Tag Archives: Teaching

When You Shoved a Desk at Me as I Walked Past You . . .

I didn’t punch you, like any of the teachers in any of the viral videos punched their students.

I didn’t punch you, because . . .

I am an adult, and adults are here on this earth to nurture and mentor young people, to teach you who you should become as an adult, not to teach you who you shouldn’t become. If I had hit you, I wouldn’t be nurturing you or mentoring you. Most importantly, your decision-making skills will not be fully developed for another 10 years. I cannot expect you to make choices like a mentally-well adult, because you are a middle schooler.

I want, more than anything, for you to grow into a wonderful, smart, caring, kind, and loving man, not the sort of man I will read about in the headlines for doing something mean and heartless. I already had to read about a former student trying to murder his girlfriend, including some graphically sordid details that didn’t need to be in the newspaper. I don’t want to read something like that about you.

On most good days I actually enjoy my job, and I look forward to coming into a school where students, ready to learn or not, will get one little glimpse into the beauty of this world and into the theological concept of grace. My goal, each day, is to teach my students one thing that hadn’t ever thought about before.

I am a pacifist, and even if I wasn’t, I want for you to know that your first response shouldn’t be what can I do back to them, when they’ve done something wrong to you. I should model that a response can be forgiveness, love, and grace, not retribution.

I can control my initial reaction, and I can look you in the eye and tell you, “NEVER do that to me again, because a person’s first instinct is to hit back, or push back, and I don’t want you to get hurt.” I mean that. I really want you think through your actions, your words, your behavior, because I want for you to act with purpose, making good choices, not out of impulse, making poor choices.

You are a kid living with (probably significant) trauma in your life. You don’t need me to add onto that, and I probably didn’t think through this one hard enough when I got angry. Instead of talking through your actions with you and helping you to see how many other good and pure choices you could have made, I spoke harshly, punished you and your classmates who were laughing, and then made you work in silence.

I love you, even when you don’t love yourself. Even when your sole mission is to entertain the other kids in the class with behavior that is the opposite of what you know is right and good, I love you, and I want the best for you. At this point, it feels like I love you more and care about you more, than you love or care about yourself.

Situational Paralysis: Make a Good Plan

While I am visiting my parents this weekend, I came here to Gas City to a Starbucks, where I worked during graduate school which seems like ages ago now, to work on lesson plans for school next week. The school corporation where I work uses a system called PAR to evaluate all new teachers and also struggling teachers who have been teaching for a while.

I value this system, because every teacher should have other teachers observe them, and every teacher has room to grow and learn, which is facilitated well by conversations with a good, mentor teacher (I am lucky, mine is fabulous). Conversely I dislike this system, because it requires me to write formal lesson plans every weekend for every period for every class, and sometimes I just want my students to work on a project for a few days, but I don’t know how, in a formal lesson plan, to adequately express where I will be and what I will be doing for those days.

And sometimes, let’s be real, formal lesson plans seem like one more thing when you have a general trajectory for your students’ lessons, like they are taking time away from making the lesson happen, doing a bit of extra preparation for your students, grading their work and making meaningful comments, and all those things that really make a difference.

But, in American culture, what are we without a plan? We start planning our kids’ lives from before the time they are even conceived. We tracks students by their achievements from the time they are in preschool. We guide students forward on their trajectories all through elementary, leaving brown, black, female, financially poor, and queer kids at the margins (if you don’t believe me, a simple google search will prove my point; there are countless scholarly articles that speak to these issues as well). These groups spend far more time out of class, in the principal’s office, in the nurses office, and out of school for behavior or absences, and frequently they are left behind.

We start seriously asking students what are their plans for their futures in seventh grade (I’m 44 and I still don’t have a solid plan), but those same groups of kids (the marginalized) are largely at a loss for guidance as papers (lessons and punishments) are pushed their direction, sometimes in languages they and their parents cannot speak or read, sometimes for opportunities they and their parents do not understand, and sometimes with the lens of a cultural structure into which they do not fit. Twenty-first Century Scholars in Indiana, for example, must be applied for by the end of 8th grade, so students and their parents have to choose to go to college by the young age of 12-14. If they miss the 8th-grade deadline, there is no second chance.

So, yes, plans matter in the USA. And your plan had better be a good one, the right one. As a teacher, my plan had better be a good one, the right one. No pressure.

 

 

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.

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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!

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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.

To Be or Not to Be —That is the Question

To be or not to be? That is the question:
whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
or to take arms against the sea of trouble
and, by opposing, end them. To die, to sleep.
No more, and by a sleep to say we end
the heartache and the thousand natural shocks
this flesh is heir to. ‘Tis a consummation
devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep;
To sleep, perchance to dream. Aye, there’s the rub.
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
when we have shuffled off this mortal coil
must give us pause. There’s the respect
that makes calamity of so long life.

