges.jpg

It was lovely. Frogs were singing. Mist was rising from the pond. The sun began to set in rare form. I paused, contented, to watch for a moment.

As the stars, and the mosquitoes, began to come out, I decided I had better be content to abandon my quest and finish my work on my own. My grand scheme for capturing an elf and save myself some trouble had fallen to ruin around me as I had been completely unable to even find one. I suppose it was all good and well, however, since I had never quite figured out how I might capture one anyway had I managed to find it. “Perhaps another year will bring success,” I thought as I returned to the house and my laptop and my meticulously saved lesson plans.

August 23, 2009

one week down

So the first week of school is down. Just about 35 left to go. haha It feels like it went really well. Such an interesting group of kids. Since I only teach Language Arts, the 5th graders switch classes between me and my team teacher. Last year, we just switched at lunch. This year is a little more complicated. Because my team teacher was averse to teaching Math (not that I blame her), the 6th grade Math teacher also teaches 5th grade Math. This means that both my homeroom and my team teacher's homeroom have to have Math in the morning, since the Math teacher only teaches half a day. The result is that we must switch classes for Math in the morning. So, I teach both sections of Language in the morning opposite of the Math class. Then, in the afternoon, we switch for Reading as well. I only teach one of the classes Spelling because of the craziness of the schedule. We are slowly rounding the edges off of all the switching. Once again, I'm fascinated by the difference between the two classes. There's always such a different chemistry or vibe or something with each class. It keeps me on my toes, I guess. haha

A couple of my students have already decided to try and fix me up. It occurred in this manner:
girl: so are you married, Ms. D?
me: i am not.
not-a-shy-bone boy: you should be; you're one gorgeous woman!

Next day:
not-shy boy: Ms. D, can I totally hook you up with a guy?
me: I don't know. It depends on your idea of taste.
not-shy boy: *gasp* Ms. D, I have awesome taste! You doubt me?

Yeah. It's amusing. It might become obnoxious, but we'll see. Students are awesome. Totally awesome.

In other news, two more grad classes are down. I'll be embarking on the next two beginning tomorrow. I suppose I could begin them today, but why? :-P

Working my way through season two of Lost. Oh man.

I also watched for the first time Bridget Jones's Diary and Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist. I enjoyed them both. The first is moderately a girl movie. I found myself rather unempathetic to Bridget at times, but overall, I definitely got her. And the movie was quirky in the fun way. Nick and Nora is an odd little indie flavoured film with a fantastic soundtrack. It's unexpectedly laid back so the when you get to the end, it's just...there. You wait for the moment, and you smile when the pieces fit.

Well, off to input lesson plans. The previously promised fairy capture tale will be arriving as soon as I capture the final picture. So if you're waiting in anticipation, it won't be long. :-)

August 13, 2009

filler post

So I'm composing an entry that deals with capturing elves. Yes, I said "composing" and also "capturing elves." Deal with it. haha I need a single picture to complete the entry, but things keep preventing me from getting it. Argh. Therefore, I thought I would insert a small, middle-of-the-night, filler post to entertain everyone. Assuming anyone actually read this anymore. :-P

*I used part of my graduate loan to update my computer property to a new (almost triple the hd space) MacBook. I'm very happy with it, although I miss the compactness of the 12' iBook. The fact that this one is much lighter is a huge plus, though. Now, see, I actually have something tangible to pay off rather than mere classes with grades listed on Blackboard. haha

*School starts on Monday. I'm always nervous about the first day. I think it's going to be a great year, though. I met most of my students and parents today at orientation. It seems like a good group. Both groups have several more boys than girls, unlike last year where both classes were almost evenly split. It will be interesting to see how that works out for the group dynamic.

*The air conditioning has been broken in my class room the last two weeks while I've been getting things ready. It has been beyond bearable. It should be fixed tomorrow, though.

*Tomorrow has turned into cram day for both of my second term summer courses. I don't think I've had a last-day cram session so far into this degree, though, so it's time. Big, sarcastic "yay."

*I do not ever wish to be a school administrator or have anything to do with finance. Thanks.

That's probably enough filler for anyone's taste. I'll end this, then. With hope, there will be a much more entertaining post in the next few days. Until then.

May 13, 2008

it's a mad, mad, mad, mad world

I apologize for the lack of posting. Life has been hectic and weird. School is almost out, so right now is kind of like a weird maelstrom before the calm. We may all survive. Maybe. I had a two-mom-in-two-day showdown last week. And the Main Mom has been nitpicking me ever since. But I'm at the point where I just couldn't care less. That's probably not a good thing. I'm just so tired of her that not caring has become the preferable option to telling her exactly what I think. The downsides of teaching can be exponential in some circumstances. Good thing the upsides are almost always exponential.

In other news, my brother left for boot camp this morning. I miss him already. Seven months without my brother will be a very weird experience. Sigh. Keep him in your prayers if you could.

Well, that's about all I have at the moment. I will renew my posting vigour when school is finally out. And I've caught up on nine months of sleep. haha

February 20, 2008

menagerie of days

I don't have anything incredibly profound to say, but I felt like it was time to update something around here. School is going well, overall. Of course there are always bumps along the way since it involves dealing with 6th grade humans and 7/8 grade aliens. I never ceases to amaze me how an 8th grade boy can completely turn his entire brain off. For instance, two of the 8th grade boys earned a detention on Monday for passing notes back and forth in class (last hour, no less) about how mean and evil and strict, etc. the teacher sitting in the room is. She was sitting in the room. And could hear them. Hello? (The inability of said 8th graders to actually whisper is also a bizarre phenomena). So they served their detention, part of which was scrubbing urinals. Yes. Gotta love it. This job required wearing gloves, which they then decided to place inside the backpack of one of the 7th grade boys. What on earth? Needless to say, they earned a second detention. I'm not sure exactly what else they expected to come out of that. Sigh. It keeps life interesting, if nothing else.

I managed to catch a cold last week, also. I hadn't had a cold in years...I've had two this year. The first was manageable. This one hit me like a truck. I started sneezing on a Friday morning, by Friday night I was pretty much down for the count. Of course, I exacerbated the situation by driving to Lake Charles and back (2 hours each way) to do stats for the basketball teams. So I spent the weekend in bed. Monday dawned nearly voiceless. But I struggled through. By Tuesday, I was considering going to the doctor...which I never do. The other 5-8 teacher looked at me Tuesday afternoon and told the secretary to send around an email asking for a substitute for Wednesday. haha! So I got to go home early that day. At any rate, I struggled through last week with almost no voice, and coughing almost continuously. The kids now think I enjoy torture. I'm finally on the mend, but the 80% of my voice that has returned apparently makes me sound like Miley Cyrus. That has caused heretofore unknown hilarity among the ranks of students. It is pretty funny.

Other than that, life has been ... well, life. I finally read Crime and Punishment, my first ever Russian novel. It's a great read. It's already in the queue for a second read. Then I countered the deep book with Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep. Everybody needs a little noir every now and then, after all. And as usual, just when it seems that life is simple and manageable, complication comes to overwhelm my heart. But, it's just another reminder of Who I must trust, Who I must approach with my heart, with my complications, hurts, and joys. The result of all that personal complication, though, is less thoughtful blog posts. haha! It is those complications, and how we find our ways through them that molds us into who He wants us to be, though. It seems so hard to see that, but I just choose to know that it is Truth no matter how I feel about it in the moment. Eventually, it trickles down to change my feelings. Perhaps one day I'll be sanctified enough to move through that circle in ever rarer cycles. Perhaps.

So there's my life right now. Feel free to comment. It's interactive. :-D

January 24, 2008

stream of consciousness

I have no real topic today, but rather a number of random thoughts that have come to my mind. Just thought I'd share.

1) My brother joined the National Guard yesterday. He might be leaving for basic training on Wednesday. He's never been away from home for more than two weeks before. The house will be...odd without him.

2) The 6th grade girls are on a mission to sneakily deprive me of my coloured white board markers and substitute black ones in their place. So far, every attempt to force me to write with a lack marker has failed.

3) Cold, rainy days make me want to stay in bed. Instead I have to get up at 5.30. Not quite the same.

4) My sister broke up with her boyfriend yesterday. She didn't tell me. I found out from someone else. Also the fact that he came straight to our house after work. And then left before 9.

5) I upgraded my cell phone a couple of weeks ago. I really like it.

6) Inside recess is loud. For some reason the girls are chasing people around. And one of the boys is fending them off with a used Kleenex. Yes, that is life in the 5th/6th grade.

7) Both nights of basketball games this week are away...over an hour away. That's tiring. But I like my 'job' enough to do it. :-)

8) Teaching numerous subjects leads to desk messiness.

9) Apparently the idea of my love life is unbelievably more fascinating than anything else in the life of 6th graders.

10) We're studying the Battle of Little Bighorn this week. It always saddens me. I know that other countries and peoples have just a harsh a history of feeling superior and thus justifying unethical treatment of other groups. But that doesn't make our history any easier to study.

That's all I've got for today.

October 10, 2007

to the parents of future students

First quarter is almost over, and I've compiled a list through these weeks of things it would be nice if parents never did, and things they should always do. So, spend a minute perusing and save your children's future teacher a little grief.

What you should never do:
1. Let your 5th grade son, or any 5th grade child, whine to you about all the bad things that happened to him that day.
2. Proclaim that your child would never break any rules.
3. Believe that your child would never be unkind to anyone, and that is why he cannot understand when other people are unkind to him.
4. Coddle your son.
5. Tell your 8th grade student that what the teacher is teaching them in class is a "big waste of time."
6. Come into your child's classroom and reprimand his classmates for being unkind to him, for being unkind in general, and then explain how "sensitive" your son is.
7. Go to the head instructor complaining that your child's teacher is not "dealing" with problems in the class (aka: anything that bothers your child), when you have never spoken with said teacher about problems, nor asked how she had or had not dealt with said problems.
8. Justify your child's selfish behavior.
9. Try to control every aspect of your child's classroom/recess experience.
10. Agree with your child that the teacher graded their work badly.

What you should always do:
1. Forbid your child from relating only their perceived negative experiences. Encourage them instead to relate positives that happened during the day, and learn to ignore the negatives that just aren't so important.
2. Understand that your child is a sinner just like every other child.
3. Recognize that your child, again, is a sinner. He understands perfectly well why people are unkind; he just doesn't like it when it happens to him.
4. Raise a warrior son, not a self-absorbed whiner. Teach your son to stand up for himself and ignore what isn't worth standing up to, rather than running to you whenever something happens that he doesn't like.
5. Tell your child that learning is its own benefit. Tell them that even though it may be difficult or frustrating, learning to see things from several perspectives, learning to take things apart and apply new knowledge to them, is never a waste of time.
6. Recognize that children can be cruel and painting a big target of weakness on your son will be the worst thing you can do for him if he is feeling targeted already. Do not label your son as "sensitive" only, and then use that as a reason to avocate for him creating an embarrassing situation for all concerned. Teach your son compassion for others rather than "sensitivity" with regards to himself. See the next point.
7. Treat your child's teacher with respect. Go to the teacher first whenever you have a problem or concern. They may not be aware that there is a problem, or they may have already dealt with it timely and appropriately. Going over your teacher's head or usurping her classroom does not encourage your teacher to listen to your concerns. If you treat your child's teacher with respect, she will, in turn, respect you and be amenable to watching for and correcting the things that concern you.
8. Recognize selfishness for what it is: it isn't being sensitive when it only happens when the child is offended. Teach your child that others are more important than they are. Teach them to give others the benefit of the doubt, to not assume that everything that happens around them is directed toward them, and to ignore offenses directed at them while defending others, not themselves, from offense.
9. Let go of your children. Certainly there are stages of letting go depending on your child's age, but practice appropriate space from an early age. Controlling your child's school experience reflects a lack of confidence in your child's teacher while it also hampers your child from becoming who God has ordained them to be. Let them go. Let them stumble, if necessary. They won't learn to pay attention until the suffer the consequences of not paying attention. Understand that just because the teacher does things differently from you does not mean that her methods aren't affective.
10. Back up the teacher. If you have a question about something, speak with the teacher privately. Take the opportunity to teach your child that if she's made a bad grade, she should pay attention to why and make appropriate changes. Always, back up the teacher.

So, parents and future parents please pay attention. I know that the list of "nevers" is easier to do than the list of "alwayses." But the things that are best for your children aren't always the easiest things. Your child's teachers are on the same side as you: seeking the excellence of your children. These are just some thoughts from the teacher side of things.

September 26, 2007


Last week, I completely failed a teen and a parent. Completely. And sadly, I had no idea until today. Like most of my colossal failures, this one was caused by the fact that I have never learned to control my speech. I struggle every day with not saying what I shouldn't and saying what I ought. I don't think it's prideful to say that I believe I have improved very much over the years in the "not saying what I shouldn't area," but the "saying what I ought" area is still a difficult place for me. Not that I don't ever fail by saying something I have no business saying, but last week's failure was not of this nature. Last week's failure came because I did not speak words I ought to have spoken.

