What Purpose is Served?

Lost a student today, and it’s breaking my heart.

In January, my mentor teacher received an email notifying her that we would be having a new student in 3rd period – not a transfer, but a junior who had failed this class last year. Ordinarily, I guess, a student in this situation would be put in with a different teacher. However, DR is the only teacher of accelerated sophomore English at CHS, and the student – we’ll call him Theo – had to take the exact same class in order to undo the previous year’s failing grade.

DR wasn’t completely happy about the situation. Theo, she said, was one of those students who can completely derail a class: unquestionably brilliant, but too loud, too energetic, too passionate and argumentative. A spotlight hog. Moreover, despite (or because of) his brilliance, Theo had real issues with “playing the game” – specifically, getting stuff completed and submitted. He didn’t do it to fight the teacher – he just had more important things on his mind.

Nevertheless, into the class Theo came. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t him.  He is trim in a way that provokes the word “pixie” when applied to females, with a startling explosion of tight blond curls down to his shoulders. He wears tight jeans and brightly-colored hooded sweatshirts, several sizes too small – if you’re thinking of the male clothing aesthetic. Basically, it looks very much like his clothes came from the junior girls department. He has a bright face, a confident voice, and extremely nervous mannerisms. Immediately I found myself trying to analyze him. Despite his appearance he doesn’t come across as effete. His nervousness – twitchiness, really – made me wonder if there was a drug issue.

Theo has been extremely respectful of DR and me, and he fell easily into a role as quasi-mentor for the younger students. Because he had seen all of the material before, he has been able to assist in teaching it to students who struggled. When I began teaching poetry, however, I discovered what I had in Theo: a natural-born gift. Theo is not a particularly strong technical writer, but he has an extraordinary talent for words and rhythm. He is a poetic wunderkind with an especial talent for vocal performance. Lest I be unclear, Theo isn’t an amazingly talented poet among high schoolers – he’s an amazingly talented poet, PERIOD.

The semester wore on, however, and Theo’s grade sank lower and lower. He just could not bring himself to turn in assignments. The biggest part of it was that he was rarely in class. About two months ago the office noticed his chronic absenteeism and called him in (for what I learned was far from the first time) to tell him he had one more absence before receiving an attendance-related expulsion.

I was frustrated with Theo, as I am frustrated with any of my bright kids who screw up. After plugging in another series of zeroes for Theo in the grade book, I went to DR and asked what was going on. That’s when I got the rest of the story: Theo’s mom’s drug addiction, the beatings and abuse he and his siblings suffered, having to call the police on his own mother, his stepfather (who had been an ally) giving up on the mom and moving out, taking responsibility for his four little brothers and sisters, living on the streets and friends’ sofas when home got too bad to bear, his mom being imprisoned and then released, his mom sneaking into the apartment to “kidnap” the other children, and the weeks he and his stepfather had subsequently spent trying to track down the kids to rescue them from their own mother…

We have very few students on IEPs and none with 504s, but that day DR and I threw the class regulations out the window and made our own IEP for Theo. He began to come in for first period (our prep) to work on assignments. We took them, late or not. His progress was slow and his attention hard to hold, especially that early in the morning, but he was working.

I knew what my goal was. Theo didn’t “need” literary analysis. He needed to be in school so that he had a safe place to be. And then he needed to get out of school – the right way – so that he could move on and have a real life.

But today the VP came in and asked for a grade check on Theo, and although his grade has climbed 15 percentage points he still isn’t passing (yet). VP shook his head and drew his finger across his throat. “He’s done,” he said.

I don’t know what it is that Theo finally did that broke the camel’s back of school rules, but it looks as though he won’t be sitting in his seat tomorrow. And it just kills me. I am worried about him, disappointed I couldn’t do something else to help him, sad that the other students are going to lose the benefit of his insight. I am going to miss him. It isn’t like they kicked him out a month before graduation or anything, and I think he half knew that he was going to end up repeating 11th grade, but it still stinks. And I can’t, for the life of me, figure out what purpose is served by sending Theo home (wherever home may be at this point).

