Thursday, October 28, 2010


People talkin' sh*t but when the sh*t hit the fan, everything I'm not made me everything I am. ---Kanye West, "Everything I Am"

I had a horrible realization today that was completely inevitable. I wish I could say that I didn't see it coming, but I know that I did. I mean, it's something I've sort of embraced, but I can see that it will be an obstacle (and maybe a blessing?) in my teaching: I am utterly uncool.

When I say uncool, I mean perpetual nerd. I love Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter and you WILL lose a trivia game against me. I read about three books at a time and there's a giant, leaning tower of books on my nightstand of to-reads. I'm talking about a work-a-holic who gets excited about wordsearches, crossword puzzles, looking up new words, and unit planning. I watch as many documentaries as I do t.v. shows in my Netflix queue. I love to learn. (Learner is my #1 strength according to Clifton Strengthsfinder. Achiever is number two. Weird, right?)

I'm also talking about how uncool I was in high school. Straight-A, teacher's pet, overly-involved, going-stag-to-senior-prom uncool. I had ZERO fashion sense (no interest in that sort of thing 'til college...thankfully things have changed). I lacked a sense of rhythm and a set of good, reliable tweezers. Fortunately, I think that this part of my past can hide safely from my students, brushed under a rug of "let's steer clear of these kinds of questions, kids," as I sheepishly move the conversation in a different direction.

Here I am, as close in age as I will ever be to my students, yet I am finding that I can't even connect with them on the most basic level. Major failure there, Starfleet. To grab their attention one day, I threw a picture of Megan Fox in the middle of my powerpoint. That was my first attempt to show them that I am human, even if I am completely repulsed by her. I tried to use pop culture references such as Anchorman or Zoolander, but gosh, even those movies are dated. So then I tried to reference Jackass 3 after one of the kids was talking about it, and, to put in the words of Ralphie from A Christmas Story, "They looked at me as if I had lobsters crawling out of my ears."

I know that not too many high schoolers are going to get excited about King Arthur on their own. But hopefully I can make it interesting enough for them to look at me and think that I'm cool for trying to make things interesting. Maybe the fact that I'm not graceful, hip, disorganized, obsessed with sports and dating, aka everything that is cool and important to a high schooler will somehow help me create an interesting learning space. Everything that I'm not still made me everything I am. I'm proud of me, and for once in my life, I'm actually comfortable with who I am, even if my students can't appreciate it.

Sunday, October 24, 2010


"I know. It's all wrong. By rights we shouldn't even be here. But we are. It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn't want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it's only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines, it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in these stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn't. They kept going. Because they were holding onto something...that there's some good in this world, Mr. Frodo...and it's worth fighting for." ---Samwise Gamgee, "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" by JRR Tolkien

All righty then. If you were brave enough to read one of the greatest quotes in all of literature, you are probably wondering how Middle Earth can possibly relate to education. Now I'm going to ask you to watch this:

This is the new documentary that is causing a lot of hype in the education world. That is not what I want to talk about today. This documentary is something I am extremely interested in viewing, but I also want to point out that this documentary seems to believe that there are no good teachers left in the world. This is so disheartening. I have connected with some amazing individuals who don't care about the test results or the rankings at the end of the day: they care about the students and what they teach.

I want to refer back to the line in the quote above that says, "Folk in these stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn't. They kept going." In TEAC 452 on Wednesday, we talked about how teachers have this invigorating job that allows them to do something new and exciting every single day. Sure, teachers could burn out, get overwhelmed, constantly have to bring their work home with them, but they have a gift of a job. They recognize that "there is some good left in this world...and it's worth fighting for." A very important person in my life makes a healthy salary but every single day I talk about what I want to do with my life, he reminds me that I am going to be doing something I love, and he cannot say the same for himself. He doesn't find invigoration with his job, he only sees it as a means of living. I'm aware that teachers make minimally above a poverty-line wage in many states (including mine) but I constantly find myself unable to switch off my teaching brain and I love it.

