Posts filed under ‘TALES FROM SCHOOL’

The Differences Between Classes

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!

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April 28, 2011 at 3:59 pm 2 comments

The Martian Sagas

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.)

So.

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.

:headdesk:

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.

March 24, 2011 at 5:57 pm 3 comments

Lewd and Clueless

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?

LARRY: Yep.

[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?

LARRY: What?

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!!!!!!

March 1, 2011 at 1:41 pm 3 comments

Lovely…

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!

January 21, 2011 at 2:09 pm 3 comments

Head, Meet Desk

Grading my sophomore English finals, and I swear if one more student identifies Scout Finch as a BOY I will scream out loud.

I mean, it’s not as if we didn’t read the book.

And discuss it.

And do activities for it.

AND WATCH THE EVERLOVING MOVIE.

Then again – at least these people (at least half a dozen of them so far) realized that the narrator was a child. I’ve had 2-3 identify Scout as a woman in her 30s-40s. And one precious little snowflake (whose sole recollection of TKAM is that there was a “ravid dog”, and who tells me that the reason he failed my class is because I assign too much work – never you mind that he doesn’t bother to do ANY of the work) believes that the narrator of TKAM is Boo Ewell.

Yes, you read that correctly. BOO. EWELL.

Then again, it is always nice to realize that the texts one teaches have subtextual connections. Did you know, for example, that one of Antigone’s siblings is Calpurnia, and another is Atticus? I had no idea that they were related!

We all know that Antigone’s family is a little dysfunctional, but I didn’t realize that she was married to her brother. Or that she believed that all dead people needed to be beared. Or berried.

It’s good to have working definitions of important terms, both academic vocabulary and text-specific. Here are two terms that you might find useful:

Theme: Theme is like for example is like the theme of a book or a play a movie or poetry.*

Comunist: Is when people vote on something that they think its right but its accuatlly wrong.**

*Who knew I had Miss South Carolina in my class?

**I knew we had a bunch of commies in this state!

 

 

December 20, 2010 at 1:02 pm 4 comments

Dangerous Profession – Epilogue

I got a couple of comments on my last post that made me realize that I never went back and shared the epilogue.

What happened, you might ask, with the HAND GRENADE UNDER MY DESK?

And why, oh why, was it there?

And why, FOR THE LOVE ALL THINGS HOLY, SACRED, AND MODERATELY PROFANE, wasn’t the bomb squad called in?

I’ll tell you why.

Turns out that the previous day – during which school had been canceled due to inclement weather – the local police tactical team used our school building for training scenarios. And one of the officers apparently inadvertantly left behind HIS HAND GRENADE.

Something which, I suppose, Security knew all along – or rather, figured out as soon as they saw the offending item.

I had just decided to email the principal and ask him what in the world was going on in his school when I got an email back from the SRO, explaining why the grenade had been there and that the officers in question were getting quite the talking-to. I was mostly just elated to discover that there was a rational and non-terrifying explanation.

That is, until I began wondering what would have happened had someone other than myself found the darn thing.

Then I decided that THAT didn’t bear thinking about, and there you have it. Ta-da, etc.

December 6, 2010 at 3:16 pm Leave a comment

Dangerous Profession, Part II

I wore snow boots to work this morning, bringing my regular shoes in my bag. I went up to my room, turned on my computer and did a few things, then got up and went downstairs to the computer lab to get ready for Creative Writing. I sat down at the teacher desk there and realized that I’d forgotten to change my shoes, so I leaned over and pried off one snow boot.

And next to my foot was a little grayish-blue canister, the sort that you know instantly is in some way military or military-ish even without reading it. About 5-6 inches long, maybe 2 inches in diameter, with threads at the end to be screwed into something. Something about it screamed “incendiary” to me – maybe there was a smell or something. I can’t honestly tell you at this point.

I leaned over and began reading the boxy letters:

LEFT HAND THREAD
ETS
MODEL 7290T
FLASH BANG

For a moment I just sat there, wondering if this was for real. Then I reached for the phone and called security, but no one answered, so I pulled my boot back on, picked up my bag, locked the door behind me and hightailed it for the cafeteria where security would be hanging out. (Not eating donuts – the kids come through the cafeteria as they leave the buses, and eat breakfast.)

The security guy who came back with me is a really nice guy, but he didn’t have the faintest notion what he was looking at. And to be honest, neither did I. My brain was fixating on the ETS logo and trying to come up with a rationale explanation for why this item would be sitting there in the computer lab. Yesterday had been a snow day, and the day before, I’d been the last person in that lab other than a few yearbook kids. I got it into my mind that it might be some sort of highpowered model rocket engine (in retrospect, that’s ESTES, not ETS, but it made sense to me at the time) and told the security guy my theory, not especially buying it.

He tapped it gently with his toe, mumbling something about asking a science teacher if they knew what it was. At this point, I’m wondering why the SRO – or even the outside cops – hasn’t been called in. I’m wondering why we’re not talking evacuation and bomb squads.

And at this point, Security Man declares that “we’re all right” and kicks the damned thing several feet across the room. He then proceeds to pick it up and leave with it.

Okay, if you haven’t already Googled it, I’ll save you the trouble. The item in my room was a flash-bang grenade training system – or, I guess, a cartridge for said system. You’re not supposed to be able to purchase one unless you’re a cop, a soldier, or someone who trains those two groups of people.

Up until a few minutes ago, I thought that flash-bangs JUST made a bright light and loud sound to disorient, for example, hostage-takers. Wikipedia tells me that they’re also called “stun grenades,” that they’re so loud and bright that they temporarily blind people and mess up their ear fluids, and that they can cause serious burns and fires.  

THIS WAS INSIDE MY CLASSROOM.

And the best part of all this? The last I’ve heard of anything was Security Man picking it up and strolling away. I emailed him and the SRO to let them know what the device really was, once I’d Googled it myself, but have heard nothing in response. No emails to the school telling teachers to check for anything else that shouldn’t be here. No bomb-sniffing dogs or even bomb-looking-for security officers. No evacuation (not that I want that, particularly after losing a curriculum day yesterday, but seriously).

I don’t think they’re taking this the least bit seriously, and it makes me kind of cranky.

Needless to say, I spent the first several minutes of class searching every desk drawer and nook/cranny of that room for anything else suspicious, and have tapping my pencil like a chain smoker all morning. Makes me nervous. I really, seriously don’t believe there’s a thing behind it. I think some kid found it, brought it to school to show his friends, and then dropped it. BUT. Maybe not, right?

And it just feels wrong, and perhaps a little disrespectful, that I’m the only person worrying about it.

December 2, 2010 at 12:52 pm 3 comments

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The Bee’s Knees

This is the teaching journal of a student first-year second-year THIRD-YEAR (!!!) English teacher. I am writing this blog as a reflection for myself, a way to keep friends and family updated, and a sharing-ground between other educators online. I love comments!

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