Tag Archives: Teaching

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.

 

Blessed: Cleansing. Teaching. Dissertating.

For eleven days now I have been getting up at around 4:30 or 5:00 in the morning to run, and for eleven days now I have been eating only meats, vegetables, eggs, nuts, and some fruits and drinking a hell of a lot of tea and water. I am almost halfway through my first real Whole 30 and my first real Run Streak. Yesterday and today I feel almost euphoric. My mood is excellent, my body feels fast and alert, and my intellect seems to be firing rapidly. Yes, it has taken some adjustment to run while also cleansing my body, and I am sure my little cells are probably thinking I’ve gone mad, but the trade offs are worth it. While doing a Whole 30, weighing yourself is frowned upon, but my clothes are fitting so much better, I just had to know. I’ve lost ten pounds in eleven days. Crazy really.

I finally got my new Altras in the mail. I’ve worn them twice for a total of four miles. After those first four miles, I will say I don’t think they’re exceptional. Maybe I just need to get used to them, but they seem heavy compared to my Vibram Five Fingers or my New Balance Minimus. They also seem to constrain my feet in a way that neither of those pairs of shoes do. Maybe it’s just because I am not used to them. I did order them for longer mileage, so maybe on Saturdays when I start doing my longer runs again, I will see the benefits of the cushioning. Right now the taller, though flat, sole is awkward. And, honestly, they are some of the ugliest running shoes I’ve ever seen. Unless, of course, you count Hokas.

I hope I can lose this last 40 pounds, so I can just run “barefoot” all the time!

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Teaching is going well right now. I have one class that is difficult. They don’t listen, they talk constantly, and several of them are just straight up disrespectful. Working at a school like Burris has caused me to forget about how to deal with students like that. There are so few seriously disrespectful students there, that when I have one, it’s as if I lose my damn mind and forget how to deal with it. There are some students in there who want to learn. There are so few that I had almost written off the entire class, until I saw a quote on a friend’s Facebook wall. The quote said, “When you say a situation or a person is hopeless, you are slamming the door in the face of God” (Charles Allen). As soon as I read it, I realized that was my problem. I had given up hope, which is something I had always promised myself I wouldn’t do in education. No matter how difficult some students can be, losing hope really does nothing except make the situation worse. I spent yesterday asking myself, How can you motivate these students? How can you be someone who challenges them into making something of themselves, whatever that may be? Who are you to slam the door in the face of God? Yesterday was pretty humbling for me, and I hope I can continue to follow hope and, above all, to give grace.

I will confess that I am struggling to keep up with all of the paperwork that I have to keep for the State of Indiana. I have to keep several binders worth of papers from parent communication to extra-curricular activities to data to blah blah blah in order to prove that I am actually doing my job. What I think is totally absurd about the paperwork is that (1) there goes a hell of a lot of trees, (2) anyone who knows me knows I go above and beyond both in the classroom and out, and (3) I feel as if I spend some of the time I used to spend on planning and grading (you know, being effective) on pushing paper around on my desk and into binders. I’m literally making myself less effective to prove how effective I am. Grrr.

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With all of the blessed craziness with paperwork for school, I am still finding time to work on my dissertation almost every morning. I have read a lot of new information about food, foodways, cutlural understandings of food, commodification, exchanges, and various other related topics. I’ve read Paradise, Bastard Out of Carolina, and The Antelope Wife to start with, and I think those my be my three different chapters. Paradise will be the basis for a chapter about the Eucharistic food exchange, Bastard Out of Carolina will the basis for commodified food exchange, and The Antelope Wife will be the basis for the third chapter about proper food exchange. The overarching idea is consumption of the Other and how people exchange food for identity, sex, and spirituality. Those are the foggy bits of how this dissertation is going to go down.