I'm going to see the documentary when I get the chance, but I also want people to recognize that even though this education system is going through some ugly Durm and Strang right now, there ARE individuals out there who are in this for the long haul and in it because they love and value something more than standardization: students and their work.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Fix You

When you try your best but you don't succeed, When you get what you want but not what you need, when you feel so tired but you can't sleep, stuck in reverse... Lights will guide you home, and ignite your bones, and I will try to fix you... ---Coldplay, "Fix You" has been a little bit of time since I've given a new post. I think I wanted to give myself some time before I wrote something while I was exasperated or angry. My experiences in the past week and a half still slay me, but I suppose it is all a part of the learning experience for me as I try to become that great teacher way off in the distance of my goals.

Last Wednesday the students had a test over nouns, pronouns and possesives. Every single question was in the review game we played the day before, as well as in their notes somewhere. When the test day rolled around, I heard many students say, "Yeah, I didn't study." Guess how their test scores came out? Yup, many failed. My CT told us that we did everything that we could to prepare them, the test wasn't hard, and that it was a personal choice they made not to study. Many of the kids said that the test "had too many directions." (They had to circle the proper nouns and underline the common nouns at most).

I can't believe how much I have to hold their hands sometimes. I'm slowly beginning to realize how different I am from these kids. I always loved school. I wanted to do well. I didn't need to be told how to study or even how to take notes. The question becomes, "How do I fix this?" I think that when I teach in my own classroom, I'm going to have to develop a mini-unit on how to develop good study skills, especially if I teach in a school like the one I'm in now. A lot of the kids I'm working with place homework on the back burner, and for many of them getting a second meal for the day is a primary concern. It all relates back to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.

I wish I had an answer or that I could fix the problem. I know grammar isn't the most exciting thing in the world to learn. It's not supposed to be taught in isolation the way my CT is doing it, but I have to follow what she's doing. We're finished with grammar for awhile after tomorrow, then the kids have a break (hallelujah!) and then we get to do the unit that my partner and I are working on...or have yet to develop :)

They have a test over verbs tomorrow. We'll see what happens...

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Lather, Rinse, Repeat

In the beginner's mind, there are many possibilities. In the expert's mind, there are few. ---Zen Masters

I dunno about the rest of my program, but I am ready for a break. I now understand why I felt that the teacher were often more excited than the students for a day off from school. I think it is all too easy to fall into a routine at this point in the semester, and it very easily has with what our class is studying : grammar. It's very difficult to create a meaningful and lively classroom discussion about dangling participles. In the end, it is about repetition-done in a way that isn't medieval. Lather, rinse, repeat.

After the break, however, my partner and I start our unit that we have yet to develop. We have some awesome ideas, but we are hesistant to begin. It's all very daunting. I am beginning to understand what my teachers were saying about "having no life" the first three years of teaching. You have to develop lessons, figure out if it is working, and if not, try something else. Lather, rinse, repeat.

My partner and I are worried about going too far off the mark from our CT's other classes. She doesn't assign homework, and all she wants to do is have the students read aloud and watch clips from A Knight's Tale for this upcoming unit. My partner and I want to have discussions about a major theme of the unit and how it connects to society. We want to assign homework and have the students think critically about this universal theme. We don't want to deviate too far, but in order to get the students to a higher level of thinking, we may have to. There are just so many options...and I hope that I never forget those options as the number of teaching years tick away.

Our unit is a King Arthur unit, which is something that I know nothing about other than my experience with Monty Python and the Holy Grail (thanks, dad!). I was a bit skeptical at first, until my CT told us that she breaks up the story by taking excerpts from different authors which gives different perspectives on the story. One is from Steinbeck, which is um, AWESOME so I'm excited to start reading. My CT said the major objectives for the unit were to get the students to understand King Arthur and chivalry. My partner and I agree, there is so much more to King Arthur than that, so we are working on bridging that into a bigger context. (Totally not Lather, Rinse, Repeat for these kids). We are thinking about "The Cultural Round Table: Ourselves as Heroes on Personal Quests". Like I said, we're working on it. But I can't wait! :)

Monday, October 4, 2010


You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them. ---Ray Bradbury

I got four hours of sleep last night. I'm in no way complaining, actually. After working on lesson plans and this 20-page paper due in a couple of days, I found my mind still actively awake. I sat in my bed and read until I fell asleep. Currently, I am reading three books: The Life of Pi (for pleasure), This I Believe (giving me ideas for teaching a narrative), and In Short: A Collection of Brief Creative Non-fiction (so I can find resources if I ever want to use them in a lesson). I woke up refreshed. And grateful that I had time to read, because it is one of my favorite things to do. I'm finding that even though I'm not getting as much sleep as I used to, I'm still functioning and I'm attributing that to the fact that I'm doing something I love in replacement of sleep. Plus, as long as I have a working coffeemaker, I think I'm set for the day.

