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Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

“No Boy Left Behind”

This graphic’s been floating around online lately.  It makes an important point about the gender crisis in America today.

no-boy-left-behind

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Education

  • List of technology-enhanced activities for secondary English classes.
  • Examples of worthwhile technology-enhanced lesson plans.
  • Quick thoughts from the Hardings, homeschooling parents of ten who have sent seven kids to college by age 12.
  • Recently found this silly video I made for a class I was taking two years ago.  Amusing.
  • Instapundit nails it: the humanities lost relevance when they decided to preach that nothing has intrinsic value.  It’s been my experience that students (yes, even at-risk, underprivileged minorities!) appreciate the classics.  Everybody likes the egalitarian ideal of participation in the uniting, universal canon, rather than manufactured niche curricula that only panders to trends.

 

Language & Literature

  • Great WSJ essay on one of my favorite books, A Confederacy of Dunces.
  • Cute chart collects insults from famous authors who hated each other’s work.
  • Fascinating memoir of writing the script for Star Trek: Insurrection. Included here because it shares so much about that specific writing craft.  Also, Insurrection is often over-maligned—it is not great, but not nearly as bad as many say.  This long essay shows how it could have been great.
  • Long lost introduction by Anthony Burgess to Dubliners.

 

 

Living Well

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Recently, some pioneering work in neuroscience has begun to suggest what English teachers have long known: that the power of literature is the power of alterity, creating the possibility of encountering the other in a form not easily recuperable, not easily assimilable to the self. “Imaginative sympathy,” we used to call it. To read literature well is to be challenged, and to emerge changed.

–”Dead Poets Society Is a Terrible Defense of the Humanities

 

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Why I Left My Last School

The 2010-2011 school year should have been my best ever: I was teaching at the same campus for the sixth year, teaching all honors classes, and only had classes that I’d taught before.

But by the middle of second semester, I was worn out from constant frustration.  A series of cheating incidents had made me paranoid and angry, I had faced a massive outcry after raising expectations for late and missing work, and I had gone through several confrontational parent conferences due to both.

During Spring Break, though, I had resolved to make the best of it and restore my optimism.  I was grateful for a lot of things about that job: I worked with great teachers and students, my leaders were generally supportive, and I loved the work I got to do.  I decided to focus on the positive from there on out and make the last part of the year the best part.

Then school started again…

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I still believe that every student can be a winner.  A winner is someone who shows up every day and works hard, caring about achieving results, even if they don’t often succeed.  You can get Cs and still be a winner.

But too many of you are comfortable being a loser.  Being a loser has nothing to do with talent or even results: it has to do with maturity as evinced by discipline and effort.

Some of you may think it’s rude to label someone as a loser, but I know that honesty can be a higher virtue than immediate kindness.  It’s a sign of a greater caring, a devotion to guiding you to success, even when you don’t care enough to improve.

This truth leads to even more important truths: being a loser is a bad thing.  It doesn’t make you a bad person, but it does make you a bad student, and being a bad student isn’t good.  If you have chosen to be a loser, you should feel bad about that.  You should want to change it and be a winner.

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The Santa Barbara shooting has me thinking about the seriousness of entitlement mindsets and the danger they pose.  America’s been complaining about spoiled, self-centered youth for generations now, but has it reached a tipping point?  A point where the children are failed–if not actively reinforced–by parents who essentially share their warped views?

Two examples from the current semester:

A young man and his father arranged a meeting with me to complain about how a low grade on a final exam lowered his semester grade from an A to a B.  There was no cogent argument made that this was inaccurate grading, just an expression of dissatisfaction with the result, plus an implication that I was obligated to agree and give them the A they wanted.  The fact that this meeting was taking place ten months after the fact–late in the following school year–didn’t faze them, either.

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Some teachers may say that the canon of classics is obsolete.  They may say that basic things aren’t as important as creativity.  They might degrade the value of memorizing facts.

But if you’re a college student and you go on Wheel of Fortune and pronounce “Achilles” incorrectly, millions of people will laugh at you.

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Sideways Editing

When revising writing that I’ve labelled “awkward,” students have a tendency to practice what I call “sideways editing.”  Instead of swapping out their initial phraseology for something more fluently developed, they rearrange the existing parts into an equally awkward sequel.

Here’s an example that I now use as an illustration in class:

First draft: The article had good ideas in it and related them to us good. 

is not substantially improved as

Second draft: The article’s ideas were good and they were related to the readers in good ways too.  

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Every semester.  As I go over the syllabus with a new class, there is inevitably the response from a few freshmen, “Why do you take attendance?  That’s for kids— stop treating us like kids.”

