Tag Archives: Education

Force-Feeding “Literacy”

A young African American male sits directly across a typical American middle school classroom from me, sighing heavily every time the computer puts a new question on the screen. He’s asked me several times how many questions there are, and all I can tell him is somewhere between 30 and 50, because this test is a test that gives a different amount of questions to each student dependent upon their success or failure on the proceeding question. Another young African American male keeps falling asleep so frequently I ask him to stand up to take the test, so he’ll not be tempted to put his head down. He is only on question 14, and I am sure this moment in time is only further cementing his hatred of reading. A young white female, who has obviously done this before, flew through the test, just fast enough for the “disengaged student” filter not to catch her apathy. A young white male clicked through too fast yesterday, and had to take it again today.

I am not okay with my students being this frustrated and disengaged with the written word.

I’m sitting in this classroom, giving my student the NWEA assessment, which isn’t a bad assessment in and of itself, but it’s one of three assessments I will give to my students within the first three weeks of class, and I will give another one the week after next. We use Achieve 3000, IXL, NWEA, and SRI to assess our students’ reading levels. We are expected to share this data with the students, have them track their own progress, and have them reach for grade level by the end of the school year.

I am not okay with giving more assessment than are absolutely necessary to gauge my students’ abilities.

Having students be responsible for their own data is like multi-billion dollar corporations asking me to ring out my own groceries, so they can cut the jobs of my fellow workers. I work with students who do not need one more thing to make them feel bad about themselves, students who are on average a couple of years below grade level, and it is my job, as the one with the college degree and license in education, to make sure they improve, to make sure they learn, and to make sure they grow.

Most importantly, my job is to help students love language and literature. If they don’t love it, they won’t engage in it, and they won’t change the world for the better, because they won’t know how to read. But I cannot do this by using a canned program that exists solely to make money for its purveyors, no matter how well intentioned it began.

I am not okay with Capitalism in the classroom.

Language and literature appeal to me precisely because they are wild and unruly and unpredictable. These facets of culture move with us; they are alive and changing and growing. They aren’t subjects that are fixed in time or place, and they should bring us joy, sorrow, information, relationships, anger, love, and all those human emotions. We shouldn’t expect students to read something, answer a couple of program-based low-level comprehension questions, and be done with it. We shouldn’t put a dead and static text in front of a teenager and ask them to fall in love with words.

I am not okay with teaching students to hate reading by participating in what passes for English Language Arts in American schools.

Those of you who love to read: when was the last time you read something you were forced to read, other than for work? When was the last time you sent your friends a list of basic comprehension question when you had a book recommendation for them? Do you keep reading a book or a text you hate because you have to? Is there someone in your life who forces you to read things that have no meaning to you or for you?

Personally, I like to pick my own texts, talk about them with my friends, and write about them in my own ways. I like the freedom to stop reading something that doesn’t interest me. And, you know what? I end up reading all types of texts, having all kinds of amazing conversations with people I’d normally never discuss those subjects with, and I write all types of writing in response.

Wouldn’t it be cool if we could afford our students the same pleasures we have with language and literature, instead of jamming them inside tiny boxes of canned programming and contrived literary situations?

Final Weeks of School. Half Ironman and Nutrition. Thoughts on Boston.

We’re quickly closing in on the end of the school year here in good ol’ east central Indiana. My students are antsy, and so am I. My colleague Abbie and I are getting ready to begin a really cool project with our students. For the entire month of May, our students will complete a self-directed project based on those topics, writers, texts, or themes that we were unable to cover throughout the school year, but the important part of the project is that they will not only choose their topics, they will also design their final essay/project based on their research. We’re really excited to do something that we think is pretty cutting edge for high schoolers. Of course, we’re requiring them to complete certain things during their course of study, but for the most part, it’s up to them to carry out the study while meeting with us once a week to discuss their work. I’m sure this project will beat the pants off of the ECA (end of course assessment) they’re required to take for the state.

*

The Muncie 70.3 is twelve weeks away. I’ve been training, but this next week I put the pedal to the metal as the miles increase from here on out. I need some help with accountability, and I know that it’ll be obvious if I don’t train well, but I tend to skip workouts because of exhaustion from work. I’m hoping if I post MyTrainingSchedule here, some of you who read this and who correspond with me on Facebook or Twitter will help keep me honest. Seriously, I’d love it if you ask me once a week or so whether I am sticking to my training or not. I am generally pretty disciplined, but every little bit helps!