Last week, I had a conversation with a teenager about a frustrating situation through which said teen is struggling. The teenager was venting about the situation, which does have several difficult points. I completely understand why the situation is frustrating, and I think the teen has a certain amount of justification for being frustrated. Unfortunately, the frustration is feeding the attitude of discontent and rebellion festering in his heart. Here's what I should have said: "You know, you're right. That's a tough deal. My brother went through that same thing, and it was tough for him. But, you know, he really learned a lot, and he made some friends, too. It might help to find a couple of positive things to focus on when you get really frustrated." Did I say anything remotely like that? Absolutely not. No, I just agreed with the frustration, mentioned that my brother had been frustrated in that situation, and basically enabled discontent and rebellion. I handed this teenager ammunition to feed the mire of anti-parental rebellion into which he's wading. And then I completely forgot about the conversation. Until today. Today, the mother of this teenager brought the conversation back to my mind, and asked me if I could be more careful with what I say around her child so as to avoid adding fuel to the pyre. I felt like someone sucker-punched me in the gut. In allowing myself to shirk my responsibility as a Teacher and as a Reflector of Christ, I added to the strain in a teenager's relationship to parents. I felt even worse because these aren't unreasonable parents who saddle their kids with unrealistic expectations and burdensome rules. These are parents who seem to grant their kids a balanced amount of freedom and a reasonable amount of respect. But they are parents who also seem to struggle in the face of the strong and assertive wills/personalities of their children. And I undermined them in their struggle. And it feels horrendous. I absolutely failed by allowing myself to be dragged into the negativity and darkness when I should have brought a ray of light into the situation.

In the years since high school, I have struggled against being destructive with my words. I used to be incredibly vicious with my speech. I was well aware that I could completely destroy another person with a sentence or two, and I used it whenever I felt like it. I had little to no remorse about the damage that I was purposefully inflicting on other people. Thankfully, God began to make me aware, to show me how beyond un-Christlike that behavior is. I still lash out destructively from time-to-time, but I do struggle against it; and, this struggle is, for me, a very small victory. Unfortunately, I have often neglected the other side of this struggle: the need to say the right things rather than just avoid the wrong ones. Intentional verbal viciousness has always seemed like the darker part of my struggle with speech. Today, I had a very vivid reminder that sometimes not saying something is far worse than saying the dark things. How much do I wish that my failures only affected me. I have chosen, however, to place myself in situations where my failures have the possibility of affecting others, and I need to be reminded of that. And that vigilance in the battle with my speech is constantly necessary. I just wish the reminders weren't so devastating.

August 15, 2007

why are there first days?

First days of school ought to run like opening night. Yet they never do. They are always far more like dress rehearsals--same slightly insane chaos, same feeling at loose ends, same wondering why everything seems just a little off-kilter. Oh well. I suppose that's what it's always like. I just always get home and wonder if I managed to grab the kids from the start, or if they'll holding out to see what I'm like tomorrow. This time felt more at loose ends than in previous years, less prepared. I hope I don't end up paying for it later with management problems. Oi.

At any rate, we all survived. Math was awkward. Tomorrow it should go better, though, because they will have literature assignments (I hope) to read while I cover the Math lesson for the other half of the class. Yes, that's right: I'm teaching 5th grade Math and 6th grad Math in the same class at the same time. It's not the first combined class I've taught, but it is the first combined Math class--and combined Math is a different animal. So I guess I just have to show it who's the the Alpha around here. :) I think it will be a good year. I certainly hope so. The kids are great. (Though I do have a rowdy couple of boys--you know, the class clown type.) With grace, we'll all be better people at the end of the year than we are now. And that we will all learn together to glorify and enjoy God through our classroom activities.

April 27, 2007

partially there

I got a phone call from Mark Dolan yesterday afternoon. He said he presented the case to the board, and they were "very interested" in having him pursue me for a position. YAY! *putting the excitement away again* Now we just need to have a face-to-face meeting. Scheduling that may be interesting. So, just keep praying for the way to remain smooth. And pray that I can take some afternoon time from work to meet with Mr. Dolan.

And thanks for all the prayers already offered--I do not underestimate them! :)

April 23, 2007

more prayers; more prayers

Well, the phone call went well. We covered a lot, including my bane of classroom management. We talked about where I was when teaching there before, where I am now, where I would like to be. So, since the decision not to renew my contract was administrative, Mr. Dolan will be presenting the case for pursuing re-hiring me at the board meeting tomorrow night. Oh, the waiting...the waiting. Continued prayers are in order. I'm very happy that Mr. Dolan is pleased with the way our conversation went. He's completely behind me and will be completely behind me before the board. Praying. Praying.

pray pray pray

So I got a call from the principal of the classical school at which I worked a couple of years ago. They are looking for teachers for next year--including 5th and 6th grade which I taught before--and he wants to talk to me about possibly taking one of those positions. Guys--I was totally praying for this when I went to the silent auction a few weeks ago to show my face again. I really want this. I really want to be back in a classroom. I really love the school. I am really passionate about the classical model.

The things to pray for: that Mr. Dolan and I click (already on a good note since we're both Mac users); that when the issue of classroom management is addressed, it will be okay (that was the issue behind the non-renewal of my teaching contract, but the person leaning on that isn't there anymore and isn't Mr. Dolan); that I'm offered a contract for 5th and/or 6th grade (I don't really do younger grades). I really want this (I think I've said that already). I'm not ready to relocate, yet, and this is a perfect opportunity for me--it would be less money than I'm making now, but with much more soul-food. :)

October 05, 2006

the great homework debate

Not too long ago, I watched an interview with this man, Alfie Kohn. He's just published a book entitled The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing, which has brought the discussion about homework to the forefront again. He makes some very rational and compelling arguments for why the modern move to add more and more homework is actually harming children and their educational performance. In this article, he articulates the basic ideas of his position on homework. I tend to agree with him. In the interview, he stated that other than basic amount of math review, the most effective homework was simply reviewing or driling facts in the car on the way to school. It reinforces what they've learned without overwhelming them. Of course, high school requires more than that--usually a certain amount of reading, etc--yet, still not nearly as much as most high school students are being given. When I was teaching at BRCCS, the principal encouraged all the teachers on the grade school level to try to eliminate all but math homework as much as possible. It was not that difficult, and I really liked the results. The maximum we tried to give when homework was needed was about 30-45 minutes for gradeschool and an hour or so for upper school. I've also heard the idea of 10 minutes per grade: 10 minutes for 1st grade; 20 minutes for 2nd grade, etc. Personally, I think that may be too great of a steep as it leaves middle schoolers with over an hour of homework a night. But I'm wondering what you think. What was your homework experience like? Pros? Cons? If you could change one thing about the way homework was given in your school setting, what would you change and why? I'm interested to hear your thoughts.

August 23, 2006

useful techno toys

This morning on the Early Show (yes, pauly, on cbs...), I watched a very interesting bit about a school district in Arizona. They are beginning to integrate SmartBoards into their classrooms. This is a really fantastic product. {warning: I love this thing--this may start to sound like an ad :)}

Now, I have fairly specific thoughts about the integration of technology in the classroom. I think it's very necessary, but should be implemented in certain ways. For instance, I think every child in the classroom having a computer at all times is ridiculous and distracting. And despite what some educrats say, it doesn't raise the level of education received. What I have seen implemented in a school district near me recently that I really liked was a mobile computer lab. It's made up of a number a laptops connected to a mobile server, all on a rolling cart that can be moved from classroom to classroom as needed. I like this because it gives teachers and students access to computers when useful and teacher-directed without cluttering the room with distractions from hands-on and socio-interactive teaching/activities. Having watched educrats and commentators on American schools laud technology indiscriminantly--hailing anything new and computer-oriented whether or not it brings acual enlightenment into the classroom--I was a little leery when I first started hearing this story. After all, what's wrong with the white board? I like it. But as I watched the SmartBoard in use, I got hooked. Here's a little insight into why:

When I taught 5th/6th grade last year, I had 13 students and 1 computer--mine. Now that's not a huge problem, but I did find, from time to time, interactive lessons online that I would like to have used in my class. The drawback was that I didn't have the computers to handle it. The SmartBoard is linked to the teacher's laptop/desktop and a projector, thus making any material on that computer or the internet available for use in front of the class. That means diagrams, maps, articles, quizzes, puzzles, games, pictures, audio clips, and even films! All of the things that I loved integrating into my classroom, but made soooooo much easier. With the SmartBoard, it is so simple to create an interactive learning experience without sacrificing content or organization. Not only that, but the SmartBoard itself is manipulatable. A teacher or student can "write" directly on it. The text can be moved--actually any object can be moved or manipulated by touching the Board. I was fascinated. As a teacher, I found this one piece of technology a hugely useful addition to the classroom experience. Think about it: while covering the Spanish-American war, a teacher could immediately put up maps of the Battle of San Jaun Hill, draw arrows showing troop movements, even play a video clip of the Rough Riders from the online archives of the Library of Congress. Or on the high school level: covering Oedipus Rex the teacher could use pictures and perspective models of Greek theatres, assembling it one section at a time, play clips of productions, put sections of text on the board for the class to enact.

I don't usually get this excited about new technology, but today's students are so surrounded by it in the lives outside of school, that having technology inside the school is inevitable, and I would admit, even necessary. The next step becomes insuring that the technology we choose to spend money on, what we choose to apply in the classrooms, is useful and unobtrusive. I am really excited about this technology brings into the classroom experience. I hope that as more schools begin to use it, that it will re-awaken the classroom as a conversation. Because more than any other piece of classroom technology that I've seen recently, this one has that potential--to eliven the learning process again by making it more about real things rather than just line drawings on a page of a dull textbook. And it does it without forcing stupid "learning" video games or extraneous projects on the students, or large amounts of extra work on the teacher. In fact, it probably neatly replaces the time spent typing up a worksheet or chart and running all the copies. I hope this gets the attention and push among other school systems that it deserves.

July 14, 2006

Wellness, Academics, and You

I was watching the Early Show this morning and I saw a bit about a new, federally funded program being implemented in a Georgia school district. The program, called Wellness, Academics, and You, integrates nutritional knowledge with core learning. For instance, a teacher might use a nutritional information label in reading class or calculate Body Mass Index as a math exercise. I'm really not sure how I feel about this. Certainly the program has some good aspects, like the fact that kids are now more interested in healthy food and thus get their parents interested in healthy food, but I wonder if there aren't some negative aspects that aren't being addressed. I know that childhood obesity is an invasive problem right now. The reasons for this are many, but often center around something very simple: parents are too busy to cook so children eat a lot of fast-food and pre-packaged food, while not getting enough excercise to burn those calories. I know that we need to combat this problem before it has more lasting socio-economic effects. But is this the right method? I mean, let's face it, public school systems are struggling to graduate literate students, mainly because the curricula is already to centered on social engineering, do classrooms need the added distraction? Furthermore, we are already a society centered on the physical. While teaching children about healthy eating and exercise is good, some of this program includes things like calorie counting. Do we really want an entire generation focused on adding up the numbers on their food and feeling guilty if they indulge a little? Perhaps I'm over thinking this, but I can only look at the teenagers I know who constantly struggle with feeling fat when they aren't. And that's not just the girls. These are healthy kids who eat healthy food and are very fit. No, they aren't the picture of slimness, but they are healthy. I wonder if in trying to combat pediatric obesity we aren't focusing too much on weight and not enough on health. I wonder. I also wonder if a bigger step to combatting this problem is a much simpler one: recess. I know that sounds simplistic, but think about it. Many children these days sit around in school all day and then go home and sit around some more. In trying to create "better" education, many schools in the nation (private as well as public) have eliminated recess and extended homework. If we want to encourage children to be healthy, we need to teach them how to play healthy. My last principle was very adamant about recess for this very reason. He insists that recess is a vital part of education because it not only teached children to play together (not always as easy as it sounds), but it teaches them that playing is important, that being outside is important. And, added bonus to teachers, it expends energy! It seems to me that this matter of eliminating pediatric obesity is a delicate one, but focusing on weight may end up being a pitfall. If we can focus kids on being healthy and teach them to play outside, this can work. As long as we don't sacrifice actual curricula for nutritional information.

What do you think?

June 29, 2006

david and dora

While rereading David Copperfield, I was once again struck by David's fascination and love for Dora when his obvious match mentally and emotionally is Agnes. Not there there is anything wrong with Dora--she is loving and kind and certainly endeavors to become something better than she is--yet, it is very apparent that David cannot connect with or converse with Dora on level at which he can with Agnes. In fact, reading it as a more mature person than I was the previous time, it is obvious to me that his truly deep and founded love is not for Dora at all, but is from a very early time for Agnes. So what is it that draws David to Dora? Certainly her beauty has much to do with it, and combined with her lightness of person and the fact that his early meetings with her are all under lovely conditions rather than real world circumstance, I suppose that makes for powerful persuasion. Of course, not being a guy, I'm sure I don't have a total grasp of it all, but still. I suppose it strikes me at this point more than ever because of a situation I see unfolding before me. This one hits close to home for me as the young man concerned is one of my students. I have seen him learn to exercise his reason, to think through the facts presented and make applications, to ponder, to search out truth. I have heard him answer very reasonably why Dante, while brilliant, was in doctrinal error (perhaps you see one of the directions this is going already). Yet now, I see him making two unreasoned decisions and passionately persuing them. The first is, to me, the most important, exp. since I believe the second stems from this first: a desire to join the Catholic Church. Now, before I offend anyone, my wariness comes not so much from the desire itself (though I, personally, believe the RC deviates from scripture in some important areas)--his life is his own to direct. I understand that. My problem with this desire, and my disappointment with his choice, comes from the motivations. These motivations, though he lists them out as several points, boil down to this: an emotional response to several experiences that made him feel part of a group, and a belief that an encounter with Christ had everything to do with Liturgy rather than personal humility of spirit. I have neither seen nor heard any evidence pointing to him examining the doctrine and teachings of the RC and finding himself in agreement with them. In fact, he seems to have very little knowledge of what the Church teaches. That bothers me. The majority of his encounters with the RC have come from a charismatic youth retreat centered around experience and emotion rather than factual teaching. He even argued with my sister about the existence of more than one type of Catholic service (ie: traditional, charasmatic, orthodox Latin, etc.). His response to her query as to what type of congregation he was considering joining was, "There's only one Catholic Church." True on the surface, but charismatic Catholics are very different from the conservative Catholics who still prefer the high service in Latin. If he were making a reasoned, informed choice, I would be less anxious...but I believe I've already mentioned that.
The other decision more factually mirrors the David/Dora dilemna, but flows directly out of the above issue. He's met a girl. In fact, he met her at this year's retreat, a week ago. Suffice it to say he barely knows her. He's already asked her out. The reason he likes her is that she's "amazing." When asked what he likes about her, "She's amazing." You get the picture. I have a strong suspicion that one of the "amazing" things about her is her Catholicism. In fact, lately I have noticed a trend that the only girls he mentions as being really godly and loving God are Catholic girls. Granted, "amazing" girl may be great--but how can he know from a handful of conversations, mostly, apparently, about catholicism. It seems rather like he's latching on to her because she's there and catholic, and he is now rather obsessed with the ideal of the RC. Perhaps I'm overly worried. I don't know. I just hate to see one of my kids jumping out of the boat with no life-jacket and no real understanding of why. I sense a disillusioned end looming on the horizon. I could be wrong; but, I'm always nervous when reasoned thought is excluded from the decision making process. Especially in the realm of such important decisions.