This is a kid who might not make it. If I could have seen him through to the end of the year… but this is going to haunt me.

Update: I think DR and I are going into the VP’s office tomorrow to lodge a complaint. Not sure if it will do the least good, but I think this is worth fighting for.


May 8, 2008 at 6:56 pm 3 comments

I am never assigning essays again.

I made a rookie mistake.

I mean, it’s not REALLY a mistake. I very deliberately set up my MND unit to include three assessment activities: a test (mostly multiple-choice), a creative project (acting as review for the test), and the district-mandated literary analysis essay.

The problem is, I finished the unit at the same time that I finished the “in charge of the class” portion of my student teaching. And progress reports are due next week.

And I have set myself up to have to grade 250 assignments in the space of seven days.

Thank gourd I am not teaching, because there’s no way I could get through this all if I was responsible for classroom activities, too.

I managed to whip through the tests pretty quickly, thanks to a wonderful thing called CPS software (which, if you aren’t using it, you should go kick yourself in the butt and go write a grant for clickers RIGHT NOW) and a minimalist “checklist” rubric for the three short-essay questions.

We had a stupid Career Center day on Friday, and I was able to make a dent in the creative projects. I’ve pretty much graded all of the board games. Now on to the tougher stuff, like “lost scenes,” music videos, and loosely organized mock-tabloids.

But these essays – yargh. I am limiting myself to 5-10 minutes per paper, and yet I have still only graded ten. Why? Because they are MAKING ME CRAZY.

Coincidentally, today one of my RSS feeds had something to say about grading essays. Rate Your Students is a… well, I guess it might be a therapeutic tool for angsty professors. You’ve heard of Rate Your Professors, I’m sure; well, a bunch of professors got irritated by that site and created a blog where they basically rant about their awful students. It’s sick, twisted, and often entirely hilarious.

Anyway, today a chemistry professor submitted this gem:

Grading my finals
is easy as pi: no essays.
I teach chem, not lit.

Calculate numbers.
Equations are right or wrong.
No partial credit.

Poor comp and lit profs.
Students cannot plagiarize
If they do not write.

Chem grads get jobs.
People think we’re useful.
Pay accordingly.

Well rounded? Hell no!
I did learn to write Haiku
by reading this site.

Sounds pretty damn good, actually. I was kind of thinking I might go the PE teacher route. How much lesson planning and essay grading do you have to do to make kids run stair laps?

April 27, 2008 at 5:55 pm 1 comment

Week in a Burkha

This is another long post, but I think it’s a pretty interesting story.

DR does a “semester novel project” each term with her accelerated classes. In the spring, the students choose and read three books, find a common theme (usually they choose books based on that theme) conduct research, and do some sort of combined written/presentation project. Many of these projects incorporate primary source research using surveys, experimentation, or tests. It is a fairly significant endeavor and makes up much of their second semester grade.

One of my students, a girl who recently moved to the US from Indonesia, is building her project around The Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns, and one other book that currently escapes my mind. As part of her project she is researching the sociological effects related to the treatment of women in Middle Eastern countries; as part of that research she is chronicling her experiences this week, which she is spending in a burkha.

It is somewhat extraordinary to have a burkha-clad student in my white-bread American classroom. For one thing, it wasn’t at all what I was expecting. When she indicated that she would like to do this, I was envisioning a garment along these lines:

black burqa

Instead, she arrived in something more like this:

blue burqa

It’s a beautiful color of blue with ornate stitching (if you click that photo you can see it) and it falls to her knees when she stands. Unlike the black burkhas, which seem to have openings for the eyes, her eyes are hidden behind a dyed-to-match fabric mesh. In indirect light her face vanishes entirely. This is apparently the Afghan variety of burkha, called a chadri; the bulkier black variety is more common in Yemen.

Although I hadn’t consciously decided to do so, I find myself mentally evaluating my experience of her week as well. The situation wasn’t nearly as uncomfortable as I was expecting, for one thing. My kids, being sophomores, were remarkably accepting of the situation; I’m not sure if word had gotten around beforehand, but they really took it in stride.