I’m also working on moving back to a mostly paleo diet for the fueling of this adventure. I’ve been “cheating” a lot and drinking beer, eating wheat products, and snacking on ice cream. None of these help me accomplish my goals: the alcohol makes me tired, the wheat makes me bloated and gaseous, and the ice cream makes my joints ache. When I eat paleo, I feel so much more energetic and clean. I am sure the food I eat will make or break my venture.

I’m also in need of losing a few more pounds so I don’t look like a sausage in my new Muncie Area Fun Squad tri-kit. If I train consistently and eat properly, I have no doubt that I’ll lose the 15 pounds I need to lose by July 13. Incidentally, I am pretty proud to be finishing this Half Ironman the week before my 39th birthday. Now I just need to finish a marathon by next July, and I will have accomplished both of my “before 40” goals. Maybe my “before 50” goals will be an ultra-marathon and a full Ironman! Haha!

*

When I heard the news about the Boston Marathon bombing, I had several reactions, none of which I believe were any different than those reactions had by others: shock, dismay, fear, compassion, anger, love, and pretty much every other emotion a person can have, all rolled into one. I feel this way every time I hear of a tragic event like this one.

Now, a few days later, I just want us (humans) come together to provide healing for the victims, healing for the family of the two young men, a legitmate (not hate-influenced punishment) for the remaining bomber, grace to those people who can’t get past their hate, and safety for those folks who are part of big, un(or poorly)guarded sporting events like marathons. I don’t want people to be scared. I don’t want people to be angry. I don’t want people to seek revenge. I want peace. I want justice. And I want grace. I want to imagine.

Lent Day 7: A Day of Busy

Today I was busy from 5AM until, well, right now. I had so much to do before I leave for Chicago in the morning, I wasn’t sure I would get it all finished. And, actually, I didn’t quite. I still have to get up early and go make copies of things for the substitute. I also need to finish filling out my student teachers’ evaluations, which will be easy because they are amazing this time around.

Spiritually, I am not sure there is anything I can think of to write about. I prayed, I read, I loved, I ate, I celebrated life. Simple things I do each day. I did get a little crazy and eat ice cream for dinner.

It was a toss up between this and Chunky Monkey.

This is why my serious thought about Lent or spirituality actually came this morning, during the morning prayer in the words of Jean Vanier, founder of the L’Arche communities, which are featured in some of Henri Nouwen‘s works:

Almost everyone finds their early days in a community ideal. It all seems perfect. They feel they are surrounded by saints, heroes, or at the least, most exceptional -people who are everything they want to be themselves. And then comes the let-down. The greater their idealization of the community at the start, the greater the disenchantment. If -people manage to get through this second period, they come to a third phase — that of realism and of true commitment. They no longer see other members of the community as saints or devils, but as -people — each with a mixture of good and bad, darkness and light, each growing and each with their own hope. The community is neither heaven nor hell, but planted firmly on earth, and they are ready to walk in it, and with it. They accept the community and the other members as they are; they are confident that together they can grow towards something more beautiful.

More than any other quote I’ve encountered, this one exemplifies my relationship with Burris Laboratory School. I am (finally) in the stage where I think I can recognize that my colleagues aren’t “saints or devils,” but I can see them as people who walk the earth much in the same way I do. I know Vanier’s thoughts were written/uttered about spiritual communities, but in many ways I need to see my workplace as a spiritual place, not in the creepy “I want God back in schools” kind of way, but in the way Matt talked about on Sunday. I have been placed by God at Burris and I need to put my whole heart into my work, which for me means I need to see the spiritual relevance of the place. And what is more spiritual than shaping and forming the intellectual development and curiosity of our fellow humans? Thinking in this fashion helps hold me much more accountable.

Peace.

Lent Day 2: Miseducation and Common Prayer

I’m sitting in Bracken Library, taking a break from scanning pictures into the computer for my students most recent project, and it’s a little bit eerie in here. There are probably only 25 or 30 people at the computers, if that, and it’s very quiet, even here on the first floor. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the library quiet like this. Today has been strange all around, though, so I am not sure I should be surprised about the library.

