I’ve decided that I want to be able to share some of what I blog with some of my colleagues, but I don’t really think that I can send them here because I’d like to maintain a shred of privacy. My solution is that I’m starting a new website, and probably most of my edublogging will be focused over there from now on. I won’t completely abandon Full of Bees, because I think I need a place where I can completely let loose, but I’d love it if you would bookmark/subscribe to/comment on my new blog.
You can find it at http://gingersnapping.weebly.com/blog.html - that goes directly to the blog, but I’ve built and am building other elements of the website as well.
You’ll notice that I’ve imported some of my FoB posts to the new site, but there is also a lot of new material from the end of last school year and the beginning of this one. I think you may particularly enjoy the posts about Beowulf and my end-of-year exam responses…
Also, I’ve linked to many of my FoB readers on my “Links” page, but that page has crashed a few times and is still giving me trouble. If you’re NOT linked and would like to be, please let me know! I may have just lost your link in between edits/restores.
I have been – rather deliberately – NOT blogging about work this year. What’s there to say? It sucks. They’ve completely broken our school and won’t listen when we try to tell them. The number of people who are looking for a way out…. but I don’t want to talk about that.
I’d rather talk about Chaucer. RIVETING, RIGHT?
Except that it is. I was so horrified that I would have to teach The Canterbury Tales this year, now that they’ve got me teaching juniors and seniors. I remembered “reading” them in high school myself and never wanting anything more to do with them. Blech.
But I’m actually completely falling in love with them (which, of course, is what I do with all of these pieces of literature that I failed to appreciate as a student). Before we began reading, we watched the hilarious (and fairly inappropriate, but hey – Chaucer) Canterbury Tales lecture by Mark Steel. Then we read the Prologue together, using a chart to track characterization for each of the people mentioned.
Afterward, they split into pairs and chose stories. I provided them with a modern English verse translation, very true to the Middle English version, and asked them to read it together and annotate. I warned them that they would be presenting their stories to the class, and I warned them that they’d be having more fun reading than one might ordinarily expect from 14th century literature.
“Mrs. B,” said one of my favorite students – a brazen, fearless young lady – “I would just like you to know that I read out loud, and I just read, out loud, the phrase ‘He grabbed her by the twat.’ In class. To a group of boys.”
“Congratulations,” replied I.
“Uhm,” said a boy, flagging me down with an uncertain expression on his face, “Does this, uh, say what I think it says?”
“What do you think it says?”
“Uh…”. His face reddened.
I smiled. “Ah. I see. Probably.”
Today, I upped the ante (and hopefully their comprehension) by giving them another version of their stories. This proved to be A LOT of work for me. This summer I’d acquired Peter Ackroyd’s prose retelling of The Canterbury Tales from my local floundering Borders store. It’s profoundly readable. Or did I mean profanely readable? I’ll tell you what – I read paranormal romances, and this book still made me blush. Mostly because you just don’t expect to see quite that many f-bombs and c-words in fourteenth century literature. Anyway, I desperately wanted them to read the story in a more approachable format, but I certainly couldn’t hand them that, so last night I went through the entire book and ferreted out all of the Big Naughty Words. I used tiny rectangles of Post-It to censor the over-the-top language (yes, I know, I hate censorship too, but seriously, I could NOT hand out packets sprinkled with THAT word!), which involved about six hours of skimming/speed-reading, plus an hour of censoring. Then I came into work very early this morning and photocopied, ooohhhhhhh, the entire book. FAIR USE, beeches!
So to cut to the chase… today I handed out the stories and my kids are rolling in the aisles. The fart jokes, in particular, seem to appeal to their 18-year-old senses of humor. I haven’t seen the girl I mentioned earlier yet – she’s in my last period class – but I’m eagerly anticipating her exclamations of astonishment as she inevitably puzzles out what words I’ve cut out…. That class is the one that will really enjoy this version, I think, beyond the flatulence. The morning seniors are a more serious group of kiddos, and more innocent – they undoubtedly missed some of the worst of it. “Innocent” would not describe the afternoon seniors…
For Monday, they’ll be putting together approximately 5-minute long presentations to tell their tales. I’m imploring them to do something creative, funny, memorable – something that will keep the rest of the class engaged and entertained, as well as informed. So far, it sounds like I won’t be disappointed. I’m not entirely sure how the gorilla suit fits “The Manciple’s Tale,” but I’m eager to find out on Monday…
For those who are otherwise unfamiliar with my teaching schedule, we’re on block (A day and B day) with four classes a day (for kids; teachers have three classes and one prep). My A-1 and B-4 are very strong, very academic classes. My A-2 and B-2 are very earnest, for the most part, but struggle academically due largely to LEP and attendance. And my A-4 is a schizophrenic nightmare, filled half with National Honor Society kids and half with actual gang-member juvenile delinquents.