The first day of the experiment was project presentation day, and my student (let’s call her Lisa) had spoken to me before about her options. She had chosen to memorize and perform a monologue from the play, but didn’t feel that it would be very effectively shared from underneath a sheet of fabric. The problem was that she was planning to do this Right, and couldn’t remove her burkha with males in the room. I thought about it, and realized that it might be a powerful experience for the other people in the class if the room were temporarily segregated.

When it came her turn to present, I asked all of the boys to stand up. (There are only eight in that class.) I then asked them to follow me into the hall, offering no explanation; when we were there, I told them that they couldn’t be in the room with the women right now and that I needed them to take a seat along the walls and be quiet until I came back to them. As you can imagine, they were pretty curious as to what was going on. I shut the door, covered the window, and acknowledged Lisa.

Lisa stood and struggled with the folds of fabric. As she emerged I realized that something unusual had happened. Lisa is a pretty girl, but as her face was revealed she looked somehow different – prettier, rarer. Kind of like absence making the heart grow fonder, y’know? Only here, absence (of seeing her face, even for only half an hour) made the face grow sweeter. Maybe it was all in my head, but I was so stricken by the impact it had on me that I forgot to listen to the first part of her monologue.

The following day Lisa arrived, a faceless turquoise pillar, and took her usual seat in the front center of the classroom. As I teach I get a half-conscious sense of empty desks, which I use to piece together my attendance when there’s a lull (I know, not very good practice, but there’s so much to do!) About halfway through the period I had a second to begin thinking about who wasn’t there, and my numbers weren’t adding up. Suddenly I realized that I had mentally marked Lisa absent – and that I’d literally been looking right through her all hour. I made myself look right at her and literally felt my eyes slide off of her. For the second time in as many days I was completely flummoxed by my unexpected reflexive reactions to Lisa’s garments.

Today I asked Lisa if I could take her picture while she worked on her test, and discovered a third interesting aspect of the situation. On a normal day Lisa is a quiet girl, but over the course of the past three days I’d heard her voice exactly once – when she took off the burkha for the monologue. Now that I had to ask her a direct question, I found it difficult to phrase my question and even harder to make out her response. I’m a very visual learner, and (if this makes sense) a visual listener; I find it hard to follow conversations when I can’t see the speaker’s face. Speaking to a mesh of blue fabric was exceptionally uncomfortable.

After I passed out the test, I asked myself what was making me uncomfortable other than simply not seeing Lisa’s face. That’s when I realized that something else was going on in my brain. Maybe it was the religious feeling of the garment, or just the girl’s courage, but I was treating Lisa with an entirely new level of respect and deference.

The sociological impact of a burkha is not, apparently, limited to its native lands. It’s a hardwired response – the cause and effect are not where I thought they were. I couldn’t resist my reaction to Lisa if I’d tried.

It’s gotten me to thinking. The burkha protects the modesty of women in a culture that (traditionally) views women as valuable commodities, a fiercely patriarchal society. And if you believe your woman to be precious, and if you believe your woman to be your property and only yours, then you put her in a burkha so that you are the only man who can ever see her. It’s like Smeagol and his ring – hide the treasure away, and when you do see it, it seems so much more beautiful than it would if it were “common.” In a society where women are inferior in status to men, you put women in a burkha so that they become invisible, so that the eye slides off of them and onto men. You hide their faces so that eye contact is impossible. And as anyone who has ever pulled the covers over their head knows, when you’re under there you are in a different place. You become quiet, inward-looking. You listen to things going on around you, but you don’t interact. So in a culture like this, you put the women away in their separate fabric “room,” and they slowly, inevitably withdraw. They are not a part of the man’s world. They observe, but they do not partake.

I’m fascinated to hear what Lisa shares when she presents her findings. I know that she has already been challenged by a principal (he wanted to know “is there some alternative way that she could have this experience? it is challenging for other students when one student wears non-policy-following clothing”; I would like to know if he has any suggestions for alternatives, and whether he has studied educational law in the last twenty years). I know that a student called her a terrorist on Tuesday. I wonder how her other teachers are reacting – whether they are talking to her, whether they are finding that she has become invisible in their classes as well, whether it affects them like it does me.