This morning during plan period, my practicum partner and I both were joking around, sharing how little sleep we had last night. I mentioned how much I was enjoying what I was reading, when my CT perked up from her desk and said, "You'll find that you have to put reading on the back burner once you actually start teaching."

What do I say to this? If anything, shouldn't I be reading and writing more? The Nebraska Writing Project says, "The best teachers of writing are writers themselves." I think that's true of reading also. Granted, I do not have a classroom, so I do not fully understand the demands. But to give you a perspective, dear reader, during our planning period the other day, my CT dinked around on her iPod Touch and downloaded apps while my partner and I were grading. My CT reminds me of teachers I had who were obviously burned out, or complacent with where they were. It is my mission to NEVER be that teacher. If not for myself, isn't reading and writing for the students? I want to be that teacher who slips kids books and can dialogue with them about what they think. I want to give the best feedback on their writing.

In TEAC 452N we have been discussing the importance of classroom culture. Don't reading and writing in an English class constitute a major part of the English classroom culture? Taking out the books and the pen and paper destroy what English is. It creates indifference, it destroys potential. At first, I was silently enraged by her notion, and then I thought about it on the way home. I won't let myself be that person. If anything, that CT's comment is what is fueling me all the more. Reading and Writing for further development as a professional and for my classroom is not just an interest or a goal, it is a major priority, and I will make sure that it stays that way.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Creative Juices

To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong. ---Joseph Chilton Pierce

I will freely and willingly admit: I am not an artist. I struggle with being creative beyond the domains of pen and paper. I draw stick figures when I do self-portraits, and at best my other ideas are mediocre. Don't get me wrong, I am proud of what I can do. I know what I am good at, but coming up with creative lesson plans has always been a challenge for me. Even with all I have learned about Backwards Design, I still spent too much time looking at a blank sheet of paper trying to materialize ideas.

My practicum partner is a wonderful and creative person. She already has her ideas down on paper and is probably ready to teach everything. This is why I wanted to work with her because of her creative mind. I am much more practical, logistical. I am the planner, not the artist.

For the past 45 minutes, I've been staring at The Grammar Plan book hoping that some idea on how to teach verbs and subject-verb agreement will magically pop into my head. On Friday, the kids had a sub, and the CT wanted them to watch Grammar Rock!. It was a good Friday/substitute activity. My jaw almost dropped though, when after playing "Unpack Your Adjectives", I paused the video and asked the kids, "okay, what's an adjective?" (they should have known if they had filled out their worksheets), and one kid said, "I put 'a noun'".

Quite frankly, I'm afraid. This is something I learned in maybe first or second grade. Is this what our public schools have come to? I am not a product of the public education system, but more than likely that is where I will be working. And then I see the tests that these kids have to take. Our CT gave us a week and a half to cover not only the basic parts of speech, but also everything that the kids have to know for the test, such as semicolons, commas and colons. Throw in the days with shortened schedules, factors of kids not being there and missing out, how willing the kids are to participate in activities, etc, and I'm not sure that it can be done.

This particular class has a lot of kids who need to be up and active. So first and foremost, I am looking at how to incorporate movement into this lesson, and after that, I am at a loss. The kids are so used to sitting there and writing down notes from a power point when our CT teaches, and I know they need a change of pace and scenery.

Creative lesson plans do not equal effective lesson plans. Granted, most of the time they do. But I think I am overwhelming myself with trying to do too many things at once when developing this lesson plan. I think I'm giving myself a mental block by taking on too many considerations. Looks like it's back to basics.

I think I'll be burning the midnight oil this evening...