I asked my British literature students to memorize at least fifteen lines from Hamlet. They had to write it on their blank paper, then explain what the lines meant, then explain why those fifteen lines were the ones they chose to memorize and why they were important in the context of the entire play. My students, in return, challenged me with the same, only I had to say mine in front of the class. The lines above are the lines I memorized, and you’ll notice there are only fourteen lines there. I wanted to memorize the first twenty lines, including these: “For who would bear the whips and scorns of the oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely, the pangs of despised love, the law’s delay, the insolence of office, and the spurns that patient merit of they unworthy takes, when he himself might his quietus make with a bodkin bare?” I didn’t get all of them memorized for today, but I hope to have them by tomorrow. If you knew me, you’d know how difficult this was for me. I am horrible at memorizing things verbatim. I tend to live by the spirit of the law, rather than the letter of the law, if only because I can’t memorize it by the letter. I chose these lines, because, aside from them being wildly popular, I love their depth and their beauty. I would also like to memorize Gertrude’s lines about Ophelia’s death. Both soliloquy’s describe the ways in which the characters’ roles hem them in and confine them according to the cultural standards of the time period. I’m intrigued by that.

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Yesterday I spent the day with my brother. We started the day by running a 2.5-mile trial at Mississinewa Reservoir in Peru, IN. The trail was soft and muddy, so the running was slow and tedious with lots of roots and raspberry bushes reaching out to snag our legs. I had mud all over me. I even found some in my hair in the shower this morning. After we ran, we drove to Logansport and ate at a Thai/Philippine restaurant called Dinghy’s. We both had delicious, but really not healthy, food, and I had hot thai tea. From there we headed back to Peru to the McClure Family Orchard to sample some ciders and meads. They were good, but they weren’t really exceptional. The jalapeño one was especially odd. Finally, we headed back to Muncie via Upland, so we could stop at Ivanhoe’s for ice cream. Adam’s shake was horrible (apparently they have radically changed their milkshakes portions because there was almost no butterscotch, very few frosted flakes, and about ten mini-marshmallows in the whole thing), and my sundae was fine, but I ordered the wrong one, so there were no pecans on it. The day was excellent, though, and we had a great time spending the day doing sibling things!

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When I started this entry, it was April 2, so I suppose that tells you a bit about my life as of late. My life is too full of stuff. My life reminds me of this George Carlin skit about stuff:

I had too much stuff. So I re-quit my dissertation. I quit piano lessons. I’m about to quit doing most of the extra stuff I’ve been doing. I’m about to go through my stuff and quit some of it. But, because I have this sick will to fill the space with something, I am training for a Half Ironman I’ve mentioned here before. Now is the time to put the rubber to the road in a literal way on my bicycle and on my feet, and it’s time to put the flesh to the water?! Well, however you might say that, it’s time to get my shit together, because there are only fourteen weeks until showtime. I’ll be amping up the exercise and completing a Whole 30 starting tomorrow.

I also had so much stuff going on in my life, I didn’t get in a blog entry about Scotland. We went there for 8 days and 7 nights. We had the time of our lives with Andy and Claire. We stayed in Glasgow, Inverness, and Edinburgh. We got married in front of the Art Museum on the last day we were there. It was cold, it was rainy, and I had to wear the hat. I’ll write more about it later. I’m working on some serious essays about it, so I’ll let you know when they’re done.

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All of this brings me back to my goals I’ve set for this year:

  1. Cultivate joy. I am trying to cultivate joy in new ways, and I am trying to keep from falling back into those patterns that don’t bring me joy. I’m trying not to focus on the negatives. Some days this is easier than others.
  2. Consume cleanly. For about a month, I’ve been really lax on the foods I’ve eaten. I’ve eaten lots of sugar, alcohol, and even some wheat. My body is not happy with me. My blood pressure was a bit higher last time I checked it, and my allergies have been acting up something fierce. I believe that if I get my food consumption under control, my lungs will be much less likely to be congested, making my breathing better.
  3. Exercise. I’ve been running at least a mile every single day. I think four days this year I’ve been too tired to run, so I’ve at least walked. I’d say that running 91 out of 95 days is pretty decent. I’ve also done some swimming and some biking, but this week is when I really put my nose to the grindstone.
  4. Be intentional. I’m working on this one.
  5. Play. I’m working on this one, too. Possibly getting rid of some of the stuff I’ve been doing will give me a bit more time to play.
  6. Stand up. Yep. The GSA is thriving, so I’d say, at the very least, I’m standing up for my GLBT students and their allies. It’s good stuff.