In the meantime, I have two photos to share: the Midsummer Night’s Dream test, in action.

lisa1 lisa2

April 23, 2008 at 9:01 pm 4 comments

Mrs. Bees vs. Wonder Mother, Part II

Part I can be read here.

Third quarter progress reports went out. The following day we had an email from the twins’ mother – 1,289 words (that’s two pages single-spaced) of “questions” about Yin’s grade. By “questions” I mean, of course, barely concealed attempts to intimidate DR into changing his grade. She had some erroneous information gathered, apparently, from the boys’ friends, and was under the impression that I had given class instruction on the format of that essay on Thursday as well as a set of required guidelines. She had also been told that other students hadn’t been penalized for late work. Yin had evidently given her the impression that he was forced to miss additional class instruction in order to write his explanatory letter, and that his letter was in some way an argument for his grade rather than a requirement for ANY points. He also, apparently, neglected to mention that “turn it in by 5 for full credit” bit.

The email was sent to DR’s email account (which I check) and there were several thinly veiled comments about my integrity and teaching ability. Here’s one:

[Yin] is devastated by this grade and is extremely disappointed that his explanation provided in his letter that he wrote for Ms. Bees on Monday was not valued.  Personally, I am curious about the due date policy that was applied for this assignment, since one entire section of the assignment was based on instruction that occured [sic] while the boys were out.

[DR], could you please check the accuracy of this with your student teacher and clarify the situation?  I trust my sons in their honesty…

Her email was littered snide quotation marks around words, such as This grade is totally out of character for him, as are the sequences of events leading up to ‘earning’ this grade.

The kicker, however, was the email signature. It identified the author as Dr. Wonder Mother, Principal of a prestigious magnet school in the district.

DR was aggravated. I was mildly perturbed; after all, what person trying to get hired wants a principal coming down on them? However, I felt that this was a clear case of misunderstanding, so I carefully and calmly responded (making it clear that I was the teacher and that Wonder Mother could address her concerns with confidence to me).

Before sending the email, however, DR and I sat down with Yin and asked him about his grade. We asked if he was unsatisfied, and he acknowledged that he was disappointed. We asked if he felt his grade were unwarranted, or if there was anything he could say in his defense. [Note: This was an extremely laidback and non-confrontational conversation.] He told us that he guessed he deserved the penalty, that he understood that he’d actually gotten a good deal with his 50% vs. 0%. We offered him the opportunity to redo that last essay as if we really HAD just assigned it while he was gone, but he declined.

I sent the email.

I received a response the following day. The tone of this email – 601 words, this time – was rather different. WM thanked me for my thoughtful reply, acknowledged that she was still concerned, and then launched into Concerto for World’s Tiniest Violin. She told me how Yang had gotten to the computer first, how it was 2 AM before Yin was able to use it, and how Yin was such a perfectionist that he couldn’t bring himself to turn in an incomplete effort. She also told me – with evident pride – that it was unsurprising that Yin wouldn’t advocate for himself, as she had taught him never to “talk back” to his teachers.

The best part, at the end of the email, went like this:

Yin and Yang will both continue to do what they have always done as students and that is to enjoy learning, try to always do their best and to be respectful to their teachers.  You will see them doing quality work for you and turning in assignments on time…. as they have always done except for this one occasion where circumstances made it impossible. You will not see any difference in either of them on that regard. The difference that resulted from this lesson is behind the scenes.


Yang told me that maybe he doesn’t want to be on the engineering team if it is going to be so difficult to get make-up work in on the first day back from when they return. He had already given up all of his extracurricular athletics this year, tennis, track and cross country, so that he could keep up with the homework load.  Now he feels that he needs to drop the one thing that he does for fun when he isn’t focusing on pure academics. Yin isn’t sharing his feelings, but he has been sitting and going through his project repeatedly since getting home this afternoon.