Today I started my Midsummer Night’s Dream unit, which is my very favorite part of the sophomore curriculum and one that I cling to despite other teachers’ insistence of Julius Caesar’s superiority. I love the goofiness of it, the dirty jokes, the shocking situations, and the happy, lighthearted way it allows us to end the school year.
And I love the way I teach it. I close my door and lower my voice, and ask my kids if they can keep a secret from the other English teachers. “I love this story so much that, even though it’s against the English teacher code of ethics, I really just want to just read it for the joy of reading it and not bother with a big paper or anything. Is that okay with you guys?” Then we prep for each reading assignment by dressing up and acting out the scenes in contemporary English, read, and watch clips from Michael Hoffman’s beautiful film adaptation. There are comprehension quizzes here and there to keep the kids honest, but mostly it’s a celebration married to some great discussion – and in the end, the kids are maybe just a little bit in love with Shakespeare.
Before I start, I want to point out that we did NOT review anything about the Shakespearean theater or the fact that men played women’s parts.
Today, we were talking about the Amazons and their matriarchal society, so that I can layer on additional understanding about the tension between Hippolyta and Theseus (and hopefully clue them in to why knowing “stuff” makes reading more interesting). I’ve given them a goofy history lesson about chopping off boobs and slaughtering Spartans, and explained the whole “where do they get babies/what do they do with men” situation.
First, let’s look at A-1. Sharing a moment of sympathetic pain, my girls are all hugging their chests and my boys are trying manfully not to cup themselves after my cheerful point that “If the Amazons couldn’t chop off the man’s head, they’d probably have to chop something else off in order to keep them as a slave.” I’m giving the children doe eyes and they’re loving it.
A boy in the back of the room raises his hand. “Mrs. Bees, is that what happened with the men who had to play female parts in the theater in that time? I mean, didn’t they, er, cut that stuff off so that they always had high-pitched voices?”
Okay – wrong. But he’s remembed something from last year’s Romeo and Juliet unit, and he knows something about opera history and the castratti, and he made an intelligent if wrongheaded connection. This is my A-1.
Now let’s look at A-4. After the same conversation, one boy blurts out, “So, if they chopped off their weiners, aren’t they a girl now?” The boy next to him says, “No, man, they don’t chop your nuts.” The girl in the next row wants to know how they pee, and now another boy wants to know what the Amazons did with the unwanted breasts, and whether or not they made them into ashtrays. Weiner Boy is by now holding forth on the idea that Shakespeare made guys play girl parts because he was gay and wanted to mess with little boys offstage.
I wrestle the conversation away from this subject and introduce the character of Nick Bottom and slip in the fact that he is the butt of many jokes in this play. “Okay, guys, so if it’s true that in Shakespearean comedy a sword is never just a sword, what do you think about this character’s name?”
“He likes to take it in the butt!”
This is my A-4.
Ah, what a difference a few hours can make.
Then again – he did remember that men played female parts!
This turned out to be a much longer post than I’d intended; if you want to get to tonight’s mini-drama, you can skip down to the line “Tonight, her family came to conferences.”
One of my students is a Martian.
We call them Martians because we don’t know what else to call them. You surely know the kids. They’re not from here. Their minds are just… somewhere else.
Tina (as I’ll call her) isn’t one of those weird bright kids who defies the mold - far from it. She’s not unmotivated. She’s not ELL, and despite my repeated efforts to have someone investigate it, she’s not SpEd. She’s cheerful and sweet and and Lord save me if I can’t imagine any life for her that doesn’t involve ankle-length skirts and milking cows.
Tina walked into my tenth grade universe toting in fourth-grade level books (all horses and doggies and hoop skirts) expecting to have them approved for our independent reading projects, and when I gently steered her toward more age-appropriate offerings, it became clear that her comprehension was poor. Then I had her write, and that’s when I realized what a Martian she truly was. This girl might walk and talk in our English-speaking world, but there was something dreadfully wrong going on upstairs with the language-processing bits.
At the beginning of the year, I contacted the SpEd English teacher and Tina’s counselor, asking them to please test her to see if she could get some help or tutoring. I don’t know why, exactly, but they stonewalled me. Tina had received good grades in the past – effort and smiles will get you pretty far, I guess – and so she didn’t qualify without going through an intensive RTI process. I was adviced to change her seat in the hopes that this would magically improve her literacy. You can imagine my satisfaction with that response.