June 08, 2006

hmm. what to say.

Here's what I have learned in the last few months--particularly the last month--God made me a teacher. I suppose I should clarify. I'm a very capable secretary. I get things done. I like typing and I'm pretty good at it. I've learned a lot about the civil judicial system and how to write legal documents. My heart aches at the thought of not having any students next year. The day after my last co-op I was so glad that Oscar came in late, because when Joann, the other secretary, asked me about it being my last class I burst into tears. Yeah. Mom thinks I might jsut be in withdrawal. I think she just likes the idea of my having a secure job with a guaranteed paycheck. It isn't that I don't like this job. I like it fine. The thing is, it's just a job. Teaching is definitely my vocation. This leaves me with various questions about what I should do with myself. At this point in time, I've agreed to work for Oscar until next May--it helps with the salary issue. I look for another teaching job for 07 in another state? Or, do I apply to U of Glasgow for the MA in Dramaturgy? Or do I look for another teaching job in a University town and apply for PhD part-time? Or what????????????? I hate questions about the future. And I realize that none of these questions needs to be answered immediately, but I can't help trying to figure it out so I'll know what I'm doing. What I do know is that I am using my fairly nice salary to save up for the downpayment on a house wherever I end up. Sigh.
On a different note, on the last day of World Lit we watched almost all (I skipped some uneeded scenes due to time constraints) of Depardieu's Cyrano de Bergerac. I always forget what an amazing actor he is until I watch him again. Phenominal performance. And an amazingly beautiful movie. I only had one glitch, and it's so very silly. At the very end of the play, Roxanne doesn't say, "I have only loved one man, and now I have lost him twice;" and Cyrano says, "My panache" rather than "my white plume." I know, I know. The true word is probably panache, but I love that line. At any rate, one thing I adore is viewing a film in class and at the end, the students remark how great it is--they really liked this one. In English Lit, we watched Death on the Nile. that was a pretty big hit, too. A little depressing, but they definitley enjoyed the puzzle of it all. I thought it was a good end to the class because as a novel, it incorporates much of what British Literature--and the popular British novel--was int he Twentieth Century. And as an A&E film, it was a well-done adaptation. I have many thoughts and feelings that I want to write about this past year, my heart at another end to another school term, but I can't get them out right now. I think I need to reflect on it a little more.
New thought. My baby sister graduated high school. Wow. I think she's a little overwhelmed at the thought of life opening before her. But then again, aren't we all still at times? She's also a little...frustrated that she is graduating high school and no boys like her. I know that sounds shallow--but I think it's hard to reach a milestone like that and wonder why you can't find a guy that cares for you. It's hard for me to see. There is one guy in particular that she cares for, but he's having his own struggle right now that does not include noticing a friend. I wish I could help, but I know if I got too involved, I'd just stick my foot in it. Not helpful. And it isn't like I have all the answers. :) Ah well. I think she's amazing and beautiful. I'm so glad she's my sister, and that's she's winning in life.

April 23, 2006

57 days

Well, it has been 57 days since my last post. I apologize. Many, many things have been going on. Other than the usual filling of my time with reading, researching, writing lesson notes, I now have another job. Many of you remember a couple of years ago when I battled the state about my non-certifiable status. Because that issue has never been resolved positively, I still can't teach at any private school that receives the TOPS scholarship (even though it's a private scholarship fund, it's managed by the state at the state's discretion, and schools whose graduates receive it have to meet state standards). Last year, at the classical school, I didn't have that problem as they don't receive TOPS. Of course, for various reasons, my contract wasn't renewed there for this year, causing me to substitute and launch my homeschool co-ops. Well, near the beginning of March, I started looking around to see what I was going to do after this school year. Several people suggested I look into college-level teaching, so I was working on cover letters for my curriculum vitae when a job dropped into my lap. Not a teaching job.
I can't remember what I've written about my dad looking to sue the company that owned the oil rig, but he is. He had called and talked with several different lawyers, some old classmates of my uncle, and one of them happened to be old friends with another homeschool family we know. Mom and Dad were at physical therapy one morning when he (the lawyer) called. I answered the phone, and we had a brief conversation about why I wasn't in school, that I was teaching part-time, that I went to a Christian college in Florida (he went to Abilene Christian College), and then I took a message and hung up. I didn't think much of it until the end of the week. I came home from substituting and Mom said she had news for me. They had met with the lawyer that morning and had gotten into a conversation about why it was so hard for me to teach in Louisiana. He was flabbergasted ( I like that word) and said that I seemed nice and intelligent, did I want a job? Apparently, he had just lost his assistant, would I like the job. So, I took it. So, on the side from my co-op teaching, I am learning to run someone's else's life, mostly, and also how to work with some legal stuff. It's very interesting--not teaching--but interesting. I'm kind of accepting it as an interim. It will give me a couple of years to maybe pursue some more schooling, maybe get a little house, we'll see. So, that is why I haven't been posting as much as I ought. Once school is over, I'll have more time to post--I won't be trying to squish in my lesson work. :) At any rate, that's my brief update.
My dad is doing well. He saw the shoulder surgeon yesterday, and he said he ought to regain about half the strength in that shoulder--that the muscles are strengthening well and will make up for the loss of bone. He won't ever get full rotation, though, because the socket is gone. He also had the first couple of surgeries to rebuild his ear. They seem to be going well. I haven't seen the result as it is bandaged and I have no desire to see what's underneath right now. :p My sister had her 18th birthday last weekend. We threw a luau--it was really great. Everything went well. I made chicken and pork and this really great punch. We had pineapple and melons and sweet potatoe chips. It was a lot of fun. I can't believe my baby sister is 18. It's a very strange feeling. Sigh.
On another very brief and final note: having watched the musical of recent controversy (of which I may write more on a later date), I have a couple of things to mention: that Jesse L. Martin can really sing and I would never have guessed, that some of the most amazing and intriguing harmonies are in this film, and finally, why are those of us who have the most reason so afraid to live as though there is "no day but today"?

March 04, 2006

hamlet, the movie, so many versions

Okay. So. Here's what I've been doing in class: watching Hamlet. I think I may have spent more weeks on Hamlet than anything else we've done. Maybe. But I really wanted them to get the feel of how many different ways a production of a Shakespearean play can be done. First, of course, we all read the play--I wanted their evaluations of the productions to be based on the actual text of the play, not necessarily whether or not they liked it. Of course, personal opinion comes into play, but first and foremost, I wanted them to judge the productions on whether they were true to the spirit of the play or not. We watched the Olivier version, the John Guilgud/Derrick Jacoby version, the Nicol Williamson version (with Sir Anthony Hopkins as Claudius), the Mel Gibson/Zefferelli version, and the Kenneth Branagh version. Okay, so we didn't watch the entirety fo them all or we'd still be watching films! But we did watch major scenes from them all--more scenes from some than others. I was really pleased with the way my students dealt with the different productions. We had several very thoughtful discussions about the differences between each, and the respective merits and weaknesses of each. I have to say (proabably b/c of my carefully lowered expectations of teenagers) I was surprised at how much they enjoyed/appreciated the Olivier version. I guess I thought they'd be too jaded. I should have expected better since they really liked the Errol Flynn Robin Hood. Ah well. So now they are busily writing critical analyses: not only analysing the play itself, but also 2-3 of the productions. This ought to be interesting. Of course, I always assign these things because I know they are really great for my kids to do, but then I realize--I have to notate/grade them. Sigh. Well, I only have a few students, so it isn't too bad. I'm actually looking forward to reading them. My frustrating student has actually had some thought driven responses to the play/films. I only got a "if you love Jeesahs" response once or twice. (by the way, the creative pronunciation spelling is courtesy of sister who adores calling the superficial/shallow Jesus ideas/pictures "Jeesahs.") Anyway. My other project--not that all my students aren't all projects in their own way--but my other major project this year has been "bottom-line" student. I'm sure I'll hear about this when he reads this, but too bad. This student is very smart and usually has something unique to add to the discussions, but has two problems. The first is actually getting to the bottom line. He's getting much better at it. Now he usually gets right to the point without trekking around the bushes first. His other problem, which I still see him copping out to every once-in-a-while is the desire to make sure the answer is right before he says it. He is getting much better at risking it, I have to say. I've said all of this to say--no matter how frustrating the kids can be, it is really heartening to watch them and realize that they are growing through their learning, not just adding a bunch of new facts to their brain-files.

On a different note--in World Lit we've been plowing through Eastern philosophy and poetry with The Inferno in between. The kdis picked up on a lot of the allegory and the links between sins and punishments in The Inferno. It was good to see. Wednesday, after we talked about (they read sections on their own), we read through some Persian and Arabian poetry. I am always fascinated by the beauty of it, especially the Sufi poetry, but seeing my students see the beauty of it was so neat. I know that's such a ... boring way to put it, but it's all I can think of right now. I was really taken aback when I asked what they thought/felt about the poems and my boy student (after all, teenage boys aren't particularly known for appreciating nuance) said, "It's really beautiful, but still pagan." I agreed. It's almost heartbreaking to read the profound spirituality and beauty of the poetry and know that it is written for Allah. It hit me even more because I just finished re-reading The Chronicles of Narnia and was again touched by the role of the young Calormene soldier and Aslan's response to him.
"...because we are opposites, I take to me the services which thou hast done to him, for I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and which is not vile can be done to him. therefore if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath's sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted."
I know that isn't exactly orthodox, but it is beautiful. and I wonder that we can't see or understand everything that is God's revealing himself to individuals. The passion of Rumi humbles me because I don't always seek to be that passionate with my Lover. At any rate, this is one of the reasons I love teaching: not only opening the eyes of my students to broader horizons, but having my own enlarged.

February 06, 2006

teenagers are somebodies

I had a very interesting and multi-faceted conversation with a friend the other night. We were talking about Antigone and the multiple difficulties inhernent in discussing the play, and in discussing with students who have never read Oedipus Rex. At some point, Antigone's age had become a point of discussion for the class (was she 17 or 13). That got us talking about teenagers today and how they are largely ignored. Now some of you are reacting this way: "What? But so much of society is geared toward the teenage consumer--what do you mean ignored?" True. Much of marketed products are geared toward teenaged consumers. But. How often does an adult take a teenager seriously? How often do teachers in the average school carry on discussions with their students in which the students opinions are given merit and weight? How many parents involve their teenagers in family decision making? Not enough. I think that a large part of so-called "behavioral issues" among today's student bodies can be chalked up to teenagers being ignored. Think about your high school years. How many classes incorporated serious, thoughtful discussion in which the students' thoughts/opinions were taken as serious talking points? I have a feeling not many, if you can think of any. The structure of today's classroom--despite serious modern undermining of professorial authority--is geared more like this: students sit in desks and have ideas poured into their brains by teachers who lecture most of the class and then ask basic factual recognizanze questions to discover whether or not the students are listening. Am I right? Here's a better model (and one that shows how much I agree with the classical model of education): high school students are given facts and context for what they are studying, then they learn to reason out their own ideas and opinions, and practice expressing them in class. Hmmm. In which model would teenagers feel usefull and significant? Here's the reason this matters: my friend is a graduate assistant in charge of leading discussions over reading covered in the class; he often struggles to get his college students to talk--to express their opinions and discuss them. Because the structure of most high school classrooms ignores the input of its students, when these students get into a college classroom, many of them have no idea how to form or express an opinion, but they are suddenly expected to. Now suddenly they are to be contributers, but no one has taught them how. How frustrating that is for both them and their instructors! The solution? Adults need to appreciate the significance of teenagers. This attitude that teenagers are troublesome and unreasonable needs to go. (Of course, that would be helped if we could get rid of the teachers who hate their high school students and think they are stupid--I've worked with some of these.) Don't anyone misperceive me, and say that I think teenagers are autonomous beings who are the same as adults. I don't. Teenagers still have a lot to learn, and just because you give them serious credit for their ideas and opinions doesn't mean you go along with them/agree with them/make decisions based on them. Teenagers are not adults, but they are almost adults and should be given credit for that. Teenagers have a lot to offer--adults, whether parents, teachers, or mentors, should recognize that. Ignoring the value of teenagers simply stunts their ability to interact as adults when they get there. And before they get there, it spurs them to act out to get the attention they ought to be getting for their ideas rather than their behavior. I think society would be amazed at the difference that would occur if teenagers were led down the road to adulthood with respect and consideration, rather than expecting them to be silent and swallow whatever adults hand them to swallow.

