Looking Ahead

Today is the last day of my winter break. Tomorrow is a teacher work day, and Wednesday the kids return.

On Friday/Monday (block scheduling) we’re doing personal book presentations. Our independent reading program is going gangbusters, and while some kids are just refusing to participate at all, it’s being much more effective overall than my previous recreational reading efforts. Far more kids declined to do personal reading/reading logs last year. This year I’m actually getting some reluctant readers hooked on books, which is outstanding. It’s a high work demand on all of them, but as I’d hoped, they’re generally rising to the challenge.

Following that, we’re doing a Night unit for which I am moderately unprepared. I should have taken this break to re-read the book, I’m sure, but I did not. And heck, I’ve got this week, right? 😉 It’s kind of a loosy-goosy unit at our school, not the least of which because none of the sophomore teachers are exactly certain why we read it. I mean, we all believe that it’s a book that Should Be Read, and that tenth grade is a good time, but we’re not sure what greater language arts goal it serves. Perhaps I should figure that out before I try to teach it, huh.

But I do have a kickass introductory activity for Night that I’m hoping works well to address some of the lack of empathy about which I’ve been warned. I’ll describe it in more detail a little later, if I don’t forget….

And following that, we’re going to read Ender’s Game. And I am super excited for that. It’s technically a freshman book, but no one has taught it in the past, and I think it’s a Should Be Read book. It’s going to be a blast…

Then we’ll move into test prep (bleh) and finally into Midsummer Night’s Dream, and we’ll be hitting summer before you know it.

Aaaand I’m going back to school this semester, too, so that should be interesting.


January 3, 2011 at 11:24 am 1 comment

Not Sure What’s Best

I’m an English teacher, and I love books, and I actually enjoy analyzing books. I think that being able to read between the lines and grasp the greater themes, the symbolism, the connections to the rest of the universe, is a valuable skill for humans. I don’t think it’s going to prove especially useful to every one of my students; some people don’t and never will enjoy thinking for themselves. But being able to appropriately decipher literature will open intellectual doors for many of my students.

That being said… I have doubts. I became an English teacher in great part because I thought it was a tragedy to hear people say that they’d never read a book, that they hated reading, that they couldn’t write. I thought that I could do some small part, in my small corner of the world, to change that. And I bring passion and enthusiasm to our examinations of literature; I show them why it’s fun, I hold open the door and shine a flashlight inside.

But am I just reinforcing the very thing I wanted to fight?

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal – Jan 2 2011

January 2, 2011 at 11:14 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.


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:


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.  


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

Dangerous Profession

It can be easy to forget that this is a dangerous profession. Then something like this happens to remind you.

I teach some pretty mis-fitted misfits, and some rough characters, too. I have students who spend their days at school and their evenings/nights in juvie. Students who are active gang members, drug users, you name it.

I also teach fifteen-year-old kids like Sam Hengel, children who seem perfectly okay on the outside. Kids who love hunting and fishing and football, who have friends, who are Boy Scouts and active church members and good students and beloved siblings and children.

And while there’s a little idea in the back of your head that the catfighting daughter of the known gang leaders might come to school with a knife, or that Mr. “Just Got Out of Rehab” might have a gun in his locker, you don’t really think about the seemingly well-adjusted straight-A students going to the bathroom and coming back to class with two guns, knives, and hundreds of bullets. You don’t really think about that kid firing a gun into your movie projector, firing a gun into the wall near where you’re standing – trying to figure out what, as the teacher responsible for all these lives as well as your own, you ought to be doing right now – holding your class hostage for hours into the evening.

But it could happen. It did happen.

As a secondary teacher, I work closely with 162 people living through one of the toughest – biologically and psychologically – periods in their lives. They’re hormonal and confused, angry and sleep-deprived. They’re growing toward independence but forced into impotence. They’ve got money, internet connections, Paypal accounts, fake IDs. They drink, even the good ones, and self-medicate with OTC treatments. They’re frustrated with adults because they feel like they are adults and are held to many adult standards/responsibilities without being given the equal number of adult privileges. They’re caught up in a ridiculous soap opera of romantic and platonic relationships, complicated by social pressure and bullying, especially if they’ve got the added social burden of being in some way “different” from the mainstream.

And the fear of change is a never-fading spector hanging over a high school. For some, it’s a good fear: the anticipation of what-comes-next. For many others, it’s the anxiety of knowing that nothing comes next, that there is high school and then the bleak life of someone without something better to look forward to. I teach students who dread Christmas and summer break because they rob them of what little stability and positivity (and food) they have in their lives.

I try to be warm and kind to these kids, but I have to be strict. I have to make them do things they don’t want to do, and give them consequences when they don’t. And I’m only human – a human with hormones, too, and problems, and days when I’m crankier to my kids than I ought to be.

At any moment, any of these kids – even my future valedictorian, even my quarterback, even my Mormon Boy Scouts, even my gangbanger – could decide that English class was the right time and place to take a stand against everything that sucks in their lives. And what do you do if you’re one of the things that they want to take a stand against?

Sam’s teacher, Valerie Burd, was fifteen minutes into teaching social studies that day when Sam returned from the restroom with his arsenal. When he destroyed the film projector, Ms. Burd asked him what was going on and was told to shut up. For hours, she and the other students swallowed their terror and worked tirelessly to keep Sam calm and each other alive. Twenty-three of her students survived. Burd didn’t see Sam die; when he began firing his gun at the end, she pulled the nearest student to the floor and was there when the SWAT team stormed the room.

There’s a lot of talk amongst educators and policy-makers about whether teaching is a job or a profession. You have to be highly educated, but you can have a substitute if you call in sick. We’re salaried and have high levels of creative autonomy, but we also have a union. It’s a significant part of the trouble with the treatment (financial, etc.) of teachers in our country, I’d say.

My argument would be that teachers should be considered civil servants, just like policemen and firemen. I mean, technically we are; a civil servant is just a non-military government employee, particularly those employed on the basis of professional merit. But we’re rarely considered alongside that population, probably because we don’t wear a uniform. If you think about what teachers do, though, and under what conditions, aren’t we very much like policemen and firemen? Aren’t teachers kind of heroes, too?

December 1, 2010 at 11:57 am 5 comments

Thoughts on Education

I have been saying this – particularly the part about education being based on an industrial model – since I was in high school. No exaggeration.

And I’m in education myself now, and every month or so I begin thinking about this stuff again, and I wonder if I can be a part of a necessary change… or if I’m the worst sort of hypocrite. Because, sometimes, f’real, I’m very much the teacher from 4:52.

This video is worth the twelve minutes it takes to watch it, if only to appreciate the art. The ideas are pretty interesting, too.

November 7, 2010 at 8:30 pm 1 comment

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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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