Today was the last day of Istep for the 8th graders, so tomorrow we move back to doing our regular classroom stuff, instead of being broken up and spread around for testing, so my stress level will surely go back down. The students told me they thought the test was easy, which either means they did really well or really poorly. I think they were trying to tell me that, so I would feel like they had done super well. One student even said, “It’s because you taught us so well.” I have no doubts I teach well, but I will see in a few months how well they did on this stupid test, which is all that really matters now isn’t it? Two days makes or breaks a student. And his or her teacher.

Anyway, I did receive another blessing today. When I got home, I had yet another book that I purchased with my Amazon points waiting in my mailbox: The Miseducation of Cameron Post. I made the mistake of starting to read it, and now I don’t really want to do anything else. Obviously, if you clicked the link, you notice the secular nature of the text, but to me, the subject is so intimately intertwined with my spirituality, I can’t see a difference.

Church people insist that our sexuality reflects our spirituality by encouraging people to remain virgins until marriage for the sake of religious purity, so it only makes sense to me that our sexuality is somehow an act of worship. Maybe this is why I nearly weep when I find a book that speaks to my soul like this one. I keep finding myself thinking, Where was this book in 1987? My life would’ve been so different if literature like this had existed then. I might have realized at a much earlier age who I really am. I might not have been so lost for so much of adolescence. But I can’t go back, nor do I want to!

As I am reading this book it makes me think about how intricately woven we are as human beings, how delicately God put us together, but yet how hardy we are. I mean let’s face it: humans are fragile but resilient. We can crack or break, but we can take a lot of shit before we do. In a strange way, I think that’s what Lent is about. God wants us to recognize that we are fragile, but that we are designed to weather the storm, whatever that entails. Jesus wants us to follow him to that cross, where our resilience meets our obedience meets our fragility.

For the first time, today I tried to pray the various prayers throughout the day from Common Prayer, and I think it went well. I noticed that it made me think through the day about who I am in Christ. I love that the midday prayers are the same every day and I love that one of those prayers is St. Francis’s: “Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.” And of course he goes on: “For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.” How beautiful. And if we really pray it and believe it, how can we not be transformed?

Through these ritual prayers, I realized that I was more conscious on some levels about how I conducted myself in the classroom and with colleagues, but praying through the hours also drew attention to the fact that I am so far from where I want to be spiritually. However, praying so frequently and with a specific prodding to pray for others really made me think hard about those around me who need prayer, love, grace, and my action. And so I continue to learn.

Peace.

Winter Trail Run. Frittata. Swimming and Grading.

Winter Trail Quarter Marathon

Last night I ran my first race of the year, the Planet Adventure Trail Quarter Marathon. It was 4.55 dark miles of pure bliss and 2 miles of hell, but the whole 6.55 miles was an amazing experience I’d sign up for again and again. After the first two miles, one of which snaked along an icy narrow trail on the edge of the Eagle Creek Reservoir—and I mean right on the edge, one misstep and you’re in the drink, down an eight or ten foot drop—I got into my groove and thought to myself, This isn’t so bad. I will kick this race’s behind.

Little did I know that mile three would be one of the most spiritually beautiful, yet one of the most physically grueling miles I’d ever run. I had heard some other runners talking before the race about running across a land bridge between the two lakes and was pretty excited about that prospect. However, I had no idea that the land bridge would be covered in railroad rocks, the big jagged pieces of limestone that had nothing better in mind than to macerate the bottoms of my feet with their pointy little edges. My VFFs, though they performed amazingly well throughout the rest of the trail, were no match for those tiny torture devices. In short, I walked the almost mile across the reservoir to keep from making hamburger of the bottoms of my feet, and they still bruised a bit. While I was walking—and stubbornly sometimes jogging—along the land bridge, I turned off my headlamp and relished the pitch blackness. It doesn’t get pitch black by my house, and I can’t see the stars for all the streetlamps. So I was in awe when I discovered the heavens were arrayed in their full glory, and I could see Orion and the Big Dipper, along with all of their individual stars. I walked along worshiping, meditating, and feeling blessed.