I hope all that made sense. At any rate, I try very much to treat my high schoolers as independent beings who have a great deal to contribute to my class. Their answers may not always be right, but when they aren't, we discuss why. It never fails that I have to fight against the fear of being wrong. Even with homeschooled students. There is so often a fear of saying something I won't agree with and that will be wrong. I tell my students over and over to just say what they think. Just because I don't agree with them doesn't necessarily make the answer wrong. If they can't defend their position, I'll count it wrong; but if they have good reason for their opinion, then points for them. We'll discuss it. Sometimes I learn a completely new way of looking at something because of a student. I have a broader knowledge base than my students, but I am still just as much a student as they are. If I discount their input, I rob myself and I undermine their growth. That's not saying I don't fight the temptation to always present my opinions as the absolute right answer--the power involved in being a teacher can be terribly mishandled and very narcotic--but they aren't. I've learned alot from my teenagers, and I hope above all else that I've taught them that they are valuable, they are contributors that matter in my class and in society. If other teachers did the same, if they made teenagers feel valuable rather than insignificant, imagine the adults we would be sending into the world.

December 22, 2005

harry potter, rough drafts, leadership, and anything else

So it's been awhile since I've posted--mainly just because I've been lazy. ah well. My aim is to make up for that by posting alot today! How does that sound. I have several thoughts to put down today, and two of them based on statements run across in Harry Potter, I suppose I'll start there.
Watching Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire for the third, yes third, time yesterday, I was able to be struck by several statements in a more particular way. The one that really grabbed me occured about halfway through. For those who have never read or seen this book/movie, it centers mainly around the Tri-Wizard Tournament, a very dangerous and famous competition held every few years between the three main wizarding schools. Not long after the second task, the Head of Magical Law Enforcement, is found mysteriously dead on the Hogwarts' school grounds. Dumbledore, the Headmaster, tries to convince the Minister of Magic, Cornelius Fudge, that the Tournament should be stopped. Fudge replies, "But what will people think?" Dumbledore's very astute answer is this: "A true leader does what is right regardless of what people think." That really struck me. I going to wax a little political now. In the last few years, much media emphasis has been placed on opinion polls--and not just with W., I believe the trend really began to amplify under Clinton. But now, of course, we end up hearing so much about them, and whether W. is getting good numbers, and whether his policies are popular. As though that really mattered. The fact is that Dumbledore is absolutely right--true leaders don't give a rip about opinion polls, they care about whether or not their policies are what they believe is the right thing to do. A politician (or authority figure of any kind, really) who changes their positions and policies to reflect what people like is not a leader. Whether I agree with W., or any other leader, should not affect what he believes to be right. Granted, we live in a country where we, individual people, have more say in the political and legislative process than in most countries in the world. I'm not criticizing that at all--it is basically the best political structure around. The problem comes when we decide that having a strong say automatically means that our leaders should bow to our every whim or fascination. Wrong. I have the utmost respect for leaders who stand for what they believe, even if what they believe is diametrically opposed to what I believe. If they have a reasoned-out position that they are willing to stand for regardless of what other people say, I respect them. The "leaders" that I do not respect are those who take their cues from opinion polls; those who walk around with their finger in the wind to see where they should take a stand today. So then my point--while I don't always agree 100% with W. on every issue, on every policy, I respect him greatly because he has done, and is continuing to do, what he believes is right regardless of what opinion polls or media commentators say. That takes guts. If people want to criticize him, they should do so based on the facts or on the reasons, but not on whether or not people agree with him or like him. That is a ridiculous criticizm to adopt. And furthermore it seriously weakens the position of leadership because people start to believe that leaders are merely to be a spokesperson for our opinions, and leaders are never merely that, esp. in difficult times. Leaders are those who choose to stand for right, regardless.
Next point, and another HP quotation. This is from Book 5, so those going only by the movies will get a sneak peak--no spoilers though. In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix we meet the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Dolores Umbridge. At the end of Book 4, we watched as Lord Voldemort, a very evil and dangerous Dark Wizard trying to rule the world (as all the truly great villains so), has regained a physical body. The war between good and evil is back on the table, and danger is ever-present. The Ministry of Magic, however, is choosing not only to ignore this, but to attempt to discredit Harry's and Dumbledore's statements about LV every chance they get. It is to this end (and to place a spy at the school), that the Ministry has placed Miss Umbridge in the D.A.D.A. position. Of course, if what Harry and Dumbledore have anounced is true, Defense is probably the most important subject at the school now. But Miss Umbridge sets out to make it as harmless and impotent a subject as possible. On the first day of class she announces the changes by stating that the regular turnover of teachers, "many of whom do not seem to have followed any Ministry-approved curriculum" has critically hampered the students in light of their upcoming Ordinary Wizarding Levels (exams--think Standard Achievement Tests). But no worries, this year "We will be following a carefully structured, theory-centered, Ministry-approved course of defensive magic this year." Notice the twice repeated "Ministry-approved." She then lists her aims for the course: "1. Understanding the principles underlying defensive magic. 2. Learning to recognize situations in which defensive magic can be legally used. 3. Placing the use of defensive magic in a context for practical use." She then sets them to read a chapter in their textbook. Hermione Granger, however, has noticed something significant--the lack of mention of practicing the spells. In other words, Umbridge has no plans for application of anything they will be learning. This seems to be a serious oversight--after all, reading about theories and facts does not automatically lend one success when the time might come to use what one has learned. One must practice application, right? Not according to Umbridge. Her final statement on the matter: "It is the view of the Ministry that a theoretical knowledge will be more than sufficient to get you through your examination, which, after all, is what school is all about." and then "As long as you have studied the theory hard enough, there is no reason why you should not be able to perform the spells under carefully controlled examination conditions." So, why did I write all of this? Those who know me fairly well, already have an idea. Let me say right now, I have no argument with teaching theory and basic fact in a classroom--you have to. And, in fact, in the younger grades, that is mainly what you can teach. Youngsters aren't terribly good at out-of-the-box, abstract thought. However, the modern educational structure/system/theory is imbued with this same idea that the theoretical is enough to pass exams, so why bother with anything else. What it comes down to is this: is the purpose of a K-12 education merely to pass? or is it to train children to think and succeed in the real world? It's a serious question. It seems that the main idea that surrounds the education process these days is that as long as they graduate/pass, it's okay. But at what cost? Of course, we've all heard the dilemma of teachers feeling pressured to "teach the test," but I would question the entire emphasis of modern educational philosophy. The entire structure of modern ed. is centered around "teaching the test," just in a more subtle way. Educational textbooks are filled with watered-down, inoffensive sound bites and politically correct story problems, but very little meat to stimulate independent thought and analysis. We teach a novel so they will know the story and the facts, but how many teachers use literature to analyse the world we see around us? We teach history to know what happened before (although ideas of deconstruction have led to teaching "social studies"--facts about cultures--rather than history), but how many teachers connect what happened in the past with the reasoning behind today's culture and politics. The fact is that modern education at all levels has stagnated. By removing practical application of the theory-centered approved curricula, educators have crippled the thought processes of students. In order to avoid some mythical "offense," students have been cheated out of learning to make connections between their education and their every-day lives. Because of this, many students do not see the value of their education; they do not think it matters to them as people. Their education is merely some letters on a report card that may influence how much money they will make, rather than being a key to understanding and developing themselves as individual humans. They have no practical tools to apply knowledge. Just as Prof. Umbridge's students were just reading about some defensive spells rather than learning to actually defend themselves, many of today's students are merely learning some facts, rather than how/why they are the products of these facts history and literature and science and mathematics. By high school, education ought to be about more than learning facts to pass tests, it ought to be about using facts to understand ourselves, what we believe, and the world around us. I think the philosophy of the Ministry and Prof. Umbridge is exactly what we see in the system around us: safety rather than understanding. And as both the M and P.U. are actively working to blind people to truth while denying what they both know to be true, I think it is intended to be, as is, a very accurate criticism of the modern debacle that is the educational system. (I won't single out public education in this, b/c many private schools are slipping down that path, as well.) Something on which to think, eh?
This is a segue. I now have a small stack of papers to grade. Yes! I did an interesting experiment on my World Lit students. Having more time and ... thoughfulness ... in this class than in others I have taught, I had my students write a critical analysis of Oedipus Rex using as their basis for comparison Aristotle's Ars Poetica. Interesting, huh? Frankly, I think it would be easier to have a basis of critique than otherwise, as you have specific points to deal with and a particular viewpoint already there for you. But I guess I won't know that until I assign another analysis without a comparison ideal. We shall see. We also had a very lively discussion about Socrates and Plato in class. the insistence of Socrates on defining terms being necessary to discussing them, and that words have particular meaning and misusing them corrupts any debate. My students, very astutely, saw a significant cultural application with both those ideas. They are very aware that the culture around us has become rife with the misuse and careless use of words, and that it has hampered our ability to accurately and effectively communicate. Socrates stated that the misuse of words led to a corruption of the soul. I tend to agree with him. The Platonic Ideal was also a very interesting point of discussion. I am personally fascinated by it, which helps. The basic idea, for those who aren't familiar, is that what we see around us in not truly real--it is not the ultimate reality, but a corruption--a shadow, if you will--of an ideal that exists beyond what we see around us. For example, the chair you are now sitting in is not the actual, ultimate chair, but a shadow of an ideal chair that exists beyond us. Sounds kind of strange, doesn't it? Yet then I introduced the spiritual into the conversation--is the world that we see around us the perfect world? No. Is it then the reality that God created? Well, no--it is corrupted by the Fall. Excellent. Therefore, is it safe to say that the world we see around us is a corrupted shadow of the ideal in the mind of God that He will recreate in the future? Well, yes. It was a very interesting discussion indeed. Certainly, I wouldn't wholeheartedly advocate everything Plato wrote as true--we have, obviously, widely differing religious foundations which therefore leads to different conclusions and applications. But. . .he wasn't wrong when he realized that our reality is merely a shadow of Truth. That the corporeal world around us is not all there is to see, and that wisdom comes in seeking the Truth behind/beyond the shadows. Hmmm.
All right. Final thoughts--the girls' basketball team is 3-1 so far (the one ought to be a 0--seriously, you should have seen the game. :{ ). They are playing so very well now. I finally read Kim by Rudyard Kipling. Very interesting. I just may embark on an India kick very soon (two summers ago I was on an Africa kick--I read about 8 books set in Africa in a row). I think A Passage to India may be next--I've already seen the movie, so it's a less daunting project than it was the last time I thought about it. I've also just finished a very interesting and informative book entitled A Matter of Basic Principles. It is an excellent and reasonable criticism of Bill Gothard's Institute of Basic Life Principles and Advanced Training Institute (the homeschool curricula branch of IBLP). Not everyone who reads this blog will have heard of this, but many of you will--this book is worth the read. The authors have raised several impressive objections as talking points, and very soundly defended their criticism. It is not an emotional rant or an unfounded personal dissection as many criticisms are these days. It is a carefully thought out and reasonable approached examination of several key cracks in the foundation of Gothard's system. Definitely worth the time.
And very lastly--since odds are pretty favourable that I won't post again before Sunday (We'll see), I will wish everyone a very blessed Christmas. It is the day to mark the birth of He who gave us the greatest and most necessary example of sacrificial love. Revel in it.

December 01, 2005

oedipus and tests

All right. So, back to my teacher posts. My lit classes are going well, I think. We took last week off for Thanksgiving. This caused some consternation for my English Lit students since they took a test the class before and would have to wait 2 weeks for their grades. Note to any students who read this: harrassing and begging your teacher when you see them outside of class will not encourage them to grade tests any faster than they had already planned. Keep that in mind. At any rate, they all did fine. Yesterday was World Lit test day. I haven't graded those yet, but they should be good, too. After the test, we read Oedipus Rex aloud. It worked out perfectly--with me, there are four of us in the class, so we had just enough people to read. I switched them up every scene and read the chorus lines myself. It was really fun. We did get a bit of a giggle when the two girls were reading the argument between Oedipus and Kreon--they don't ever get to argue, is what I was told, so getting to argue and use ugly names in the argument was a big riot. At any rate, we all enjoyed it. My personal philosophy is to read dramas aloud in class whenever possible. It conveys so much better. That seems kind of basic, but I've debated with people who state that "Unless you read Shakespeare, you don't get the full effect." My response is aways " But Shakespeare wrote the plays to be acted, not read, so it seems to me the full impact is in watching or hearing it." I feel the same with just about all drama. I mean, I enjoy reading plays, but seeing them or hearing them is the best way for students to absorb the themes and conflicts. I will say, though, that Iokaste's line that many men dream about sleeping with their mothers and so Oedipus shouldn't be so concerned about the oracle (said to divert him from pursuing the truth) caused some titters--especially from my sister who was reading Iokaste at the time opposite of the only boy in the class who was reading Oedipus. I got a big kick out of it. But then I am slightly evil. ;) I would like to get my hands on the Tyrone Guthrie version of the play--the staging is in the Greek style--and show it to them. I think I'm also going to use this as an opportunity to teach them how to write an analysis paper, using Aristotle's Poetics to evaluate the tragic elements of Oedipus. Should be interesting. Okay, I have to end this entry because I have cockatiel on my hand and it's very hard to type.

August 26, 2005



I'm starting World and English Lit co-ops on the 6th of September. I know what I want to cover, I done the book lists, I've written out the authors, etc. Now I have to sit down and do a plan. You know, divide everything up through the year so I know what I'm covering. I've put it off. That would be why I now have to do it. I put it off because i absolutely hate this part of teaching. Then I have to start working on lecture notes, etc. That I don't mind so much. Unfortunately I can't do that until I do the first. Why? Why in life must the unpleasant things happen before the pleasant? It's always this way. If you want to enjoy a roller-coaster, you have to drive to the theme park and stand in line. If you want dessert, you have to eat the beets. If you want a relationship, you have to go through the tortorous process of a first, awkward conversation. Arg. [pause for a corny joke told to me by J.C.: Where to pirates go to eat? Aarrrrrrrby's] I should, in fact, being planning now. Instead I'm making fliers for a kick-off meeting tomorrow where, hopefully, I'll pick up some more students.

