Monthly Archives: November 2008

The controlling idea is failure

I’ve stared down a class full of students not knowing what I would teach them once the tardy bell rang. I’ve allowed a small pocket of jerks to set the mood for my entire class. I’m even guilty of what I believe to be a cardinal sin in the teaching world: busy work. But none of these mistakes make me feel like a failure as much as grading a stack of papers can.

Essays are a culmination of so much learning, it’s foolish to expect all students to nail it all down perfectly. Some kids didn’t pay attention to the story we read for four weeks. Some guy wasn’t paying attention when we went over what a thesis is. A few of them fell through the cracks of middle school and have no business taking on 9th grade-level work. However, I’ve got plenty burden-wise to accept.

As I grade papers here at Mrs. Winner’s, drinking their delicious tea-flavored sugar and listening to their surprisingly good music (I expect to hear Hall & Oates but Spoon? Don’t mind if I do), I’m realizing all of my own missteps. These kids are, for the most part, trying their best with the information they’re given. Just because I told them to make sure their paragraphs have main ideas doesn’t mean they know how. Many of then asked me how to write a conclusion, and I really didn’t have a good answer for them. Lo and behold, their conclusions all suck. If I come across a decent one, it’ll be to the credit of a previous teacher or the kids innate writing abilities.

Anybody else starting to notice the pattern of posts lately? Kids suck; I suck; repeat.

Gradin Papurs

For the none of you concerned, I think I fixed this place so’s your comments will show up immediately without needing my approval.  Sorry, that was a default WordPress deal, and I could never find the settings page until today (Web 2.0!).

I just got done grading a batch of essays.  I had them explain the hero’s journey with a movie of their choice.  Overall, I was pleased with what I saw.  My students actually did some analysis, and I think they looked at movies they knew well in a new, very literary way.  It’s fun to watch a student squirm his way through the archetypes of Back to the Future.

BUT, my heart sank a little at the sight of their grammar.  You know the feeling when you’ve got to clean up your room, but it’s so messy, there’s no real way to start improving it?  It’s exactly like that.  A few students grasp the basics and only mar up their essays when they stretch their grammar muscles beyond simple sentences.  Others, however, can’t seem to write a single line of words without seriously ruining what seemed to resemble a decent thought underneath a pile of unnecessary prepositions to that which of the idea is that they were not in a way very good writers to themselves.

Others just don’t seem to try–at all.  I hand back their papers.  They peek at their low grade and admit that, yes, they didn’t really try too hard on this one.  Well, thanks a lot, dumb dumb.  I stayed up late last night capitalizing your han solos and death stars and adding periods amid your one page-long sentences because I thought you might have sincerely needed to know this stuff.  Now you tell me you didn’t really try?  Forget, just for now, about the consequences your laziness has on your education.  Think about me: the guy who has to sit down and actually read the pile you threw together in twenty minutes the night before class.  I have to give this half-assery a fair chance at the grade it deserves.

How about we pretend you phoned in a worthless paper, and I pretend to seriously assess your abilities?  You get the 50 you’d deserve anyway, and I get an extra 20 minutes of my life back.

Have I mentioned lately that I love my job?  I really, really do.


My classroom trailer is a pit.  Neighboring Douglas county donated the thing to my school this year when we needed 48 trailers to use until construction of our new building is complete.  The light switches and outlets have no coverings; wires stick out of the wall; the two sliding windows came with one piece of wood to serve as a lock.  And when it rains, the odor that lingers around for the rest of the week could be marketed as “Gym Short Breeze.”

That said, I’ll admit one of my weak areas as a teacher (and there are many) is setting up my classroom.  I lack the spatial intelligence and the woman’s touch to put together a pleasurable learning environment.  Imagine what a twenty-something guy’s apartment might look like if he had no one to really hold him accountable for how the place looked.  Add 27 desks and some stinky teenagers, and you’ve pretty much got my classroom.  I’ve got a pile of unfiled paperwork accumulating on the floor.  Posters are only hung to strategically cover gaping holes in the wall.  I wanted my trailer to look nice; I just didn’t know what to do.

Enter: Kate.  Last night, Kate came to the football game to watch her alma mater play our mighty Raiders.  At half-time, we moseyed over to my trailer to show her where I worked all day.  She was saddened by my room’s sorry state, her exact words being “I don’t think I could learn in here.”

But Kate would rather light a candle than curse my darkness, so we got to work.  We rearranged the desks into groups of six, freeing up plenty of space and also ensuring every student has a decent view of the board.  We moved books that were gathering behind my desk over to an empty bookshelf.  Kate stapled my students’ summer reading projects on the wall.

My room isn’t perfect yet.  Kate’s offered to make some curtains for my ugly windows.  I’ve still got an extra dry-erase board that needs to find its way up on the wall.  The switches and outlets still need plates.  I’m talking to a dude on Craigslist about a $20 table I could really use.  A vacuuming wouldn’t hurt, either.  But we’ve made drastic improvements, and when my students come back Monday, they just might be a little happier to be there.

[Pictures might show up soon–if you’re lucky]