After our first writing assignment, I sent the following email to our SpEd English teacher and the appropriate counselor:
Thanks for your reply and for the clarification referring RTI….I’m not certain how changing her seat, etc., will help her become more literate, but I am already making accommodations where possible regarding personal book selection (she is picking books at a 4th or 5th grade reading level, and says she struggles with them).
I knew that she was below grade level in reading/writing, but it was this most recent assignment that really drew my attention. We read – as a class, with LOTS of discussion/explanation – the play Antigone. It’s not a tough piece. Then I gave each student a quotation from the play, asked them to interpret/translate that quote into modern English, and explain the context of that quote in the play. Next, they needed to evaluate whether the quotation was still relevant (which I explained to them) in modern society, and provide examples. This was written into a one-paragraph, formulaic essay – basically they just needed to follow my step-by-step instructions and fill in the blanks with their own thoughts.
Here is the complete text of Tina’s essay:
On page 207, line 581 – 582 of Antigone, Haemon says man’s wisdom is a gift of heaven, the greatest gift of all. What this quote means is to have wisdom in the way of a gift. It has to deal with Antigone by her getting a greatest gift given to her. There was no truth in this statement because she didn’t like but hanging herself. There was also no advice to it. I would have to say that it may be relevant today but not sure how it would be relevant. Why I think it’s a yes would be because wisdom is a gift, and but then no because wisdom was not a gift for Antigone.
To shorten a longer story, they didn’t care – her grades were okay, so Tina was okay -actual concerned teacher intervention be damned.
Little did I know that this woefully inadequate bit of writing would prove one of Tina’s better examples of literacy. Let’s just say it’s been a long year for her. She struggled valiantly through To Kill a Mockingbird and Ender’s Game, failing miserably on all assessments, doing decent projects, doing literary responses that proved that she’d looked at the pretty pictures on the covers and tried her best to glean meaning from in-class discussions.
She tries real hard and is a joy to have in class. Tina never fails to turn in an assignment, but they might as well be in Martian-ese for all the more they approximate what a tenth grade student ought to be capable of doing. (To be perfectly clear, her written work and reading comprehension is below the level of that I’m getting from my very most challenged ELL students.)
Tonight, her family came to conferences. Mom, older brother, and two younger sisters, all as peculiarly elfin as Tina – and then Dad, who is likely related to Paul Bunyan. The siblings fanned out through the room, Dad crushed my hand in a handshake, and Mom took a seat across from me with a suspicious twist to her mouth.
I went through the usual rigamarole, explaining Tina’s Q3 grade (a C, which is what you get when your teacher doesn’t give credit for nice personalities but grades you as if you had serious accommodations, which is what I do since the school won’t do it for her) and mapping out the rest of the year. I talked about our testing “boot camp” that we’ll do after spring break, and about Tina’s current test scores (not passing, of course).
That’s about the time that Mom launched into me.
This is getting lengthy, so I’ll spare the play-by-play, but apparently she felt that as a parent she needed to notify me that I was demanding far too much of my students and that it was out of line. I could not expect a student to read an in-class book and an independent novel. If I was going to do so, I absolutely should never ask them to do any of the in-class reading at home. And – worst of all – I was making her child read books she didn’t like to read!
Although she didn’t say the words, “how dare you,” they were very clearly insinuated.
I pulled on my professional hat, thanked her for her feedback, and did my best to explain that A) I tried to expose students to many different types of books so that it would broaden their horizons; B) students had plenty of in-class time to read, and that I really couldn’t offer any more – in fact, with the last book, I deliberately made sure they didn’t have any out-of-class independent reading to do; C) at the sophomore level, you really needed to be able to handle multiple texts at the same time, and D) the idea that I forced any books on my students, other than TKAM and EG, is so far from reality that it’s almost insulting. I tried to draw Tina in, to hold her accountable for whatever goofy interpretation of my class she’d presented to her parents, but she just blushed and ducked her head.
On the inside, though, I was seething. It wasn’t that I was angry at the mom; her baby duck was being threatened with her first real “bump in the road” and she was just trying to protect her. And I can certainly deal with criticism.
It’s just that it was so unfair. My class isn’t too hard. It’s completely appropriate, completely on-par with the others. The problem doesn’t lie with my class; it lies with Tina - and I just wanted to tell her this, tell her that the reason Tina was struggling was that Tina was not smart enough somehow to deal with sophomore content, that Tina had functional literacy issues that I couldn’t begin to know how to address, and that the school was refusing to consider services.