So, perhaps Yin will pull his grade up again… and perhaps not….but truly the grade is the lesser concern now.

DR and I were taken aback by the blatant attempt to guilt me into changing the grade. The way WM ended the email made it seem that no response was necessary, so DR and I decided to do the sensible thing and let the matter drop. (It’s so much easier to do this in the age of email!)

About a week later, the third email arrived. It was about a thousand words long and dripping with venom and cold rage. She, or her sons, had apparently decided that I was lying about the Thursday instruction. Her email told me, in carefully worded terms, that I was either stupid or lying and that this had caused damage to both sons’ grades. She expressed her dismay that Yin and Yang felt that “all avenues of consideration had been closed to them.” It ended with her “kind” offer to come to CHS to discuss the issue and educate me as to the errors of my ways, followed by eight different assurances that she had NEVER felt the need to pursue something with a teacher before and that she was NOT a demanding parent, but that I had just simply pushed her too far.

Furious at this point, DR replied to this third email. In it she repeated my assertions that instruction had not taken place and that the boys had had enough information to complete the assignment thoroughly. She pointed out that neither Yin nor Yang had expressed their concerns to us and that it was important for them to learn, as accelerated high school students, to advocate for themselves. DR said that of course we would be happy to meet with them, but that their grades were earned according to long-standing class policy – actually a kinder version thereof – and that she feared Wonder Mother wasn’t getting the full story.

The next day, Wonder Mother responded. I have rarely had the opportunity to read such a cold email. It opened with “This reinforces to my husband and I that we must meet with you” and then went on to list a litany of complaints and “evidence” in wording that suggested that the judge had already made his – or rather, her – decision. Wonder Mother told us in no uncertain terms what had happened in our classroom on a day when neither she nor her sons had been present. The level of condescension was Arctic.

It was impressive. And it was scary – not in a “yikes, now I have to meet with an angry parent” sort of way, but in a “wow, I’m looking into the face of evil” sort of way. It was signed by both Wonder Mother and Wonder Father.

We set up an appointment with the parents, the counselor, and the VP for the following Monday. The counselors and VPs indicated to us that Wonder Mother had already been talking to them, campaigning for herself behind our backs. Fortunately, after hearing our side of the story and reading WM’s emails, the administration was firmly on our side.

to be continued…

April 12, 2008 at 11:52 pm 1 comment

Mrs. Bees vs. Wonder Mother, Part I

The past week has been wrought with drama, thanks to a particularly nasty and extended altercation with an aggressive parent. My mentor says that she’s never encountered anything quite like it. I’m sharing this story because I’d like to commit it to virtual memory, because some of you may find it entertaining, and because some of you may find it helpful.

Did you read that article in Time that talked about the parents that drive teachers crazy? It was called “Parents Behaving Badly” (Feb. 21, 2005). Well, “Wonder Mother” is a pretty nice illustration of the “public defender” parent. I’ll share some illustrative quotes from that article here:

By the time children turn 18, they have spent only 13% of their waking lives in the classroom. Their habits of mind, motivation and muscles have much more to do with that other 87%. But try telling that to an Ivy-educated mom and dad whose kids aren’t doing well. It can’t be the genes, Mom and Dad conclude, so it must be the school.

At the most disturbing extreme are the parents who like to talk about values but routinely undermine them.

Student-teacher disputes can quickly escalate into legal challenges or the threat of them. The fear of litigation that has given rise to the practice of defensive medicine prompts educators to practice defensive teaching.

Without further ado, I begin my saga. And yes, it’s a long one…

The Background

I teach, among others, three sets of twins. This story concerns the pair of fraternal twins, who – despite being both males of Caucasian descent – shall be called Yin and Yang on this blog. This will help differentiate between Yin – the melancholy, silent, passive, ignorable boy who never speaks – and Yang, who is cheerful, noisy, and active. Both boys are bright, hardworking, and more along the lines of “future engineers” than “future scholars of literature.” They carry comfortable As in accelerated sophomore English.

