Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Gather Round the Campfire

Today for Halloween, I had my students write ghost stories. One group of girls came to the front of the class and started their story like this:

  • Girl one: Once the bread popped out of the toaster, nobody knew what to put on it. Jelly, margarine, cinnamon-sugar.
  • Girl two: He said write a ghost story, not a toast story!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Teacher Credability

This week I was teaching a lesson on credibility in writing. We were specifically looking at types of evidence and fallacies of argument, but that's not too important right now. What I remember saying is that if your readers doubt your credibility, then they're going to have a hard time taking you seriously or believing anything you say.

As teachers, we have a certain amount of credibility with our students. Our credibility can be strictly as educators, but I think it extends to more than just that. Students need to believe that we are credible human beings too and this sort of credibility will pay off if a student has some major life issue going on in their personal life. (abuse, divorce, death in family, etc.) It's one thing to say that you care about a student's well-being, life, and future, and it's another thing entirely to actually show it. Telling a student, “I care about you as a person, not just a student,” doesn't really cut it. In fact, it's kind of lame if that's all you do. There needs to be someway for you to convey this to students through actions. I've discovered a few ways to build positive relationships with students that establish credibility as a human being, and not just a robot whose only job is to teach.

  1. Talk to students about their lives. Get to know what type of music they like and don't be afraid to have a five minute talk about pop culture.

  2. Support their fund raisers. I've bought half a dozen candy bars, several magazine subscriptions, and even some bathroom candles. I've spent maybe 60 bucks, but I write it off as an educational expense and not only does my bathroom smell good now, but there's something to read in there as well. Supporting fund raisers in visible way or allowing students to hawk their wares in class builds your credibility as a person.

  3. Go to their extracurricular events. If you can, show up to the baseball, basketball, or scholars bowl even. Go to the school plays and other student led events. If you don't have the time for these sorts of things, then at least find out about them and ask your students how they went.

  4. Smile at your students and say hi to them in the halls, even the students who give you a hard time in class.

  5. Chaperon events. I chaperoned a dance last night and the students were pleasantly surprised to see me there. I had a lot of them come up and talk to me throughout the night and ask me how things were. A few of them asked me to get out on the dance floor and break it down, but I told them that I'm there to make sure they're having fun and being safe. I'm always mindful that they know that I'm still a teacher, even though I don't look much older than they are. At my high school, everyone shows up to the dance and everyone dances with everyone. It's a friendly environment, but even if you're dances are more drama-filled, I still suggest you go. At the very least, you get to learn a lot about your students by watching them dance.

  6. Do the assignment with them. If students are complaining about an assignment being unfair, a lot of times, I'll go ahead and do the assignment with them while they're doing this. I do this most often with my creative writing class, but sharing a personal narrative as Kyle did is also a good idea.

  7. Have a sense of humor. If you're not a funny person, then at least laugh at the funny things your kids say in class. Students say the funniest things, sometimes unintentionally.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Full Court Press

As I begin typing this, I'm sitting at my first high school basketball game at the school that I teach. It's between games right now, so don't worry. I'm not typing this during the game. I'll finish typing most of the post at home. I just watched the girls slaughter the opposing team and I'm kind of impressed. It's funny because every single one of the girls who played are students of mine. My students who work hard in the classroom, work hard on the court as well. I watched them hustle hustle hustle the entire game. I'm not sure how a parent instills that sort of determination and drive. From what I can tell, it's mostly intrinsic. I have a pair of sisters who are more or less the exact opposite as far as motivation goes. One of them busts her butt to get everything done while the other barely works at all.

I can't help but feel I am but a minor player in these students' lives. I see them for one hour a day, five days a week. I'm facilitating them in becoming the adults they will be, but most of these kids have a good framework built up already. Not all of them, but most of them. It's as if I'm helping to pass the baton, from one role model to the next. In some cases though, I might be the first adult to actually attempt to pick up the baton.