The only reason people would have a problem with taking attendance is because they want to ditch class with no penalty.  It’s time to learn that there is no such thing as an action with no consequence.

“But if I can pass the class without being there every day, why should I always come?”

To which I’d explain that that’s not the point.  A critical part of college—perhaps the biggest part, in fact—is inculcating professionalism in students.  Across the board, regardless of major, molding students into professionals may be the number one goal.

And that means attendance.

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Three examples from my experience as a teacher:

1. A young man struggles with his work at school because his divorced mother has a hard time getting him to school.  His father tries to facilitate contact with the teachers and get his work made up, but it’s just too overwhelming.  Despite the student loving his school and wanting to thrive there, he ends up having to switch schools in the middle of the year.

2. A young woman is very successful at school, until her mother starts hitting her in fights.  The student has to move in with her aunt and, like the young man above, switch schools in the middle of the year, losing a leadership position at the school she’d attended for years.

3. A young woman has difficulty focusing on maintaining her grades while her mother has to move their family frequently to avoid her father, a drug user who, since getting out of jail, is harassing them.

Cherry-picked worst-case scenarios from over the years to make a point?  I wish.  I saw all three of these things happen in just the last two months.

Family structure and stability are so crucial to success.  That’s common sense, and it’s also supported by mountains of research.  Still, we don’t talk about it anymore because it might be inconvenient for some adults, or hurt our feelings, or be politically incorrect.  And kids just keep paying the price for it…

 

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Sick Day Origins

Teachers: “It’s 3 A.M. and I’ve thrown up five times.  Maybe I should call in sick?  But the juniors have that big project due today, and I want to be sure I hold them to it.  Besides, a lot of them worked really hard and they want me to see their final product.  And I have two parent conferences I need to be there for.  And if I stay home sick, I’ll just have to go in for a bit anyway, because I’ll have to switch out half the materials for 3rd and 4th period for stuff the sub will be able to use.  And I have three kids coming in for detention today–no way do they get off the hook!  Plus, I’m doing my favorite lesson of the quarter with the sophomores and I don’t want to miss that, or push it back, or have a sub messing that up.  …Oh!  And I wanted to talk to those guys in 1st period about the game yesterday!  *sigh*  I’ll just go in.  It’s too much hassle to take a day off.”

Students:*Achoo!*  Sweet!  I have the sniffles.  I’m gonna take a week off!”

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Great truth from the movie Good Will Hunting.  A bit of language at the very beginning and end, but from 3:26-3:32 in this clip, there’s a ton of wisdom.

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Final Exam Follies

This semester I had three sections of a remedial college writing class, where the final exam is graded by a committee of the teachers, who get to put in several hours outside of class this week doing so.  Hooray, I’m on the committee!

Every college final exam always has that one person who stays to work on their test for an hour after everyone else has left.  They only leave because time runs out.  On Tuesday I had one such situation where the lights in the building automatically shut off at 10 PM.  The student cheerfully continued writing until I said it was time to go.

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A Teacher’s Week

I’m still tired.  Last week was a big one, work-wise.

For my main teaching job, I show up by 7 AM, and the last class ends at 2 PM.  That’s a 35-hour week.  Not bad.  Most years I sell one of my two prep periods and teach an extra class–it lowers class sizes for the school and boosts my paycheck–but this year my school didn’t do that, so I have even more productive time during the school day (but, alas, a lower salary).

I also teach part time at UNLV–usually two freshman writing classes per semester.  This time I have those classes on Tuesday and Thursday, from 5:30 until 8:15.  On those nights, I get home around 9:00.  I use the time between the two schools for office hours–grading papers, mostly.

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Every school send kids to the dean for fighting or stealing or drinking.  Then those kids get detention or suspension or some other punishment.

And then they just keep on failing in class.

My school not only allows, but requires teachers to give detention  for missing work and low grades during an extended lunch period.  Each subject has a certain day of the week (English is on Tuesday) and we’re supposed to hold students who are failing and make them do their work.

That’s right, we stigmatize failure.  We hold students immediately responsible for their choices to slide by and not achieve.

Any student who fails to show up will get an after-school detention with the deans.  That’s right, our deans support our teachers and help them get results by making kids accountable.

Do they get the message and become more self-motivated?  Not always.  They’re teens.

But they know that success is important to us.  They know what our priorities and expectations are.  That’s more than can be said for most schools.

“But you work at an elite magnet school for the arts!  Sure, they’e not all geniuses, but they all did have to apply to get in and have to keep their grades up to stay in.  Most schools don’t have that luxury.”

That changes nothing.  Bottom line: students will not take academics seriously if we don’t.  If we want improvement in our schools, we absolutely must make academic success our top–our only–goal, and zero in on it with passion.

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