I can’t capture in words how majestic it was to be moving along between two bodies of water, under the beautiful night sky, with my breath steaming out in rhythmic puffs, and my body reveling in the physicality of the experience. Just when I thought I couldn’t feel more joyful, I looked up around the shore, and I realized I could see the headlamps of everyone who was running the race bobbing along the trail circumnavigating the water. At that moment, I gained a better understanding of what humanity is, and I was overwhelmed by the feeling. I got a lump in my throat that could only be an Emersonian revelation that we are all one. Though we are many individual people, we are one humanity, and every one of our hearts vibrates to the same iron string. I tried hard not to let the water come into my eyes, because I was afraid it would freeze. But I couldn’t help it. Surely that must be what life is all about. Beauty, grace, joy, and camaraderie.

Once the land bridge ended, we were off and running on a wide road, which eventually headed into a double-track trail for most of the rest of the race. I much prefer double- or triple-track trails to single-track. The single-track trails make me very self-conscious about being a slow runner, and I feel like I have to move over for the faster runners to get by. I swear my times would be better if I could just get over moving over and let the speed demons figure out how to get around me. I don’t suppose that’d make anyone happy though. And since I am not competitive, running for fun than times, I will probably continue to move over so they can get by. Some even say thank you.

Everything was moving along fine until mile six, which was just pure hell. I would say a good half to three-quarters of mile six was just mud. A thick, goopey, cold, muddy hell. There was nothing majestic about mile six. Although I am sure there is some good theological metaphor buried there beneath the dark, wet dirt.  In spots, the mud was up past my ankles, and we just had to make do. My VFFs were two to three times their normal size and weight, and I am not sure if my favorite (a.k.a LUCKY) socks will ever be the same color they once were. So much for white and rainbow. Running this mile reminded me of running the Mudathlon, only the weather was slightly, okay drastically, colder and more oppressive. I thought at one point when I stepped in a puddle up to mid-calf that my toes on my left foot were just going to freeze off, but I kept running and they eventually warmed up.

Luckily I didn’t fall at all. I blame my ability to stay upright on all the recent plank work I’ve been doing. I saw a guy slip on the ice on the narrow, treacherous path and  nearly slide into the reservoir, save for grabbing onto the tree that happened to be next to him. My friend Teresa—who had planned to run the half marathon, but stopped after the first ridiculous lap—fell three times. She was covered in mud, wet, cold, and miserable enough to stop. We both agreed this race was one of the most difficult we’d ever done. Even though it was ridiculous, it was amazing, and I’ll likely do it again next year.

My Finisher's Medal: Made From a Fallen Tree at Eagle Creek

Sunday Morning Frittata

This morning, because I was starving from my workout last night, I decided to try a new recipe. I won’t try it again in the same pan I used today, because it stuck like glue, so if you try this one, make sure to use a very nonstick pan. Aside from sticking, it was pretty tasty. I’ll probably add some onions and some garlic next time, too.

10 eggs
a bunch of spinach
a bunch of mushrooms
6 slices of bacon
a splash of heavy cream
a bit of butter if necessary
salt and pepper to taste

Fry the bacon to your likeness. Remove from pan and crunch it up. If you need a little extra grease, add some butter and then saute the mushrooms. While they are doing their thing, whisk together the eggs, salt and pepper, and the splash of cream. When your mushrooms are the way you like them, add in the spinach and bacon, then pour the eggs in on top of them. Cook at medium-low, or low, heat until the eggs are done all the way through. I put the lid on for part of the time, because I think it makes the eggs fluffier.

Deliciously Eggy

Swimming and Grading

Later today, I am going to swimming at Ball Pool where I finally have a locker, so I don’t have to lug all of my stuff back and forth with me every day. I need to work out my sore muscles, so I can sleep better tonight. (And I probably won’t drink three or four cups of caffeinated coffee right before trying to go to bed, like I did last night. Dumb.) I find that swimming, especially in the warm waters of Ball Pool, really helps my mood, my blood pressure, and my fatigued, old body. I am hoping that today it will loosen up my back, which is a little tense from running up and down those slick and muddy/icy hills. I know it will relax my mind and prepare me to grade.

After swimming, I am going to Starbucks for the great grade-a-thon. My high schoolers have turned in two reflections and a couple of other assignments, so I need to get them graded and returned to them. Likewise, I am sure my 8th graders would love to have their book reviews back. They were supposed to be their last grade for first semester, which ended two weeks ago, but they are going to be their first grade for this semester instead. They are gracious. They don’t mind my getting a little behind. Besides, they’re too busy reading Anthem to care about their old papers.