Monthly Archives: May 2008

School’s Out

Were self-deprecation an admirable quality, parades would be held in my honor, for I can do it on an epic scale.  No one is more critical of my performance as a teacher than me.  It’s so hard to redirect things once your students get stuck in a groove.  At least that’s what I encountered, first when I took over another teacher’s class mid-year, then again when I made every mistake in the book and found myself unable to pick everything up and head in a different direction.  Now that the year’s over (woooo!, by the way), I’ve got the opportunity to hit reset on my teaching and actually implement the changes I need to make.  Here are some in no particular order:

Be Strict

I let students get away with everything this year (I think one student killed a guy in my class–I’m not sure).  This year has been a reality check with regard to how often students (people, really) will do terrible things for no good reason, from the girl who admittedly tried to drive me crazy every day (consider this a shout-out, Jessi) to the kid who said he loved my class because he only got written up once when he should’ve been written up at least eight times.

Stopping all the shenanigans will be hard, but I definitely know that my expectations of acceptable behavior will be much more defined next year.  For example, my co-teacher recently said that allowing on-level freshmen and sophomores to operate without a seating chart is insane.  So I’ll likely stick to alphabetical order for a while, too.

Use the Whole Day

So often, I ended up with a good ten or fifteen minutes at the end of the class period.  After half a year’s worth of lesson planning, I’ve got a better idea of how much I need to fill up a day, and I also have a much better idea of what a unit of study should look like.  It’s incredibly hard to find stuff to teach for fifty minutes (for me, anyway), but I know it’s impossible, especially if I just take the time to slow down when I talk and periodically check for some understanding from my students.

Added bonus: filling up the class period with work helps with the discipline stuff, too.  Things like having some sort of warmup exercise every day gets the kids settled and  ready to work.  I tried it quite a bit this year, but I kept burning out on either coming up with ideas or struggling to get students to actually do them.  I think being consistent with them every day and holding students accountable for them (daily grade sort of thing) will help matters.

[SIDE NOTE: I really think that having a moment at the beginning of class for kids to just be quiet and focus on the task of learning is the real reason schools have a mandatory moment of silence at the beginning of the day, so why not observe it after the pledge and other announcements, immediately before the start of instruction?  Just an idea, people, and I’m totally new here and an idiot.]

Get Involved

I heard from a lot of sources that new teachers often get an unfair proportion of extra responsibilities, but that wasn’t my experience.  If anything, I found myself surprised I wasn’t asked to do more for the school.  Of course, with the grad school stuff looming over my head, it was hard for me to commit to much at all.  I’d like to have more of presence before and after school, because I’ve seen how much it matters to a student’s willingness to do the work for you, so that’s the plan for next year.

So tutoring, sports games, after school Scrabble tournaments.  I’ve still got my fingers crossed for my Film Appreciation Club.  It’s co-sponsored by an established teacher that everyone loves, so that helps.  I never heard anything from the principal about its approval, so I’m assuming it’s pretty much a no-go, but I did give the assistant principal in charge of scheduling advisements the club’s tentative roster.  If the likely communication snafu occurs, I may end up with my club members without the officially-sanctioned club.  Guerrilla operation!  If not, though, I’ll likely have a regular advisement class that wonders why all these other students skip their advisement to come hang out with me (answer: I am an excellent person).


It’s extremely difficult to keep parents in the loop.  My few attempts to get them involved were awkward at best but more often just impossible.  The kids that need the most support from home often have disconnected phones or trucker dads or multiple siblings tying up the phone line, unwilling to take a message for mom.

One 9th grader of mine needed a note from home to leave early after finals last week.  After I playfully ribbed her for not being able to get a simple note signed, she told me she had been by herself at home for the last week.  I first felt like an asshole, then I felt like taking her back to my house for dinner (I’d get fired for such things, but I wanted to).

Despite its being so hard, I’ve got to make more a commitment to letting my kids’ parents know I’m around.

I’ve got plenty more to work on before the year comes around.  I’ve got to figure out a way to raise my expectations for my students without overwhelming them (they should just whelmed).  I also need to take a few steps back and teach some basic reading strategies.  Most of these kids have some serious comprehension issues, even in the 10th grade, and the stuff I’m hoping to tackle is just too far ahead of their abilities.  Adjustments!  Hopefully, my last semester of grad school will give me some answers, and I’ll be able to criticize myself to death over the rest until I figure it out.

The 1001

I just came across this list of the 1001 books you must read before you die.  With a bachelor’s in English and an almost-master’s in Teaching English, you’d think I would have read more of them, but my count only came to 31.  If you care, here they are, from freshest to oldest:

Life of PI

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

The Long Dar Tea-Time of the Soul


White Noise


The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Slaughterhouse Five

The Crying of Lot 49

Cat’s Cradle

A Clockwork Orange

To Kill a Mockingbird

Things Fall Apart

Lord of the Flies


Native Son

Of Mice and Men

Red Harvest

All Quiet on the Western Front

The Great Gatsby

The Awakening

The Yellow Wallpaper

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Portrait of a Lady

A Tale of Two Cities

Moby Dick

The Scarlet Letter

The Purloined Letter

Pride and Prejudice

A Modest Proposal

Some of those are actually short stories, but epics like Moby Dick more than compensate.  Speaking of epics, where’s The Odyssey on that list?  Of course, there’s plenty of contentions to be made with a list like this.  It’s pretty Dickens-heavy, and Elie Weisel’s Night should be read by everyone on the planet (it’s depressing, but short), though it’s nonfiction status is probably what got it excluded.  I was happy to see my boy Douglas Adams represented with three novels (though I think most people would rightly prefer any of the Hitchhiker’s sequels to Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul).  If only they could’ve made some room for The Princess Bride and Bone, I would’ve been so satisfied.

