Monthly Archives: January 2009

I know the sucker

This year, my school switched to giving students a half-credit for passing a semester instead of a full credit for passing the entire year. I like the chance it gives failing students to start fresh halfway through the year, rather than get so far behind and give up completely by December. With grades due tomorrow, though come the same conflicting feelings I had last year about grading.

I told myself I’d be stricter this year; no more hand-holding and grade-bending to help students achieve. No more assignments turned in months late the last day of the semester. I told myself all this, but here I am, grading last-minute slacker work instead of watching 30 Rock and trying to figure out ways to pass a handful of students who came so very close. I can stick to the grades before me, or I can bump a few numbers here and there until the student’s grade hits 70.

There seem to be two philosophies:

1. The hard-ass
A student deserves whatever grade he gets. I assign reasonable work and assess it fairly. Those who choose not to do the work are making a conscious decision and should accept its outcomes. A 69 is a failing grade, end of discussion. Maybe it’ll teach him a lesson about the consequences of his actions.

2. The practical softie
There are more important things in the world than my Literature class. Some of these things got in the way of the student’s performance during the semester. It’s callous and impractical to demand 100% commitment from a student with a dying mother, probation hearings, motherhood, miscarriages, or severe anger issues (all of which I’ve dealt with this year). Some of those things more important than my Literature class await the student in the future, but only if I make a numerical compromise to move him along. What’s the harm?

Both sides have ardent defenders. Like most teachers, I talk a lot of “hard-ass” but turn into a softie once grades are due. The process has some severe consequences. Essentially, it’s lying. For the four or five students I’ve nudged up a bit, they’re getting credit they didn’t technically earn. Also, I think it teaches a poor lesson for personal responsibility to all students. I know the kids I helped out are aware that they shouldn’t have passed. I know they’ll tell their friends. In turn, I’ll likely have more of these slackers in June, hoping I’ll exempt a few zeroes here and there until their grades are right.

My administration always says to do “what’s best for kids,” and I’m a tad conflicted on what philosophy really is best. I think about Pepe (name changed to something ridiculous for anonymity), a 17 year-old student of mine who’s still technically a freshman. He can’t write a decent paragraph to save his life, but his passion in life is automotive repair. And he’s good at it. He’s worked on my car numerous times; he’s a star student in the automotive class. See, Pepe doesn’t need me. Sure, he absolutely needs basic literacy skills, but his true genius lies elsewhere. Who am I to say, “No, you’re not going anywhere until you meet this educational benchmark”?

Top Things of 2008

Preface A: Not exactly a teacher-related post.

Preface B: This idea began here. Donna Bowman blogs every day despite seeming very busy. She’s an inspiration that way.

My favorite things of 2008 (the ones I could think of, at least), in no particular order:

I’ve gotten more of it done in 2008 than ever before. I make my 4th period read for 25 minutes every day. They’re really waiting out the extra time built in for lunch, but I’m noticing a difference between them and my other classes. I usually read with them, having gotten through Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise, Nick Hornby’s Slam, and Michael Chabon’s Summerland already. Adding in the stuff I get to read at home, I’m a regular bibliowhore (that’s the right word, right?).

Hockey Video Games
I’ve recently upgraded to NHL 08 for the XBox 360, but the bulk of my year was spent pounding out a season on NHL 2K6. I wouldn’t say it consumed my life, but I managed to connect a few lessons in class to what was happening with my precious Thrashers (mostly how I should likely be doing something else with my time).

She’s the best dog in the world. Any hour of the day, she only wants to cuddle.

Monster Truck Shows
My oldest and most wonderful friend buys me a ticket every year. You can go ironically and giggle at the fact you’re there. You can go as a cultural study of what happens when 60,000 rednecks are in the same building. Or you can go watch big loud trucks smash things. Sometimes rednecks are just on to something great.

The Trouble with Tom by Paul Collins
I devour everything Paul Collins writes. His ability to dig up the most interesting and unusual tidbits about (mostly) the 19th century and weave those tidbits into compelling narrative is unparalleled. I’m amazed he’s not more well known. His textbook on community writing, Community Writing, is also worth a purchase.

Having a Masters Degree
Last year was rough as a new teacher, and the extremely low pay of a newbie didn’t make it any better. I’d look at my paycheck every month and wonder why I put up with all the stress when I could make the same amount at my former job that I enjoyed quite a bit. With the Masters, though, my salary seems much more in line with the effort I’m putting in. Plus, I get wacky-looking sleeves on my graduation robe now!

It seems like it was on forever ago, making easy to forget just how awesome the entire season was. It’s lovely seeing the creators racing towards their already-set finale two seasons from now, especially when other shows I loved this year didn’t have such a simple advantage (Pushing Daisies, the world didn’t deserve you).

“Deep Blue” by Dan Potthast
I’ve enjoyed Dan’s music for years. I managed to get a copy of his only-available-at-shows, recorded-in-a-closet album Eat the Planet from a friend cooler than I am. This is the best song on it, and it’s not on his MySpace page.

We Versus the Shark
I originally only had one song by my best friend’s band on here but, as I thought a little harder, they did a lot of things I enjoyed this year. Their entire album Dirty Versions is solid start to finish, worth the B+ the AV Club gave it. They also put out a cover song every month and let listeners pay whatever they wanted for it. I recommend their Ben Folds Five cover. Live, they’re still loud and awesome, despite losing their prettiest band member. Their Nirvana cover set was thrilling, and I don’t even like Nirvana that much.

King of the Hill Reruns
Someone should have told me this show was freakin’ brilliant sooner. Now, I’m pleased that I’ve always got some incredibly smart, level-headed, character-based cartoons to catch up with on my DVR. I still adore The Simpsons with everything I’ve got, but KotH rivals it quite often on the laugh factor.


The Simpsons Ride at Universal Studios
Super detailed. Offers so many tiny jokes and superfan allusions, it’s just as much of a treat to wait in the delightful line as it is to actually get in the thing and have it shake you around for two minutes. I’ll miss Back to the Future, but this thing is wonderful. If you get to the park early, you get to eat a breakfast buffet with the Simpsons. Yes, they have pink donuts with sprinkles.

The Perks of Teaching
Did you go to work between Dec 23 and January 4th? I sure didn’t. Teaching is difficult, and society’s nice enough to recognize that with freebies and what not. Whether it’s my generous time off, the best retirement program around, my discount at Barnes & Noble, or the automotive class replacing the O2 sensor in my car for free, teaching pays in quite a few ways.

The iPhone has changed my life for the better. Basically, I’m never ever bored. I can play Risk or Scrabble any time the mood strikes. My Google Reader account is at my fingertips. Facebook or MySpace can be checked in the timespan of a long traffic light. I can read Thomas Paine’s Common Sense or get directions to Gatlingburg absolutely whenever I please. It’s worth every penny.

Brilliant Kids
I care about all of my students. I’d say I genuinely enjoy being around 90% of them. But there are about 5 or 6, I’d say, that are truly fascinating and brilliant human beings. I’m always thrilled to see what they write in their journals
or in an essay. They’re smarter than me; they know it; they still propitiate me by turning in creative work for the dumb assignments I give them. While others complain about how today’s kids are lazy and dumb, I look confidently at my few geniuses and feel better about the future.