The month of February was devoted to a major project, worth 250 points of their 3rd quarter grade. One week before the due date (a Monday), Yin and Yang came up to me to tell me that they would be absent Thursday and Friday to compete in an engineering competition. I asked them how their projects were coming, and they assured me that they’d been getting a lot of work done and were feeling confident. I told them that Thursday and Friday were library/computer lab days, so they’d have to complete any work left unfinished without the benefit of the library and lab.

On Thursday, while my students were finishing up their projects, I realized that there were a few recurring questions about one portion, an essay worth about 10% of the final grade. Taking the opportunity to flex my “creating helpful graphic organizer” muscles that I’d developed in my certification program, I threw together a worksheet that provided some generic questions they should answer. I printed it off, took it to the library, and told my kids that if they would like the handout it was available. Most, but not all, of them picked up a copy. Most, but not all, of them stuck it in the back of their binder and never looked at it again.

Second period Monday, Yang submitted his final project. It was pretty good, although it had some small issues that collaboratively dropped his project grade to a B. One such problem was that 10% essay, which he wrote as a bullet list.

Fourth period, Yin failed to turn in his project.

Now, my mentor teacher, DR, has a STRICT late work policy for the accelerated classes. Late work is not accepted. We provide “slowpoke” certificates so that smaller assignments can be turned in late – one per quarter – but they can’t be used on major projects or tests. By fourth period, however, I’d had a small number of (good) students arrive emptyhanded and brokenhearted. I spoke with DR and told her that I wanted to give half credit for students if they could get their projects in the following day. While the other students peer-reviewed one anothers’ projects, I had those without projects write me letters explaining their lateness. I also told them that if they could submit their project by the end of the day – meaning about 5 PM – that I would accept it as on time.

Yin’s project was submitted the following day, and was very good. He received a 248 out of 250 before the 50% penalty. The note I left him on his project indicated how disappointing it was for me to have to give such a low mark to such a good project, and that I hoped he would manage his time better in the future.

I’m sure he was disappointed, but he didn’t say anything and the semester went on.

to be continued…

April 12, 2008 at 1:04 am 1 comment

Back to School, and Third Quarter Grades

It is 11 PM on the last night of Spring Break. I am torn. On the one hand, this was a dismal excuse for a Spring Break. It’s bad enough not having the funds to go anywhere or do anything, but must I spend the last five days as a lonely Computer Monitor Widow? On the other hand, I don’t feel ready to go back. I’m in a bit of a funk (they might call it depression these days, but in my world we call it a “funk”) and, left to my own devices, I might not really have the energy or willpower to go back. You know the kind of funk I mean. It’s the kind where you want to hide under the bed or, lacking that, run away to join the pirates.

Patently, I AM going back. I’ll be happy once I get there. But I’m much less prepared than I’d hoped to be. I had kind of thought I might not start off the week with the film version of Midsummer Night’s Dream, but right now I’m happy for the excuse to not think for another day or two. Sigh. I needed a break. Now I really need one.


So, I’m putting the finishing touches on the third quarter grades. I’m going to submit them in a moment here (they’re due at 8 AM tomorrow) but possibly amend them when I get to school, as I need to double-check something I can’t access from home. Looking at my grades, I fear that I may be grading too easily. That, or I offered far too much extra credit. (The extra credit thing is certainly true, but I acted on professional advice, and don’t precisely regret it. This is a tough class.)

Among all of my students, regular and accelerated combined, I am reporting:

66 A’s
25 B’s
8 C’s
1 D
3 F’s

Wow. That’s kinda weird, actually. Only one D? I wonder how that happened.

Don’t get me wrong – this is FAR from a grade inflation factory over here. In fact, I keep getting grief from my “how to teach” classmates about being too hard on my kids. The thing is, they’re hard workers, and almost all of them are really “good” kids. Three of my four failing grades (because I count a D as failing, even if the school doesn’t) really do have bad attitudes, and the other seems to have a pathological aversion to turning in schoolwork despite being charming, helpful, and brilliant. Most of my C students are either working hard and pleased with their progress, or else screwed up on a major project and are struggling to get back to the good grades they prefer to earn.