Tomorrow is my first writing instead of researching day, and I am pretty nervous about it. I’m not sure why, but I get paranoid when I am required to put my fingers to the keyboard, instead of putting my pen to the page to take notes. I know what I see happening in these novels, but I always get nervous that I won’t be able to prove it well enough or write about in a way that others can understand. I have to take a step back and remind myself that I write every day. People understand what I write every day. I can do this.

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I do have to say that I am blessed with many friends. I am blessed with a good body and a good mind. I am blessed with a loving family and an amazing partner. I am blessed with a job and a home and food to eat. Simply put, I am blessed.

Dissertation. Paleo & Exercise.

As much as I’d love to go around telling each person who has meant anything to me in the process of trying to earn my PhD the following information, I can’t. There are too many of you, so I am writing it here hoping some people actually read these things  and hoping you will not feel betrayed that I am not telling you to your face.

I have made the decision to quit and not finish my dissertation. I am not going to complete my PhD. I am totally and completely okay with my decision. I have not fallen off the academic wagon, and I still feel like I can be a valuable part of the academic community. I am simply choosing to focus on teaching my beloved middle school and high school students, instead of splitting myself between my two loves. I still plan to write and research, but my interest will likely switch from literature and literary theory to literature and teaching literature. Of course, theory will still be a part of that process, but so will pedagogy, methodology, pragmatics, and all of those educational tidbits I’ve been ignoring in my research.

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I realize I’ve changed my life by eating paleo, and I feel like shit when I eat wheat and corn, so I wonder to myself, “Why is it that you still insist on eating things that make you feel like shit?” There are two pretty obvious reasons: they taste good, and that’s what’s available. I am sure there are other not so obvious reasons, too. On Thursday, at Thirsty Thursday, I decided I had a hankering for a corn dog. Savage’s has corn dogs, so I ate one, and when I woke up the next morning, my belly was bloated, my tongue was swollen and my mouth was on fire. Think there might be an allergy there? I felt horrible, so I decided then and there that non-paleo (or primal if I’m feeling more lax) foods will not be going into my body anymore, no matter how appealing they sound, nor how readily available they are.

In addition to just (sort of) eating whatever I want, I haven’t been exercising the way I want to (or need to). I’ve been sleeping in, instead of going swimming and running. I’ve been couching, instead of going for bike rides or walking the dogs. I’ve been doing pretty much everything to avoid the exercise schedule I’ve created for myself. Because of this neglect, I’ve had to drop out of the Flying Pig half-marathon that’s happening in two weeks. I still have my entry, so I suppose if I feel like it that day, I could head over and make the attempt. I’m pretty sure I could do 16-minute miles for 13.1 miles. Maybe not. Anyway, I haven’t been where I need to be, and as per usual, I decided to “exercise punish” myself. I made up a circuit last night. Four reps with a 3 minute vacuuming break (I was doing housework, too. What can I say?):

  1. 10 air squats with the kettlebell
  2. 25 kb swings
  3. 15 bent rows per side with kb
  4. 15 lat rows per side with kb
  5. 15 overhead arm extensions with kb
  6. 15 tricep extensions with medicine ball
  7. 15 per side side to side crunches with mb
  8. 15 heel-tapping oblique crunches
  9. 15 diamond-bent leg crunches with hands overhead
  10. throw the medicine ball up in the air 15 times
  11. slam the medicine ball to the ground from overhead 15

For dinner last night, I made lamb chops marinated in Bell’s Porter (which is technically not paleo, but I didn’t drink it), broccoli, and sweet potatoes.

Yummy.

I slept so well, like a little baby. When my alarm went off at six this morning, I got up and ran 2 miles to Ball Pool, swam 1.5 miles, and then ran the two miles home. I ate eggs, bacon, a banana, and some tea for breakfast, then walked down to the park to take tickets for the ball game. It was freezing, so I came home and took a really hot shower before I ate squash, uncured hot dogs, and tea for lunch. Basically, it’s been a beautiful couple of days. My body is sore, but my spirits are reeling. I am so excited for summer and for what my future holds. I’m Pollyanna-ing all the way.