I really love this job. The small school is great for letting me get to know all of my students, not just a small portion of the population. Tonight I also got a chance to talk to some of the parents and for the most part I was able to tell them what great kids they had and what a good job their kid was doing in my classroom. That's a really good feeling actually. I then reminded them that they had parent teacher conferences next week and that I hoped to see them again. Tonight was a rewarding night, but jeez, I was at the school for over 13 hours. That's a long time to be hanging out in one place. It's almost the weekend and I'm looking forward to it. Next week is an abbreviated week. I only have class for three days really. Thursday is parent teacher conferences and Friday is a day off. I need to get to bed. I got another full day on track.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Personal Narratives

My seventh and eighth graders turned in their personal narratives today and after reading over them, I am so damn proud of them. Most of them really took hold of this assignment and ran with it. I have some really excellent pieces of writing and it's neat thinking that I had something to do with them. In total, we've spent two and a half weeks with these things and I think the extra time really paid off. I think what really ended up helping a lot was the fact that I gave them all two days to work on it in class, and two days of proofing. The first day of proofing was really a revision day. I had the students read over each other's personal narratives and then tell each other what they liked about them. The second day was yesterday and that's when we looked at the nitpicky details such as spelling and grammar. Almost all of my students have mastered the MLA heading, something I still didn't have down pat until college. It's days like this when I actually feel more like a teacher, like I've done something worthwhile during my time at school. I had them write reflections before they turned in their personal narratives in order to gauge their thought processes. Most of them just wrote letters to me and they all said how much they enjoyed the project and how they found the writing to get easier as they did more of it. Furthermore, a lot of them asked if we could do more writing in class. More writing! How wonderful is that?

On another educational note, today in my creative writing class one of my reluctant writers came up to me and asked if we could do some free writing. He said he had something on his mind that he wanted to write about. Now, this is a student who I have to constantly request that he write more than just four lines. He filled up an entire two pages with his thoughts about the day. It was silly teenage relationship drama, but it was important to him and I was glad that he allowed me to read it, though I didn't ask him to share it with the class. I'm starting to realize that sometimes my students don't want to share with the class what their thoughts truly are. I usually ask my students to share their writings, but perhaps I'll make it more optional.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Blogaction Day

Why just complain about the state of education when you can do something to actually help? I want to plug a fundraiser brought up by my friend Chris, who is a phd candidate in computational biology. To quote the man himself:
"In an era of increasing politicization of science, it's more important than ever to teach children about how the scientific method works. Science teachers are on the front lines of this culture war, and it's important that they have the resources that they need.

Solutions like this are no substitute for adequate school funding, but we can't wait around for that kind of education reform. Doing so would mean losing a whole generation of scientists. The potential to change the world is in these children's minds, and it would be a crime to neglect them. Let's give these children and teachers the support that they deserve."

The donate page here. As Chris says, it's only a few bucks and it only means you have to give up coffee or alcohol or something small for a week.

I'd say donate to English classrooms, but we're much easier to fund.

(Note: This is my contribution to Blogaction day. Shakespeare and Billy Collins probably won't stop global warming, but science might.)

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Reading Ain't Cool

Today I was remind of the very strong undercurrent against success in public schools. One of my students, who we'll call Randy, was openly mocked today for two things. One, he was able to make inferences from the reading about future events. Two, he liked the reading enough to talk about it in class. Now Randy is a smart kid. He's probably the smartest boy of his social group. The problem is that his peers don't do well in school because their academic ability is below average. As a result, they blow it off and disparage the school in general. This poses a problem for students like Randy who perform well in school, but must keep their success and understanding a secret from their peer group. Now Randy is fairly successful with this, but he let his enthusiasm for the reading material slip and his peers jumped on this. They negatively reinforced the idea that reading is a waste of time by making fun of his eagerness to read. This is made worse by the fact that the book we are currently reading has a female main character who falls in love with a boy and raises a giant pumpkin. It's not the typical topic that teenage boys are interested in. Randy likes to hunt, ride his dirt bike, and horse around as much as the rest of my male students, but he also has a sensitive and artistic side. It's hard to encourage this without making him seem even uncooler, but I'm trying.