My class averages are high as well (obviously). Second period has a 92% average, and third (my worst-behaved class) has a 90.2%. Fourth period (almost all girls, and my best-behaved class) and sixth period (my zaniest, but probably brightest, class) both have an impressive 95.4% average. Fifth period, my regular class, is holding steady with an 82.6%.

March 30, 2008 at 11:24 pm Leave a comment

Poetry Anthologies and Inadvertent Plagiarism

I don’t actually want to blog – I seem to have lost the impetus, lately, but I have faith it will return – but I feel the need to comment on what I’m doing right now.

At the beginning of February, I assigned a Poetry Anthology. This was a slightly modified version of a project DR has always done with her accelerated sophomores. (I also made a slimmed-down version and assigned it to the regular sophomores, but that’s another post.) I taught it, in just about every way, with the same amount of structuring and scaffolding as DR.

The anthologies were due March 3. I was surprised that ANY students – knowing that this was a 250 point assignment, and that classroom policy dictated that accelerated projects could not be turned in late for credit – would not come with SOMETHING to submit. They did, however – about half a dozen of them.

The work that I did receive is overall good – particularly when I remind myself that I’m dealing with sophomores. Some of the anthologies are far better than others. Some exhibit a decided lack of time management. This is what I expected.

The one I’m grading right now is on track to get an A. I’m on second period (these are a bit time-consuming, but primarily I’m dealing with the fact that I’m doing too much actual teaching to grade) and so far, the boys are faltering and the girls are excelling (with one exception due to incompleteness). I don’t like to see that, but then again, it IS second period. They’re my most frustrating, low-achieving accelerated class. Only 11 kids in the room, and the air of “don’t want to be here” is apparently contagious.

I’ve graded six so far this afternoon, recording the following scores:




male 197 78.8%
female 147 (incomplete) 58.8%
male 215 86%
male 174 69.6%
female 247 98.8%
female 248 99.2%


Imagine how depressing it was to record those first four scores! I thought for sure that all of the students were going to flop, that somehow my instructions were bad, my classroom work time insufficient, my expectations misguided. Thank goodness for my two lovely ladies at the bottom of that table who proved that directions CAN be followed!

The main thing that is really perturbing me – and this is on all of the male students’ anthologies thus far – is the complete disregard for what we’ve taught them about research and internal citation. Not only did these boys fail to actually write a real essay for the required “featured poet biographical essay” component, but they failed to include a single internal citation between them. I’ve left notes in their scoring rubrics notifying them that what they have done is technically plagiarism, and that they need to be more careful because this is a serious offense.

Knowing sophomores, though, they’re not going to read that comment – or if they do, they’re not going to retain it. I think I’m going to do a mini-lecture on Monday. Show them a sample “essay” without internal citation, see who can identify the problem. Then tell them a little story about what happens to plagiarists at a college level. Sure, I know this isn’t quote-unquote “real” plagiarism – it’s carelessness, not deviousness. But it IS serious, and it is inexcusable after the amount of training we’ve done in class on appropriate research techniques.

This is a negative sort of post, but I want to record (for posterity, and for the very nice educators who have stopped by and left encouraging comments in the past few days) how happy I really am with these anthologies. I love this project, and love what the kids did with it. I SO want to teach tenth grade again next year, I can just TASTE it. And I know it’s not terribly likely. But still… want want want. I’m going to share some of these anthologies, through photographs, in the near future – I think. I’m just so proud of them. And some of the stuff is too good – or too funny – NOT to share. 🙂

In closing, an excerpt from the current anthology’s reflection essay:

After writing this anthology the only thing I can think of is how much time was put into the making of it. The decorations, all the time spent on the internet, and the writing blocks that had to be overcome. After I surpass that thought I decide that this was the most fun project I have done in an English class for quite some time.

I’ll take that.

March 9, 2008 at 6:53 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!

I am striving to maintain anonymity on this blog so that I may more freely interact with my fellow edubloggers. If you know who I am, please help me protect my anonymity in your comments. I use pseudonyms or initials for everyone I write about to preserve their anonymity as well.