Added into all of this mix, I'm coming up with a stretching routine for basketball practice. That's harder than it sounds as it consists of looking at multiple routines that different good coaches use and deciding what will work for us. And then, the reader's theatre that the youth group is doing under my direction performs in church on Sunday. The props aren't finished. There isn't a whole lot, but with the dress rehearsal tonight, I have to get that done. I'm not a very good delegator, either. Plus, there's some minor sewing involved and my sister doesn't like to sew.

On top of it all is the lingering issue of what I'm to do with myself after this school year. I know it isn't imminent, but my brain keeps popping it into the foreground when I have regularly minimized it so I don't have to look at it, yet. [you know I'm a little loopy when I start using computer metaphors] I'll be very glad when the youth drama is finished because that will be one less thing on my plate. Then the basketball. Then I get to add trying to write. I'm not really even sure where to begin. Do I just start writing something I like and then try to get it published? Do I look for small freelance jobs that I can do at home? ARG. I think too much.

On that note, I must off to paint hilts on wooden swords and sew sashes for angelic beings. Then I get to start on procrastinated lesson plans. I need a schedule. I'm not very self-motivated. Sigh.

July 29, 2005

tired of lesson plans

I hate lesson plans. This is the only time that I just wish I were using a textbook to teach. There is just so much involved in this. I started by creating a timeline--well, two: 1 for world history and 1 for british history. Then I went through and started inserting literature where it belonged. But I'm still compiling. I really wish I would find some good literature written during/about britain's roman occupation. I have a couple of poets from the a.d. 500s, but that's post rome. It just seems really over-sight-ful to skip straight to Beowulf (800s) when the roman occupation was 400 or so years of history. Hmmm. If anyone has any idea, let me know. At any rate, I'm deep into determining which books the students will have to buy. That's the hardest, really. Some book are obviously necessary: if we read Morte D'Arthur, then obviously they need to have it. On the other hand are the unsure ones: how many Shakespearean sonnets do I want to study? Will it justify them buying a book? On the whole, my idea is to photocopy whatever I can so they don't have to buy 20 books (I'd like to keep it under 10, and hopefully the dover thrift editions will have the right translators). Ah well. I'm also having a hard time deciding what to do with world lit. I mean, there are some really obvious pieces that need to be covered, The Epic of Gilgamesh, The Aeneid, The Iliad, etc. But what about other, smaller pieces? I want to expose the students as much as I can to many cultures/styles. But. . .you can try to cover too much. What about Africa? South America? Do I try to cover those cultures? I do think a major thrust of the course should be western in nature (because that is the foundation for American and British lit), I think it's a mistake to not open the literary windows to as many view as possible--especially in America where so many cultures have amalgamated. And, of course, there is always the length/accesibility of the literature to be considered. Like which Dickens book to read, which parts of The Aeneid are the most necessary and which can be skipped? Don't get me wrong, I have a very good idea of the answer to most of these (esp. as I have taught World Lit before), but it's in the details that I always overanalise. I wonder if what I've decided is good enough. I wonder if I should add something. I wonder if. . . .Sigh. Normally I would just get a rough idea and then wing it as I go, but I have to have a book list. And there's the rub. And that is why I'm busting my chops to get this fairly slighty cemented. And top of that, tomorrow is the second summer basketball clinic. I missed the first. And with this new situation (being assistant), I'm not sure what all that means in application. What exactly is my input and philosophy counted for? I guess there's nothing to do but see. . . .

March 23, 2005

C.A.T. s--stressful, yes.

Yesterday and today my kids are taking the C.A.T.s. It's a little stressful for me--I have this awful fear that there is something I missed teaching them (like in Grammar) that they will need to know for the test. It's funny, the only times I worry about worst case scenarios are when it has to do with my students. I guess I just feel like there is so much riding on this, not just my students performances, but my future job. I shouldn't be worried though: the kids here always do really well on achievement tests.

This week is also a weird school week. The kids are working on learning poems for a poetry recital competition, so I get to use my SP 101 and 102 teacher-type skills again. These kids are actually pretty good. I haven't listened to my upper school students yet, though, because of the testing--I haven't had composition for two days. (I am on high school student withdrawal, I'm afraid--it's going to be difficult next year) So tomorrow I have to cram 13 poetry readings into 45 minutes--that should be fun. I realized that as many work copies as I've done, and as familiar as I am with them, it isn't very easy to explain them to people who haven't done them. But I utilized my syllabi and we plowed through. Mr. Grainger is much better at it than I am! At any rate, while it is a fun change of pace, it makes the school day a little wierd--change-of-paces tend to do that. And to top it off, with testing and the short week, I decided not to give a new history card this week, so we're just filling in and around to finish up the week. It makes things feel disorganized and random. Bleh. It's alright, though, we'll survive--as long as someone doesn't decide to observe me :).

On a completely different note, my athletic director and I had a long talk about the basketball team last week, and the decision that has been made is a good one, but one that puts me in another grow/learn place. Sigh. Actually, it's what we should have done this year but couldn't because of the business he was starting. The decision is that he will be the official head coach of the girls team so that I can learn how to become a better, competitive coach. It's hard for me because I've been in charge of the team for a year, but I know it's what I need to do in order to become the coach I need to be for the team to be competitive in this league. Jeff knows more about which drills to use to develop the skills I know the girls need. So, this should be interesting. Based on what I saw of how he worked with the JV assistant coach, I think I'll have a lot of input and leeway, especially as the year progresses. I also intend to teach myself a lot this summer (which I did not have time to do last summer due to the last minuteness of it all). Sometimes I get so tired of growing!

On an even different note, the varsity softball and baseball teams won last night. My brother has a win for his pitching stats!!!!!!! I'm so proud. They played a great game. The girls played well, but they had an advantage as their opponents are in their first year of play. It showed. But the other school's basketball teams kicked ours this year, so it all evened out. :) They play again tomorrow--the boys have a double header--so I hope they can hold their record. Go Patriots!

February 18, 2005

valentines and teacher appreciation

Although I am not a huge fan of Valentine's Day (it's just so sappy and needlessly coercive/guilt trip-y), I did enjoy it this year. When celebrated with kids it's pretty fun. Snoopy valentines and sprinkle cupcakes are so much more fun than Hallmark cards and flowers. They really are. I've figured out why I prefer spending time with high school kids (guys, esp.) than with most people my age (again, guys, esp.): at some point between high school and after high school, people become like Valentine's Day--they start taking themselve far too seriously. High school kids (and grammar kids) are, for the most part, unabashadly open about how they feel and think. Grown-ups aren't so much. Take flirting, for example. High school kids just have fun with it. They flirt because it's fun, and though they are clumsy, they are transparent. Grown-ups, on the other hand, are pretentious about flirtation. They conjure up ridiculous "pick-up" lines that they attempt to make sophisticated and smooth. And they are either ridiculously over-confident or freakishly stressed-out because they aren't "smooth" enough. Give me clumsy and transparent over sophisticated and smooth any day. I guess that's why I'd rather have Snoopy Valentines over drippy lover cards any day.

So, now that I've covered that. This week has been a review of hand-raising. Gotta love grammar school memory spans. And I had to send a girl to detention yesterday. Bleg. But, she earned three strikes and that means a detention. I'm having to learn how to be a good disciplinarian. I'm not one. I have a tendency to be overly merciful. And then I get to the point where I've given too much mercy and so I'm frustrated with them and me, and then I end up disciplining out of anger. I know that reactionary discipline is bad, but I have trouble avoiding it. However, since I am now working on a "promotion" of sorts (becoming the Dialectic Humanities teacher) for next year, I need to learn. And learn well. And soon. So, one of my colleagues is really helping me out. I have mentioned her before--she's the one that actually helps me by offering goals and suggestions rather than just observations of what's needed. Our earlier projects of room cleanliness and classroom order have really helped. My new project is being strict with deadlines for papers in composition. I have, again, a tendency to be overly merciful. With high schoolers this is really bad because they tend to take advantage of mercy. And this quester they have been really bad--not just with me, they have been turning in late work left and right. So. Another thing for me to improve on. Actually, this is really difficult for me. I have a tendency to take criticism as a personal critique and get defensive when I don't need to, thus much of this growing has more to do with teacheableness than ability to teach. Sigh. But it's good for me.

I must also say that I LOVE TEACHER APPRECIATION WEEK! Not only to my kids give me very sweet gifts, but there is also great food! Yay!

My girls only have one basketball game left. It makes me a little sad because I enjoy seeing them and coaching them, but I am happy to have less stress and more evenings. :) I am excited about doing it next year, though, which kind of surprises me since I wasn't terribly excited about taking the job in the first place. Huh. I guess stuff like that grows on you.

Well, though this isn't a thourough update, I must off to finish writing a syllabus! Yipee!

January 14, 2005

Projects and Stuff

Well, I've been informed that I'm being too easy (academically) on my kids. I'm giving them too much and not expecting enough of their own research, etc. Wow. The transition from high school to grammar school was different for me--but I guess I lost track of the fact that these are pretty advanced kids. So, I'm re-evaluating some things and developing some projects for them to do on their own and more hands-on stuff. I did know that I was in need of some more hands-on projects. I just get caught up and forget about doing them. I guess it's all about revamping as I go--which makes me feel badly because now it's half-way through the year and I'm just starting to get some form of stride (I'm not even sure if I can say it's "my stride" yet). The thing is, I forget that these kids are capable of what my previous students were only barely grasping--doing outside research; and that if we're doing a history card or a lit book, they can take a thread and run with it on their own to present to the class. I keep comforting myself that now I know it and next year will be better. But then I feel badly for my kids that were stuck with a newbie teacher this year. Ah well. It's a good experience for both of us--they get the benefit of experiencing the rawness of me, I get the benefit of experiental learning.

In the spirit of all things hands-on, today we made peanut butter. Wow. That was a messy project!!!!! But it was fun and delicious. The 6th grade is learning about George Washington Carver, so it seemed an appropriate hands-on dealie. We included the 5th graders in the action and everyone had a great time. I love projects too--just not that I get to do the most clean-up afterwards (dishes).

At any rate, I guess I'm going to be "growing" myself, as Mrs. Crawford always said. If anyone who happens to read this has any fond memories of projects that they would like to share, please feel free. :)

January 04, 2005

after-vacation off-ness

I know. It has been far too long since I last entered. My apologies to anyone who happened ot notice. At any rate, the three weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas were soooo hectic. Wow. And rather reminiscent of the Twilight Zone somehow. Christmas vacation was womnderful. I'm not really sure I got my "batteries" charged all the way, but enough, I suppose.

The last two days have been very loud. The kids have been loud, I mean. Today was far more exhausting than yesterday for some reason. In fact, I should be vaccuuming, but I know that if I do, I won't have any remaining energy for basketball practice tonight. Mostly, we've been reviewing yesterday and today. Well, I introduced a new vocabularly list and we're working on a new History card, but mainly reviewing, reviewing, and in between. . .reviewing. Things tend to get fuzzy around the edges in two weeks--even for 5th/6th graders.

On a different note, my brother has been sick the last few days, and I hope the extreme exhaustion I'm feeling has nothing to do with catching it. I find that setting things up for a substitute is far more taxing than just working through the yuck. But contagion and teaching is not a winning combination! So, I hope this is just the after effects of renewed exposure to grammar kids.

Completely unrelated to school: I certainly hope that anyone who reads this is praying and doing what they can to send aid to the victims of the tsunami. I find myself unable to express or communicate the way I feel about the incomprehesible loss of life there. Or my respect for those who are giving and have given so much more than I am able to--time, hands for labour, more money than I can send. Though I do not see any great harbingers of doom in the events, I certainly do take it as a much needed reminder to us all of the transcience of life. These people did not expect to die. They were going about their daily lives, their vacations, their whatevers and death found them. I cannot even begin to imagine what it was like for the survivors; and what it will be like for them to attempt to go on with life. I suppose it would be easier to deal with if there were any enemy to blame, a challenge to issue, a fight to commence. But there is not. The events where merely the happenings of the world on which we live. I do understand that the world on which we live is incapable of functioning without the guidance of the Lord. And I do not understand His ways. But. There is only nature to react to here. No enemy. No affront. No attack. And we are left with somber thoughts of how fragile humans really are and how resonating the smallest miracles. Pray for those who have lost and must continue on. Pray for those who have merely witnessed and ought to live their lives in accordance.

December 15, 2004

field trips and management techniques

Yes, after nearly a month, I strike again. I am still not resigned to losing my high schoolers. But, I am willing to adapt. . .for now. . .as it seems I must.

On a lighter note, Friday I took the 5th/6th graders on a field trip. We went to the planetarium and saw a show. . .rather geared for slightly younger children, but it was fun. . .and then did a hands-on science class about plants. The lady who taught it was slightly mean. Rather than re-direct questions when they were answered wrongly, she would say, "NO! Anyone else?" Just like that. I was a little surprised by her grouchiness on one hand and then over enthusiasm on the other. Weird. It was fun, also, though. We ate lunch on the lawn of the Old State Capitol as it was gorgeous outside, and all the kids got to roll down the hill. That, apparently was the most fun! I really enjoyed myself. It's the first field trip I've been on this year. The 6th grade went to a cotton gin earlier in the year, but I stayed with the 5th grade that day, so this was a nice time for me. A little draining and stressful (after all, as their teacher I'm responsible for their behavior--and they're in public!), but very enjoyable.

That evening was the girls' first home game. That was much more stressful. They played very well--in fact in court presence and ball handling, they had the other team beat hands down. But, no matter how many shots we took, they just wouldn't go in. Well five of them went in, but the other team did much better at the shots attempted/shots made ratio! But the same thing happened to the boys. Wierd karma or something. But, I can tell the girls are improving. And I am learning. And we're all having fun. And that makes it worth every minute.