How many have you read?  What else is missing from the list?  Does it mean anything to read “important” books, or is it admirable enough these days to get through most of the Lemony Snicket series?  I await everyone’s spirited comments.

High School Movie Barometer

Angus: Loved it.  Said one student: “It should be required for every ninth grader.”

The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters: Also loved, except for Nick and Davina, but they don’t like anything.

Juno: We haven’t watched this one, but the students won’t shut up about it.  It’s nice to see good work recognized by the masses.

Elf: Will Ferrell is a god to most of these kids.  I’m in good company.

Nacho Libre: Enjoyed quite a bit, although they laughed hardest at my least favorite parts (the unnecessary fart noises)

O Brother Where Art Thou: One student actually didn’t care for it too much.  Ironically, he’s a big fan of The Hudsucker Proxy.  Go figure.

Raising Arizona:  Not so much.  One student: “Can I go sit out in the hall?  The way they’re talking bothers me.”

Killin’ Back Flips

I remember learning how to do a back flip on my trampoline as a kid.  Back flips are hard.  People tumble forwards most of their lives–we seem built for front flips.  Backwards, however, is an unnatural direction, and I’d feel that every time I jumped up and attempt one.

I knew exactly what I needed to do (fling my body backwards–simple), but that uncertainty just wouldn’t allow it to happen.  Eventually, I could will myself sort of halfway through the motion and land on my head.  Even more eventually–eventuallier–I pulled it off (the back flip enthusiast in my class would call this “killing” a back flip, though I think he can do it without the aid of a trampoline).  After that, the back flip was easy, no longer an unnatural or foreign sensation.

I think teaching may be like that.  I know exactly what I’m supposed to do; I just can’t bring myself to actually do it.  Last Friday, I got became particularly intrigued by this review of Iron Man.  “I’ll show it to my students!” I thought.   We would all marvel at this piece of writing: who is its audience?  what is its purpose?  what does “snark” mean?  I made copies for every students (a class set just would not do–no sir, students are gonna want to keep this baby!), marked up my own copy with all sorts of comments I wanted to make about it: definitions, structure, grammar.  We were gonna crush this thing!

Alas, everything fell apart.  4th period had a drama-inspired meltdown complete with students crying, others storming out of the classroom, and what I thought were best friends screaming at each other.  No one felt like listening to Claudia Puig’s thoughts on Iron Man, let alone my thoughts about Claudia Puig’s thoughts on Iron Man.

6th period did a little better, but 7th period wasn’t in the mood to read movie reviews either.  After a few failed attempts to even read the thing out loud, I just gave up.  I retreated over to one of my more motivated but challenged students, read it aloud for her, explained what an anti-hero was, and called it a day.

Just like killing that back flip, I see exactly what I’m supposed to do–get stern, move some kids around, and throw some write-ups at the ones who deserve it–but I just can’t for some reason.  I give up, sending them the very real message that they’ve won, and all they have to do to continue winning in the future is keep up the tomfoolery.  With only three weeks left before the year’s end, I’m sad to say I’m already starting to check out and concentrate on what I’ve gotta do next year to make things better for myself and the kids.  I’m starting to take the students’ misbehavior personally, and that’s bad for all sorts of reasons.

Hills and Valleys

So that gigantic project I wrote about earlier got done on time (thank you, standardized tests, for giving me 4 hours to show a few movies to 6th period while I finished it up!).  I even managed to get a 100% on the thing.  My professor seemed impressed with some of my media-related lessons (we’ve been watching a lot of Rob & Big in class lately), which makes me feel like I might actually be good at this job some day.

Those aforementioned standardized tests are throwing everything off schedule-wise at school this week and next.  And while I’m happy to watch O Brother,  Where Art Thou? in class, it’s still frustrating to feel more like a babysitter than a teacher.

Some good news: one of my 9th graders is getting recognized as student of the year (or something) for English.  All I had to do was nominate her via email.  Either my nomination was very persuasive, or I was the only teacher in the grade who found the time to go to the trouble.  Either way, I’m proud of her.  My 10th grade nominee looks promising, too.  I’d look like a pretty swell teacher if both grades had someone from my class win some award.

I found out this week that I’m teaching 9th and 10th grade again next year.  I was gunning for 11th grade.  I wanted to try out older students, and I pretty much love all of the 10th graders I have this year.  Also, I love the opportunity to concentrate on American literature.  Alas, the higher-ups had different plans for me, I guess.  On the bright side, it’ll be nice to get a fresh batch of students coming in from middle school with no knowledge of what a pushover I’ve been this year, and I’ve got a really good co-teacher to work with.

I took my little sister to the school’s battle of the bands tonight.  Nerdy Weezer-covering band only managed third place, while typical Nickelback-esque dude rock band took the top prize.  Translation: Mr. Harding’s gonna have to get on that judge’s panel next year.