But I couldn’t find the words to tell angry elf mama and Paul Bunyan that their perfect daughter needed special education services, and so I tried to convey my point, they blustered, I told them their daughter was a joy to have in class, and they left.
Amusing visual for the evening: Tina – who might weigh seventy pounds soaking wet and who is almost certainly under five feet tall – has given up running for track/field and is instead doing discus and shot put.
I haven’t posted in a long time despite the fact that there’s been a lot going on. I feel entirely overwhelmed when I try to imagine catching y’all up, but I can’t seem to bring myself to just skip over all of it. So I’ve come up with a bit of a compromise: I’ll review the “highlights” from the past several weeks – in haiku form. Enjoy.
OUR STATE’S NEW EDUCATION PLAN IN THREE PARTS
No more collective
bargaining! Evil union
members ruin schools.
Although merit pay’s
proven disastrous elsewhere,
let’s give it a shot!
Lay off teachers! Buy
unneeded laptops! Send cash
to school chief’s cronies!
ON TEACHING IN MY STATE
Can states be evil?
Or perhaps this state is just
TO MY STUDENT WHO FOUND OUT YESTERDAY THAT SHE’S MOVING TO ANOTHER STATE TODAY
Don’t cry, kiddo. It’s
hard to leave, but fresh starts are
priceless. We’ll miss you…
ON A PARTICULARLY BAD KID’S RESPONSE-TO-INTERVENTION MEETING
Sobbing math teacher
thinks mean teachers are to blame.
Have we the same kid?
Fine – come unannounced,
first class, human chess day, and
ding my transitions.
TO OUR STATE SUPERINTENDENT OF SCHOOLS AND THE REPUBLICANS WHO SUPPORT HIM
You feel teachers are
fat cat lazy union thugs.
I feel you’re hellbound.
ON A STUDENT I’D RESPECTED WHO I’VE LEARNED IS IN LEGAL & DRUG TROUBLE
What I can say? Would
you listen if I told you
how you break my heart?
One, two, three a week?
Stop calling me a teacher;
I’m now a meeter!
ON THE REST OF THE YEAR
Wait – I have only
fifteen days for test prep and
Yes, “aaa-aaaaaaahhhh” is two syllables (at a minimum).
I have a lot of more serious posts to write, assuming I ever get around to it, but before I can do that I have to share something TAR-worthy.
We’re doing that thing (I’m sure it has a name) where you have an inner circle and an outer circle, and they pair up and discuss something, and then one circle rotates until they find a new partner, and then they discuss a new topic or more on the first… What in the blue blazes is that called, anyway? Whatever it is, it works very well…
Anyway, we’re doing that thing, which means that kids are sitting on the floor. And this kiddo in particular – we can call him Larry if you’d like – has taken the opportunity to roll up his pants legs to mid-calf. I can’t resist comment.
ME: Are you trying to persuade your partner by showing off a little leg?
LARRY: Ha – yeah, I think that’ll work.
ME: Rocking the man-capris today, I see.
LARRY: Yep. You know it.
ME: Is that the new fashion trend for spring? Man-capris? [To Larry's female discussion partner] I think he might ought to shave first, though.
LARRY: No way. [Rubs the leg hair on his calves.] This is my manhood here.
ME: [Blinking; heroically keeping a straight face.] That’s your manhood?
[Girls are giggling. Larry is oblivious. A couple of his guy friends look over, smirking, probably wondering whether it would be funnier to clue him in or watch him dig himself into a hole.]
FEMALE STUDENT: That’s a little disturbing.
LARRY: Okay, fine. I’ll put my manhood away.
[Much dissolving into giggles.]
ME: Did you really just say that?
ME: I’m going to have to write that one down. Dear Diary. Today, one of my students said ‘I’ll put my manhood away.’
LARRY: Huh? Ohhhh!!!!!!
Nurse sent out an email this morning warning us that there are a lot of kids getting sent home sick with flu-like symptoms, and advising us to scrub our desks and whatnot.
Found out in our department meeting today that we have a confirmed case of – get this – scarlet fever in the school, and a probable case of H1N1 amongst the faculty.
And about second period today, I began to get that hot-behind-the-eyes, abruptly-lost-ability-to-type-or-spell, scratchy-but-not-yet-painful-throat feeling that I know all too well. Here’s hoping that this germ is related to the last one I had like this, and will work its way out of my system in 24 hours… I have a class tomorrow and a long anticipated day trip on Sunday. No time for germs!