Okay, back to school. I will readily admit that my greatest weakness as a teacher comes in the class management arena. And that is closely followed by neatness/organization. So, I sat down with a fellow teacher last week--well, she sat down with me to see if I needed some tips/help--and we talked about it. One thing I hate--HATE--is when people come to me and say, for example: the girls need to be more aggressive on the court; or your students need to be neater. And that's all. no suggestions for how to do that, just a statement of the obvious. What I appreciate is the statement followed by an action that I can implement. My colleage fulfilled my need. We came up with a few things to implement to see how they help the general air of the classroom--and improve my management.
*First, we decided that the students need to remain in their desks more during class. ok. I should clarify--they aren't running around like wild creatures during class, but they have often sat on the floor or in our window seat during class. Mary thought that keeping them in their desks more would keep them neater and more attentively quiet. Also, it limits the priviledges of the window seat.
*Second, limit who can sit in the window seat. i decided that the new criteria for the window seat would be that a)the student's name isn't on the board (they get their name on the board when they break a rule, a circle for the second offense, and detention for the third--kind of a three strikes thing), and b)the student's desk is neat and was neat at the end of yesterday. And window seat priveledges are not to be asked for--I will grant them.
*Third, after every subject, everything at their desk needs to be put away. The only thing that may be at their desk other than current work is their pencil box (into which all pencils go at the end of the day) and one thing to work on (like cross-stitch or a book) after they are finished with their work. Everything else goes into their crate after each subject. That has helped amazingly to keep the room clean. I was waiting until the end of the day to straighten up, and that was just too long.

I really appreciated the help with finding specific things to work on, and those things are really helping. We're still struggling a bit with always raising our hands and wait to be called on before speaking, but we're getting there. This week may be the battle ground of proving since it is the last week before Christmas Break!

November 19, 2004


Well, this post is good news/bad news/pray for miracle post. No, I'm not losing my job, and no, the school isn't going away. But some changes have to be made that are really, really sucky.

Tuesday at faculty meeting, our headmaster wasn't there. The meeting was instead led by the grammar school principle. At the board meeting on Monday night, the board made a very difficult decision. Because of difficult finances the last few years--difficulty caused by the fact that the high school (9-12) doesn't have enough students to support itself--the board has decided to close the high school beginning next year. While I know that this is akin to soldiers regrouping for a later assault, it is. . .well, I'm tired of losing people. I'm tired of having my high schoolers taken away from me by decisions out of my hands. Sigh. I do see the advantages of staying K-8 for awhile. Frankly, I think the school overextended itself by starting the high school too soon into its life, anyway. But. I love these kids. And I think this school is phenomenal. And I hate seeing this happen--my high school kids having to go somewhere else. And over and beyond this, (also the result of finances) we are also losing our headmaster. This is the most awful of all. Our headmaster is one of the nicest, most wonderful men I have ever met. He and his family are part of the heart and soul of this school. He has an amazing vision for the school and what it needs to be and become. Frankly, I can't imagine what the school will be like without him, as if losing the high school wasn't enough.

The good news in this is that the K-8th isn't in danger. Being basically self-supporting, it can strengthen and grow in the next few years--and maybe the high school is only on a temporary break. The prayer in this is for a miracle. Not just that we would gain an influx of high school students--enough to prevent the changes here, but also that God might provide finances--enough to stabilize the high school, maybe even enough to stabilize the entire school, for several years. I don't know where that kind of money could come from, but I'm not willing to stop praying, yet. God can make anything happen--that is something He has taught me in the last couple of years. I believe in this school the way it is now, and though regrouping isn't necessarily a bad thing, I hate to see it happen here as it means loss. And that loss is just so painful. Please pray for my school--for God's will, certainly, but for intercession, please. Please. And feel free to spread the word--about the school, about the request.
Here's the school's website:Baton Rouge Christian Classical School

October 19, 2004

another tuesday. . .

Well. Last week was pretty normal. We watched The Alamo with John Wayne. That was fun. It really is a pretty good movie. Of course, I love John Wayne, but it really is pretty good. We watched it for 6th grade history, but I ended up letting the 5th graders watch most of it--it just worked out better that way. Which means I'll have to figure out whether to show it again next year, or what. Of course, that is a year away. . . . Did I mention that almost all my kids failed their first vocabulary quiz. Yikes. And not for lack of my going over things in class, either. But I guess it's good in a way, b/c I find that they rarely realize the importance of paying attention to stuff like that until they see the grade. Or something like that. So, we took that one over again. And now they study vocabulary more. 5th grade is reading Indian Captive right now. It's the story of Mary Jemison who was taken captive by the Seneca Indians when we were still colonies. I'm trying very hard to give them interesting projects for literature rather than just giving them worksheets with short answer questions. I think we'll build a model of a longhouse. They would like that. Not necessarily related to specific content of the book, but it's important. And fun. 6th grade is reading With Lee in Virginia. I do have comprehension questions for that book, but I hate for them to be inundated with short answer worksheets about their books. I want them to enjoy the book for what it is. not that I don't want them to get content--that's important, too, but the gathering of content knowledge should be enjoyable in some way, rather than drudgery. At least, I think so.

Yesterday, my alarm did not go off. My mom woke me up at 7. I usually leave at 6.55. I made it to school (thanks to a secret no-traffic day) at 7.50. Just in time to organize my class for morning assembly. Needless to say, it made my day-start slightly rough. And when coupled with my raging sore throat. . .well, today, despite the frustrations to be chronicled next, has gotten off to a much better start. Stupid alarm.

Today was talk about citations day in upper school composition. They had all turned in their Latin research projects on Friday and only 1 of them had used any form of citations. Apparently the idea of using citations was a foreign concept in some way. So, we covered foot/endnotes, bib notes and MLA parenthetical references for fictional works, reference works and web pages. That was fun. And two of my boys decided today was argue day. One of whom decided to insist the Inc. doesn't mean Incorporated. Insisting to me, no less. Then the two of them decided to argue about my handwriting and whether what I had written on the board was "ar" or "or." Sigh. And it's only Tuesday. Sheesh. It was jsut bizarre all the way around. I even almost had to yell, and I had to threaten a student with a head thwack and detention. Sometimes I wonder why God doesn't let boys skip the wierdness of teenager-hood. It would certainly be easier on parents and teachers. Oh well. I got my discipline muscle mildly stretched. We'll see how far they decide to push. I don't think they realize that if they push me to the line, they'll be horribly sorry. (insert evil smile) Anyway. What a week already.

October 11, 2004

emotional meltdowns

Inside recess and the second inside lunch in a row (thank you TS Matthew) lead to issue. Usually those issues are just hyperactivity issues (all kids need to run around at least twice a day--even high schoolers!). Friday they led to emotional issues. It happened in last hour history. At the beginning of the hour, they had been studying around the room. I instructed them to return to their desks to get ready for the test. As they did so, Sarah asks, "Can we have the pillows for the treehouse?" (to put behind their backs at the desks) I said, "No, I want you to leave the pillows in the treehouse." It turns out one of the girls, Blakely, already had a pillow at her desk and so had to go put it up. I didn't think a thing of it, I hadn't out the test and off we went. After Sarah had turned in her test, I noticed her whimpering in her desk. I called her over to find out what was wrong--apparently she had been told she was a tattletale and mean for asking about the pillows. I told her she did the right thing and it was very courageous of her. She felt better and went back to her desk. I then noticed that Hannah was actually sobbing in her desk. I called her over and asked her what was wrong. She wouldn't tell me. So I kept asking her. Then she said she didn't want to tell me because it would hurt my feelings. I am now completely baffled, trying to remember if I'd said anything mean to her without meaning to. Finally I pry it out of her: she's jealous of Sarah and me. I should insert here that due to Sarah's emotional struggles, I have been attentive to her moods and giving her small bits of attention that she needs. Apparently, Hannah had become jealous of those small attentions (she is my drama queen from the circumcision episode) and was uncontrollably upset about it. So I told her that Sarah had a lot of problems to deal with right now, but that Hannah was just as important to me as Sarah. And that if she had any problems, she could talk to me. And if she felt like I wasn't listening, she could ask me to please listen. I gave her a hug and she went back to her desk much more composed. I however was now completely drained and wanted to cry myself. Sigh. And I though teenaged girls were bad!!! Every day is an adventure!

October 04, 2004

October and Grandparents Day

FYI: to those who have had confusion issues about posting comments--sorry about that. I had an epic battle with the comment posting "preferences" and finally won, so you should be good to go.

Friday was Grandparents' Day. Boy I was nervous about that. Turned out to be not so big a deal. I was grateful. Actually, it was mainly not a big deal because the grandmother of one of my students was in England during WWII and the kids were all interested in hearing her stories. Of course, I'm always nervous about having people in the room when I teach--esp. on Friday, the slowest and most relaxed day of the week for me. I'm glad that Parent Day will be on Tuesday--the day will appear to be more structured. It's just strange for me because you don't have Days for high school students--just open house, and nobody is judging your teaching for open house. God gives grace, though.

So, I've made it to October. This week is Jamestown/The Alamo week. I've gotten much better about reviewing history cards every day, thanks to my lesson a couple of weeks ago. And I get to learn along with them, which I enjoy. It really is simple to learn the basic events and dates this way. That way the rest of my random historical knowledge has some benchmarks to hang onto. Of course, that is the point behind the system. :)
Literature is somthing I'm still getting a handle on. I'm not used to having to rush through stuff, covering a bunch of short things as we go. Basically, we cover one or two books a quarter: reading in class, doing some worksheets and projects, discussing what is being read. It's way more. . .laid back,I guess...than what I'm used to. So basically I don't feel like I'm doing enough. Sigh. I do think, now that we're through our first book, that I have a better grasp on what to do than I did with this first book. That's good, I guess, I just wish the knowledge had been implanted a la The Matrix than having to learn by trial and error. I guess that just means they'll get more out of the next books! Also, if anyone knows of any good books about the Oregon/California trail for 6th graders, let me know. We need a different book than the one they read now.
This week is also a science week. Plants. Which means some outdoor excursions. Should be interesting. 5th grade boys outside. . .interesting.
It's hard to believe it's already October. And at the same time it seems so much longer than that. I suppose using a different teaching method (and teaching different grades) has really thrown off my usually time-guessing premonition. And, to add more to my plate, I start my volunteer job as home school varsity girls basketball coach tonight. Ack!!! I'm really nervous about that--mainly because I'm flying by the seat of my shorts with this one. Boy, oh, boy. I need a lot of grace!

September 24, 2004

Inside Recess, Sailing Ships and Lockers

I hate inside recess/lunch. Actually, the inside recess isn't too bad since I have recess duty everyday and expect to be surrounded by children for that half-hour. It's the inside lunch that got to me. I guess that although I realized how much I enjoyed the half-hour of silence that usually accompanies lunch, I didn't completely appreciate it. Now I do. Ah well.

Now to the ships. I have never done a craft project with students. High Schoolers aren't exactly hands-on project types, you know. I have now been initiated into the world of paper mache and tempera paint. My 5th grade students are studying explorers right now and so we built two sailing ships. They turned out really nicely. The project was just messy enough to be exciting (flour paste is always interesting), and the kids really liked seeing the ships come together. I let them team up as boys vs. girls. Hmmm. I will say that the girls' ship was. . .well, it evidence more care and attention. The boys shows more. . .imagination. The girls were very neat and careful about their application of paper strips and painted their ship brown with a fairly good representation of the British flag hung at the top of the main-mast. The boys were less careful with their paper, being mainly interested in gooping their fingers. Their boat is named "S.B.B." for "Super Bee Boat," so named because they painted the interior of their boat yellow and black stripes. The outside is red with brown only on the very bottom and the top rim of the hull. They have two flags: one striped with a bee and one for Georgia Tech. Don't ask. At any rate, everyone was thoroughly pleased with the final products, so there you go. Frankly, I really enjoyed myself, too. I got goopy hands and painty fingers, and really enjoyed watching the kids.

Lockers. Who would think that something as simple as lockers would cause tumultuous joy among 6th grade girls. my 6th graders have much stuff (my 5th graders do, also, but I think milk crates are going to be the solution) and small desks. my headmaster and myself had previously discussed giving the 6th grade some of the extra upper school lockers, but I had waited to see if we needed them. My 6th grade girls decided they needed them of their own accord. So they asked me if they could have lockers having already checked to see how many extras there were. I told them that Mr. Elliott and I had discussed it before, so I would check with him. I did, and we decided to give them lockers. Now, lest one think otherwise, the boys were happy about getting lockers. For the girls, though, "happy" is an understatement. Squealingly gigglingly joyous would be more accurate. From the 3 girls I got 6 hugs, 12 We love You's, and a note. Wow. Who would have thought. And of course, 3 coversations about which cute actors would be appearing on their locker doors. Sigh. These are the things that make the frustrating days worth it--like the day I had to converse with my 6th graders about why they had to do grammar stuff that they "already know." If only I had know--give them lockers and it wouldn't matter anymore!

on a more serious note: One of my 5th graders, Sarah, needs some serious prayer. Her mom is going through treatment for breast cancer, and Sarah isn't doing very well at all. Her school work is suffering. She says she's slow and stupid. And the last couple of days that has developed into hating herself and saying she wishes she could die. Yesterday, she tried to hurt herself with scissors and when the counselor asked her why she said, "I want to hurt myself because I hate my life because my mom is sick." Please, please include her in your prayers. And me, because my heart aches for her and I really need guidance to know what to do and say to help her.

September 13, 2004

sigh. small failures

Well, I had a wake-up call on Friday. I had failed to review both history cards and grammar terms the way I should have been, i.e. daily. Boy did I realize it on Friday. Friday is History test day--and this Friday also managed to hold a Grammar quiz. I realized my failure when they started with the questions. Too many questions. Over things they should have had in their head. Things that weren't enough in their head because of me. Because I failed to review the material every day the way I know I should have. I guess it was bound to happen. I guess I'm still not used to the routine of reviewing and reviewing and chanting facts and reviewing even more that is the essence of the setup here--and really should be the essence of all grade school teaching. Well, I learned my lesson this time. As much as I desire to fill in with stories and extra facts, I cannot do so to the detriment of reviewing the facts every single day. Sigh. I mainly just felt really dumb. And I was definitely easier on their grades than I would have been otherwise. After all, it was my fault they struggled with this day of tests, so why should they be penalized for my failure as a teacher? This week, we already started off on a better foot. I took today to re-cover the grammar issues we hadn't gotten a handle on last week; and in History class, I made sure to review our previous dates and facts. Whew.

On a different and in a way lighter note, I have to share my "circumcision" story. Boy oh Boy (no pun intended.). We are reading through I Corinthians in Bible, which can be controversial enough if you let it (the school policy is to avoid controversy and simply make sure the students know the basic facts found in each book--very difficult with 10/11 year-olds who have a special way of asking weird questions). Well, this particular day I hadn't had a chance to read ahead and see what we would be covering, so I discovered in class that we had a small verse about circumcision. Gee whiz. Frankly, the context meant it should have been easy: that whether you were circumcised or uncircumcised didn't matter in Christ. So I mentioned that Paul was using the word "circumcised" to refer to Jews--that Jews were circumcised as a sign. So up comes the hanDATE: "What is circumcised?" "Well, it's something God commanded the Jews to do to show that they were His people." "But what is it?" So I ask: "Who knows what circumcised means?" All buy two students raise their hands. Now I'm in a fix b/c if I don't explain it, my problem becomes that all but two students know this mysterious secret. Great. So, after a long, awkward pause (after all, how to you tactfully explain to 10 year olds. . . ) I respond "It's something that's done by cutting off extra skin on boy's private parts." Whew. Thought I was clear until my resident drama queen (one of the two who didn't know) decided that was just too traumatic. She became horribly melodramatic and when I corrected her for that, decided that staring-off-into-space silence was the best way to continue her attention getting. Which worked for about 1 minute as everyone asked "Is Hannah okay?" etc. I instructed the class to pay attention to me and we moved on. Hannah, my drama, queen, I later discovered kept her stunned silence all through Latin the following hour. Finally in history, after I talked to her for about 5 minutes, everything was evened out; leaving me relieved, yet replaying the scene over and over wondering if I could have handled thing any differently. So I e-mailed my curriculum advisor (also one of my moms) and she said I did just fine. And that I could use it to pave the way for future wierdnessess by having a little talk "You all are in the 5th/6th grade now and old enough to start learning about more adult things. . . ." I did, and so far, we're okay. Yeesh. Kind of a baptism by fire into the world of grade schoolers. Anyway. My little drama does keep me on my toes, but we've avoided the melodramatic silence recurrence. Thankfully. So the moral of the story is--have the talk about being older and expecting somewhat mature behavior before you read about circumcision. It's much more peaceful that way!

September 03, 2004

history and literature, schmistory and schmiterature

The title doesn't completely reflect my attitude, but it was fun to write, so I left it. Forgive me my slip of silliness.

I may have mentioned this before, but bear with me. I appreciate the way history is dealt with in the classical way. Sans textbook, I must do research--small amounts, to be sure, but still research. This fits intrisically with the idea that a school is people coming together to learn--though I am the teacher, I am also learning. And by always learning myself, I remain ever-fresh in my presentation and attitude. Another advantage to this form is that I am presented with several sources of information that I must reconcile rather than being tempted to assume that the textbook I am using presents the truth rather than the post-modern interpretation of it. What I also like is that the students are not overwhelmed by pages and pages of information that they won't ever remember. Instead, the students focus on memorizing essentially 32 major dates in the segment of history that we study. I fill in information to complete the picture, but they only need to remember the dates and basic facts for each of the 32 history cards that they study. This, of course, is based on the idea that grammar aged students memorize facts very well. If we limit the facts they are responsible for to the most important, they can focus and then remember them. When they reach upper school, they will have a bank of benchmarks around which to build as they expand their study. This has been very freeing for me as a teacher.

Literature, on the other hand is harder. One, because I have the two grades together. Two, because without a textbook (though I despise Literature textbooks) it means I have to be creative and proactive when coming up with projects and questions. Sigh. That is definitely a test of my literature teaching ability. And I wonder if I'm really infusing them with a love for what they're reading. Of course the first books we've read aren't spectacular classics, so many I shouldn't be hard on myself. Still, I wonder. I hope I'm doing this right!

Other than my small turmoil over my effectiveness as a literature teacher for 10 and 11 year-olds, school has gone well. I apologize for not posting in so long--it has been busy and exhaustifying. Since Monday is Labor Day, I hope to take some time and write more about the adventures we've had the last 2 weeks in class. And if anyone has fond memories of history and literature projects from 5th and 6th grade, feel free to pass them along!!!!

August 23, 2004

One week survived--with wonders

Fifth and sixth grade kids are wonderful. A little silly, yes; but nevertheless, wonderful. We made it through the first week--really three days and a half. Getting used to the schedule and the difference in teaching was more demanding than I expected. I think maybe I'm still reading/talking too much and not conversing enough. Sigh. I am definitely also a learner here.

Today we had a discussion--brief--about Van Gogh (to be continued later) that included a look at his self-portrait. We ended with the following basic ideas: that not selling any of your paintings would indeed be very depressing. That Impressionism was kind of strange. That Van Gogh looks like a hairy wolf-man in the painting. That if he hadn't been so worried and depressed he would have been a nice-looking man. That he was probably kind. We even discussed schitzophrenia (which I have probably spelled wrong) and other mental ailments briefly. It was interesting. It is amazing how much thought really goes on in the minds of 10 and 11 year-olds! I haven't managed to get such interesting discussions going in Literature and History--but we have had a few. We have decided that Columbus was determined, but arrogant and greedy. But that he was brave to lead men into the unknown. And that the Monroe Doctrine (which we decided was similar to putting masking tape across the backseat on road trips) was pretty smart. And that there are times when it must be compromised (WWI and WWII).

I have decided that I prefer the conversational method of teaching--that I learn almost as much from hearing their perspectives as they learn from hearing me teach. Plus, I don't have to read boring textbook stuff to them! Though there is reading that must be done in History (to contextualize and expand the basic date/event info they must memorize), it is much more enjoyable to read it from non-textbook books. For some reason, textbook writers have decided that kids should hate history and have made history books dry and boring enough to cause that response. Something I greatly love about the classical approach to learning is that it tends more toward a literary approach to history. I think students are much more drawn in by such an approach--and I like it better as a teacher.

I haven't had to send anyone to detention, yet. I feel it coming though. I have two. . .well, three... students who have trouble containing themselves. So they tend to randomly blurt things out and then have trouble stopping the speech when they need to. And I hate to send them to detention for that, but it is disruptive to the classroom atmosphere--like an overzealous player who can't contain himself to his area in the field, but tries to help everybody else when they don't need it. You have to commend his passion, but his lack of restraint cause conflict. Sigh. My colleage in the 3rd/4th room has already sent three children to detention and feels like the evil teacher. I suppose I will catch up to her by the end of the week--we'll see. Yuck. As much as I understand how discipline is needed, I despise administering it. I suppose that is a healthy attitude to have. If I relished punishing kids, I would worry about my heart health.

Friday was our day to be involved in "Logic Boot Camp." Logic boot camp is for the Dialectic and Rhetoric kids to get a crash-course review in the principles of Logic. This year they also learned the basic principles of teaching and prepared lessons for the 3rd/4th and 5th/6th grades. They divided into two teams and presented lessons to the classes in the morning and organized logic oriented games in the afternoon. That was really neat. I was so excited to see actual principles of logic being taught (one of my pet-peeves is the stupidity of debate nowadays with logical fallacies flying left and right and people swallowing them whole). And it was a fun time for my kids to spend with the upper school kids.

In all, the first week was eye-opening for me as a teacher--I have more adjusting to do than I thought--and a joy. My kids are great and we are having a fun time. And so far, I haven't heard any complaints from parents, so I guess I'm doing all right. :)

August 16, 2004

Day 1--Parent Orientation

This was a new thing for our school. Instead of a regular first day of school, we had a half-day for parents to come (rather like an open house) and get a taste of what school would be like this year and what to expect. Whew. A little nerve racking worrying about making a good impression and all, but a good experience.

My classroom will be a baseball team this year. I love baseball. Adore baseball. But more importantly, there is much to be learned from the game. Of course, baseball has never been and is certainly not now an always idyllic representation fo the ideal, but even in a day of sports egos and paycheck frenzy, the principle that I have transferred to my class are still very much present and necessary.

Principle one: 100% individual effort + 100% team effort = good playing. In other words, both of these ingredients are equally necessary to have a competitive team. A baseball team is a single entity made up of at least 9 individuals. If one person on the team skimps on effort, it could cost the team the game. Every player must come to every game ready to contribute to the team. Equally so, the 9+ individuals must be ready to play as a team. If the shortstop is doing a great job catching ground balls and covering the space between 2nd and 3rd, but fails to communicate with the team or cover the 2nd and 3rd basemen, the team will probably lose. And his teammates won't be to friendly after. :) The point is one phenominal player can't carry a team, and a team can't function with selfish players.
In the classroom, the principle is applied easily, expecially in a classical setting. Classical learning employs the socratic method (mainly on the upper levels, but grammar children use it as well) of questioning. Thus, if a student comes to class unwilling to participate, the rest of the class suffers. The discussion is hobbled because one student hasn't come with 100% effort that day. Equally, if the class refuses to work as a team, discussion is hobbled. Selfishness impairs the class as whole in the learning and succeeding process.

Principle two: Mutual respect. Granted, in our day there is less of this than there used to be (a societal ill, unfortunately), however it is still indispensable to the team effort. If A-rod doesn't respect the ability of Derek Jeter, he will waste time and effort trying to take over for him. And in the process, cause errors that will lose the game. Players must have respect for the other teammembers in order to trust them with the ball. And they must have respect for the manager and coaches in order to improve. Of course, the manager must respect the ability of the players or he won't be able to teach and encourage them the way he needs in order to create a winning team. Mutual respect is required in order to have a well-functioning team.
In the classroom, obviously, the students must respect the teacher or they can't learn a thing. But they must also respect each other in order to have the right environment for learning. If Johnny doesn't respect Suzie, then there will be cruelty and rudeness--and Suzie will stop interacting with Johnny and Johnny's friends, etc. To coin a verse, a class divided can't succeed.

For fun, I used baseball terms to quantify consequences and priviledges--errors, assists, strikes, automatic outs, etc. Maybe I'm carrying my love of baseball too far, but at least it's fun. My parents are all very supportive. My kids all very excited. And tomorrow begins our yearlong adventure. Go Team!!

August 11, 2004

Meeting Day 2

Well, another day of meetings is done. I have much less to say today. . .I think. The main focus of today was the ideal spirit of the school--kind of the philosophical main points that were applied yesterday. (yes, a little backwards, but it couldn't be helped.) At any rate, the headmaster made two points today: that we strive for/to instill a spirit of honour/biblical fear (for God, for authority, for each other as teachers) and that we strive for/to instill a spirit of ownership (for "our world," recognizing that our actions, our words and our attitudes are our responsibility). That we are to expect and to strive for the ideal in these--that Christ is the ideal example and the paradigm for which we aim. That if we expect such from our students (rewarding the victories and correcting the failures), they wil strive to become better people. The final points were made by the facilities supervisor: that this spirit of honour and ownership applies to even the mundanities of keeping the buildings clean. That in requiring students to aid in cleanliness and orderliness we are teaching them to honour others and their property, and own responsibility for their actions and their school. And interesting thought--that the starting points of being a better person extend to a part of life we don't usually view as character-filled. Hmmm. Sometimes I feel as though I am learning less about teaching than about merely living in a better way. But I suppose that's the point, really. If I am learning to live better, I can lead my students that way, also.

August 10, 2004

Meeting Day 1

Today was the first day of orientation meetings for all teachers. Yesterday was new teacher meeting day with the headmaster. Mainly a review of school philosophy and an opportunity to cover what we will say to parents on the first day about expectations, etc. Today was a benchmark for the school as a whole, really--a refocusing of the teachers and parents on what really are the foundational goals and principles of the school. The reason for the refocusing was a feeling that the school was slipping into "academic" mode. "But what is wrong with academics?" you might ask. Priority. You see, the focus of BRCCS is not necessarily high test scores, or mounds of factoids pounded into malleable heads--it is to graduate better people. In nurturing better people, you will of a necessity create excellent students, but it is a matter of what is the foundation. It comes down to what type of atmosphere the school should have--what are the non-negotiables of the "world" of the school. Today there were many answers: community, knowledge, wisdom, honesty, justice, mercy, excellence, respect, standards of behavior, courtesy, a nurturing environment, etc. In order to create and maintain this type of "world," however, the world must have the right foundation. Is that foundatiion academics? Probably not. In fact, no. The right foundation to support this world is. . .discipline. I know, I know: the image/thought in your mind is probably a negative one. Discipline=correction of wrongdoing. But that is only half of discipline. Discipline is also reward. Discipline is creating a a set of guidelines that contribute to the type of nurturing you wish children/students to receive.The type of nurturing that will, God-graciously, produce the type of people you wish to see. Thus, in order to create an environment full of excellence, nurturing and virtue you must create and enforce the rules that produce such an environment. (Enforcement being both consequences for missing the mark and rewards/priviledge for excelling.) An example of such a rule is Girls Go First. A new school policy is that the only reason a boy should be rushing ahead of girls in line, etc., is to open and hold the door for them. Think of the ramifications of this policy, the creation of respect for women it imparts in boys. And the response of "Thank you" from the girls imparts gratefulness for that respect.

By imposing such guidelines, the school creates a world in which better people are formed. By creating a foundation of discipline/nurturing (for it is truly nurturing), the school more easily facilitates the imparting of knowledge, wisdom and understanding--the trinity of true learning. By imparting knowledge, wisdom and understanding; the school creates not only good students who value learning, but also people to whom virtue, morality and character matters. And in reality, if a the goal of a Christian classical school is anything other than creating better, more Christ-like people, then it has missed that mark. Academics, as such, serves a purpose, but only in its place. To place it above and outside of discipline and the learning trinity is to create people with many factoids and no compass for life-application--the unfortunate product of many modern schools, even Christian ones, sadly. At any rate, I appreciated the paradigm/ perspective shift. It fits impeccably with both classical philosophy that fits learning and living together and Christian philosophy that puts spirituality and life together. And certainly fits with my philosophy that education is inseparable from creating thoughtful people who know who to feed their trinity of being. And without discipline all that is merely a pipe dream.

August 05, 2004

Stand and Deliver

Thought for the day: teachers watching movies about teachers is an excellent example of poetic learing. (Poetic learning being learning by experience/intuition.) By watching these movies, one is able to slip into their experience--to walk in their shoes a little--and thus learn from them.

At any rate, I watched Stand and Deliver Tuesday. Outside of just the sheer beauty of the performances in this movie, there is much to dig out. This is the story of a teacher (Jaime Escalante played by Lou Diamond Philips) who believes in his students when no one else does. The faculty at the school are either just filling in time because they don't have anything else to do; or else they are burnt out, disillusioned and filled with an "us vs. them" attitude that cannot see potential anymore. Escalante comes in an stirs the pot. He believes something no longer popular in education circles: that "students will rise to the level of their expectations." Imagine that. So he teaches his basic math students Algebra. Then he decides that they can indeed master Calculus. So he offers summer school courses in Trig and Higher Math to prepare them for Calculus their senior year. No one really thinks these barrio kids can do it. But they do. All 18 pass the Calculus AP test. And because they've done something so unexpected, ETS thinks they cheated. Here we see another amazing quality of Escalante--his passion for his students. He believes in them enough to risk his career and stand up for them. In the end, the students must retake the AP test under the scrutiny of the ETS investigators. They all pass again.

I found this man's faith and passion inspiring--and so against this modern educational idea that if you can get "underpriveledged" kids just to read and pass through, that's all you can expect. Baloney. That is true discrimination. Students will rise to meet their expectations.

A small gem of the movie--Escalante gets his kids to memorize formulas in a simple, now considered "outdated" manner--class repetition. My confidence is renewed that I can get 6th graders (who are starting to feel too cool for grammar jingles) to stick with class repetition as a means to an end. Maybe we can even rap a little. :) At any rate, that is what I learned from this movie.

On an aside: I will probably post this on my main site also, but I wanted to say a brief thing that really has nothing and everything to do with Christian classical education. This morning I watched a movie called Pitch Black. I will give the brief disclaimer that it is rated "R" because the language is profuse and there is some gore. (However, anyone who has watche a Robert De Niro movie--language in this isn't nearly so bad.) That said, this was a great movie. But here is my point. As Christians, we should be able to see the hand of God everywhere and in all things. As a Christian classical educator, I especially want to be able not only to see His hand, but also to convey to my students that they should see His hand in all things. Even in secular works of art/film/fiction. This movie has such a heart-stopping Christ-figure moment. And I would never have expected it. Unfortunately, I do have to somewhat spoil the end to give it to you. But knowing the end doesn't really spoil the movie. And I'll try to be vague enough. . . . Riddick is about to make his getaway, leaving some people behind on this planet. He is stopped by one of the characters who has braved the incredible danger to follow him. There is a scuffle and this character ends up immoblized with Riddick's knife at his/her throat. He/she is refusing to leave the others behind and he asks "Are you willing to die for these people?"
"I'm willing to try."
"That isn't what I asked. I asked if you were willing to die for these people."
pause. "Yes."
They return for the others. When they are almost to the ship, Riddick is stopped by two of the creatures. While the rescued ones get into the skiff, the character returns to help Riddick, finding him wounded by the creatures, but alive. He/she begins to help him back to the skiff encouraging him with "I said I would die for them, I didn't say I would die for you--now come on. Let's go!" Suddenly, as they struggle back you realize this character has been stabbed. For a moment, as the camera switches between their eyes (eyes being a huge theme in the film) you fall back on your ealier opinion of Riddick and wonder if he has stabbed he/she. Then he/she is ripped away--stabbed and grabbed by one of the creatures as Riddick cries "Not for me! Not for me!"
At the end, Riddick escapes with the others--free because he has "died" on the planet. I was stopped. I sat focused on the fact that this man--who admittedly believes in God yet hates Him--received mercy by the death of another. Even he felt himself unworthy of the sacrifice. Yet beyond that, the death was even more vicarious--because his identity was able to die in that instant. He did die on that planet--as someone else.
Admittedly, I don't think an unbeliever would rush to church over that one. But for me, the literary Christ figure was haunting. Another example of seeing God in even the most unlikely of places.

August 02, 2004

Method vs. Content

This will be brief. I've made a simple, yet profound, discovery--and brought to light what I think will be my greatest challenge in entering the realm of classical education. I am a content teacher. My head is full of random facts and a passion for learning more. Yet, the grammar level is at least equally about methods as it is about content--if not more so in some subjects. Hmmm. Now I must address things from a slightly different corner of the ring. Although content is still an area that I must work on, I now need to focus some energy on becoming ever aware of methods in the classroom. Sigh. Just when I think I've got a handle on things. . . .So there it is. Soon to come--what I learned about teaching from Stand and Deliver.

July 15, 2004

Dead Poets

Sorry it's been so long since my last post. In the meantime, I switched classrooms with the 3rd/4th grade teacher (boy, that was work--so many books to carry) and finished up most of my lesson plans. The day-to-day stuff isn't finished, but that has to be done through-out the year, really.

I also watched the first of my "required" movies, Dead Poets Society. Let me tell you, that was so difficult. (note happy sarcasm) Of course you are probably wondering the purpose of watching this film. Everything kind of boils down to learning how to be a master teacher. Prof. Keating is truly a master teacher. Of course, he does have flaws, the greatest of which is his lack of communication/ follow-through with parents--a mistake that inevitably causes him tremendous pain. Also, his relationship with the administration isn't exactly a model of communication and understanding. But that can be carefully laid at the feet of hyperbole to make a point. Here is the poinTITLE: it takes more than just knowledge to make a great teacher. Keating brings several things to his class that no other teacher had done for these boys.
*He brings tremendous love and enthusiasm for his subject. By truly showing it to his students, they want to learn more about it. If he loves it so much, there must be something to it.
*He adds an air of mystery to his subject and himself. The very introduction of the "Dead Poets Society" to the boys creates something for them to discover. Keating makes poetry seem dangerous and tantilizing.
*He is a person they can trust and respect. As the students begin to see and understand aspects of Keating, they love him because he is trustworthy and demands that his students respect him for who he is.
*He keeps his students on their toes. Keatings boys never really know what to expect from him. Of course, for the sake of the film, we don't see the average daily class, but we do realize that he finds random ways to shake things up. He puts students on the spot, thus ensuring that all the students are paying attention as they might be next. He adds movement to class--they aren't stuck in a desk every class period. They go outside. They move around the school. Obviously this can't be done in every school all the time, but there are ways to add movement within the class, helping the students to stay aware and to realize that learning even literature isn't just about sitting in a desk reading.
*He relates his subject to every-day life--to reality. Keating puts the boys in context by showing them previous classes of boys who went through the same course, the same things. On the soccer field, he shows the boys that the emotions and ideas expressed in classic poetry are the same things they feel--universality. He brings his boys to the play, showing them the ultimate expression of dramatic poetry and that it can touch them. He doesn't leave poetry in the classroom.
*He opens new doors of thought to the students by approaching the subject in the opposite way that they expect. The boys are expecting dull, dry analysis; Keating grabs their attention by coming in a different door: the door of emotional expression. By changing their perspective, he enables them to look at things from different sides--rounding out their perception.
*He allows them access to himself beyond the classroom. The boys are able to see and test Keating in the "real world" beyond the structure of the class hour. They see his reactions and actions, giving them an opportunity to judge his character and see if he is consistent. He becomes a real person to them instead of "just" their teacher.

Now, obviously every teacher can't be a Micheal Keating/Robin Williams persona every second of the day. BUT, the things he does to awaken his students can be applied by every teacher. For a teacher in a classical school, this is even more necessary. Since the goal of classical education is to teach students how to learn, teaching them to love learning is vital. Bringing energy, trust, a variety of perspective, a grabbing by the collar to the classroom is essential. I would also suggest communication with administration and parents. (smile) Becoming a master teacher in any school doesn't happen overnight, of course, but applying these qualities to teaching is a major step along the way.

June 26, 2004


What is a Christian classical school? Fair question. And one which I hope to answer.

First I will address the idea of a Christian school. Most people think they know what being a Christian school entails: uniforms, standards and a Bible class. Yet that is little more than your average private school with some denominational orientation thrown in. A truly Christian school seeks to remember that the "chief end of man is to glorify God. . . ." A truly Christian school remembers that the very act of living is in praise of Him and thus every act of living should be surrounded by Him. And a truly Christian school gives students the opportunity to discover the answers to the "negotiable" questions on their own. Thus, a Christian school should teach every subject from a biblical perspective--teaching in the light that the all-powerful, sovereign God controls every aspect of life and infuses every discipline of man--rather than simply tacking on a chapel or a Bible class. However, a truly Christian school should not fall to the temptation to institute a box for thinking. Students should and must be taught the basics of the faith--and the reasons why they are true. But beyond the basics, students should be allowed to discuss the sides, to turn to their parents for answers, and to come to the conviction they see best. For without training the students to reasonably examine and determine their own position on "negotiable" issues--students are left with a set of "beliefs," but no idea why they are true, or why they should believe them. A truly Christian school should not discourage questioning, it should equip the students with the tools and scriptures to answer the questions.

Now, to the harder task: answering the question, "what is a classical school?" I will warn you that you will have to think outside of "traditional" educational methodology for a few minutes. For about a hundred years, schools have been structured according to the idea that students should be given a set of "subjects" to master by the time they graduate. For example, History. We take a student and teach them over the period of 12 or 13 years a large number of chronological facts that are mainly divorced from every other area of study. These facts we expect them to absorb and spit back out for tests, etc., and then we turn said students out into the world with a vague idea that the world has some historical facts and events. But they never learn more than that. The idea behind what is termed "classical" education goes beyond the mere mastery of subject matter. The idea is to teach children the methods of learning so that they can master any subject they find to be interesting. We'll get back to history in a minute. The basic structure of a classical education follows the Trivium: grammar, logic (dialectic), and rhetoric. Grammar is the study of the parts of language. Every discipline has its own "grammar." History has facts, dates, events; Math, numbers and processes; English, parts of speech and syntax; Science, elements and definitions. In the grammar stage, students learn these tools--the elements and order of the languages. They learn to take apart a "subject" to examine and learn its basic parts. Logic is the study of using and applying those parts of the language. By experimentation and application they understand how the parts work together. Rhetoric is the study of expression. Now that students have learned the elements of a language and how those elements are used and applied, they can learn to express their own thoughts and ideas in that language. These steps helpfully mirror the intellectual development of students (a discussion I will leave to wiser minds, like Sayers). So, back to history. How is history different? Classical students learn facts and events, also, yet not nearly as many. The emphasis is on learning the watershed points. They learn to place these facts and events in their historical context, through literature, and they also learn to apply the lessons learned. In the Grammar stage, facts are learned. By the logic stage, students are learning the connection that historical events have with literature and philosophy. Because the emphasis is on mastery of a process that is the same in all disciplines, students are able to learn connections. A caveaTITLE: the average classical student in middle school will have less individual subject knowledge that the average traditional student. The difference is that the classical student has learned a methodology that will enable him to master any subject he desire to study, whereas the traditional student has only learned the content knowledge. Classical students learn the tools they have to work with, how the tools work and how to apply them to their personal expression.

Wow. I don't know if that makes a great deal of sense. I hope so. It is only a brief overview of Christian classical education. I will leave you with a link to an excellent speech/essay by Dorothy Sayers. She explains things much better than I do. So for a deeper look, please read "The Lost Tools of Learning."
lost tools

June 24, 2004


So. I really wasn't expecting all the prep work in going to this school. Okay, maybe I was, but I was hoping it wouldn't be quite so much. The movie part won't be so bad :) but the reading was. . .well good and bad. Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning by Doug Wilson was good. I enjoyed it because it spoke from his personal experience founding a classical Christian school. Not beign Presbyterian, I didn't agree with all of his philosophy, but I found the book very helpful in getting my teeth around the general philosphy of classical Christian education. The Seven Laws of Teaching, on the other hand, was not so easy to get through. The book, by John Milton Gregory, was excellent as far as thesis and core information was concerned. It was inceredibly wordy, however. Of course, that could be because it was written in the 1880's and the style then was rather. . .overly word-filled. However, as repetition is the key to learning, I guess I can't get too irritated about it. Actually, he really explains the keys to being a good teacher--keys that are often forgotten in a day of curriculum methodology and psychology classes. I really felt that he had a handle on what to keep in mind as one is teaching. Right now, I feel well prepared to tackle both classical Christian philosophy (from Wilson) and the application of it (from Gregory). I say this knowing full well that after my first day my feelings of well-preparedness will very likely shatter and I will return to both books to regain myself. But that, I suppose, is the lot of everyone who embarks on a new endeavor!