Monday, September 26, 2005

Quiet down, class.

As a student teacher, my supervising professor would regularly comment that I allowed too much din, that low hum of puberty driven chatter, the bane of countless teachers. My master teacher had a fool-proof plan for eliminating unwanted chatter--though I was reluctant to enforce this plan. He simply doled out sentences. "I will not talk in class." Twenty-five times for first offenses and fifty for a second. Quiet down, class; I can hear you all chuckling at this mostly outdated method.
But today, in week number four of 9th grade English, the same as I student taught four years ago, I am considering this method. If you walked into that classroom four years ago, the silence of the room dominated your experience. Classroom mangament issues remained stories told by my student teaching peers. Now today, my classroom hums along with a gentle din.
I am set on putting an end to it. Not that I need it absolutely quiet; trust me, my normal teaching voice can be heard in the main office, two buildings and a stretch of sidewalk away. But there are students who need a quieter environment. I should give detentions, but that process seems so much more disruptive. "Johnnie, stop talking," I'll say. "I'm not talking," he'll quip. Then we banter back and forth about how when he opens his mouth and words come out, that is considered talking. He'll protest even louder. Or, I could just skip to, "Jill, you have a detention for talking." To which shouts of "you're so unfair, those boys were talking too" will ring out.
And at the end of the day, I'll be frustrated, bang my head against my desk and say, "How do I get them to shut-up??"

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

In honor of the Carnival

It has been a few weeks since I posted at the Carnival. But, as I read the various entries for this week I realized that The Education Wonk has, for the last 33 weeks, brought together the education community.
As my school entered this year, the principal has encouraged the teachers to join together, collaborate, and improve our practice. I can't say whether or not the grade level groups have all been meeting. My guess, knowing the culture at the school, is that many of these groups either don't meet or are unproductive when they do.
It would be interesting if the Education Wonk could provide us with the visitor statistics for any given Carnival. Just looking at the many offerings, the comments on those offerings, and each individual blog's link list, a wonderful amount of collaboration and thought is taking place.
Too often we are unwilling to put in the time to work with our peers. Maybe we don't trust them; maybe they pissed us off a few year ago. But for me, I enjoy working in an environment free from petty squabbles, distrust, and finger-pointing. I love coming to the Carnival to read the thoughts and events of my collective colleagues. Was it Twain who said we read to know we aren't alone?
It is a complicated profession we have chosen. We are in the public eye, under public scrutiny, and tasked with educating students who may or may not want to be there. Some have small classrooms and large class loads, but we show up, always, hopefully always, wanting to perform, wanting to reach that kid for the greater good of that same society that is constantly peering over our shoulders.
Thanks Education Wonk for allowing us to meet, break bread, and find hope and comfort.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Buy In

On the third day of school, I spent a considerable amount of each period talking with my freshmen about how to succeed as a high school student. One of my "talking points," as Bill O'Reilly would put it, was the issue of buy in.
It seems to me that when a student buys in to the school she attends, her time there is more enjoyable and she does better academically. So, as our ASB and Leadership students promote Spirit Weeks, Pep Assemblies, and event attendance, how do we as staff members convince our students to buy in to the school.
School pride at the school I teach at wallows in the dolldrums. I think we have a fabulous school--great faculty, great kids, and great vision. Unfortunately, many of our students have not bought into what we are doing. Certainly some of the attempts are a bit dorky, if you will; but if everyone in the community, the school that is, joined in the dorkiness, wouldn't we feel a lot better about showing up to school?
Maybe I am being unrealistic to think that students will buy in to the school they attend. Perhaps it is an unattainable goal to believe that students can have pride in the school they attend. Maybe it is a characteristic of the generation we work with. I sure hope not.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The Why of Blogging

Thanks to the blogopoly of The Education Wonk's dedication to finding great links, I was able to read Dana Huff's post on education blogs.

I had to ask myself two questions:
1. Why do I blog?
2. What is the purpose of my blog?

Having a lot to say doesn't grant one the right to say something. Everyone around me knows I have a lot to say. I blog because I believe that my experience, both personally and professionally has something to offer, in terms of the stories I can tell, to the education community. I believe that, despite my lack of tenured experience, my daily grind in the classroom may offer to someone, and at no particular time and for no particular reason, a sense of connectedness, agreement, inspiration, caution, or any other sense.
It is important to me that what I say on my blog has some purpose behind it. I would hate to think that my peers and audience read my words and when finished ask, "Why did I just read that?" The Daily Grind's purpose is to reflect on my profession. Sometimes that reflection will take me down the "us vs. them" road as the Education Wonk put it; but I hope that more often than not, I am offering an honest evaluation of what we do. I hope that I can be fair.
Alexander Russo has written an article regarding teachers and blogs. He has included some comments about my blog. I don't think he's done me justice; but, I think that all dialogue about education, if intended to better the process, is beneficial. We are not just talking about our jobs, we are talking about affecting the future of children. I think that is worth being critical, in the true sense of the word, about what we all do.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

The simple things

Last year while teaching a two sections of Pre-College English, I decided to give blogging a try in the classroom. I had hoped that maybe my students would buy into this world of writing. Yes, many I'm sure have Myspace sites, but I was dreaming of students thinking critically about their lives, politics, literature and all of that. I was dreaming that they might begin to put it down in words.
Well, at least one of my former students has continued with blogging. She is just getting started. If you are a regular reader of my blog please support my former student by dropping by to encourage her on in the world of blogging.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

A Cry for Peace

Over at the Carnival of Education, hosted by The Science Goddess, Coach Brown had some well written remarks regarding the tragedy in New Orleans. He writes:
"This could be a defining generation, one that faces the challenges head on and deals with them using courage, strength, and will. Or it could be another cynical generation, full of spite and anger at the government, the world, and each other. In the end, we can affect this decision. This is what we were hired to do."
As my students walked into class today, slightly intimidated by their new school--they are freshmen,--it never fully occurred to me just what they are up against. You see, at 28 years old, these tragedies, Columbine, 9/11, war, and natural devastation, shape me as well. They are a part of my world view, and I first have to shape them into an understanding before I can even affect an understanding for them.
I suppose that this is the great difficulty we have as teachers. How do we first make sense of the world around us and then impart our experience to our students. Yes, we are asked to make a difference; and in spite of the mounting standards and No Child Left Behind, we still must teach the youth of our country how to be citizens in this world. There is no rubric for that.
It would be a great shame if the only lesson our students learn from this catastrophic event was that there is always someone to blame other than oneself. If they are even watching the news, our students hear the mayor point fingers at everyone but himself. The governor points a finger at someone else. The federal government points a finger at someone else. Why can't someone, anyone in this mixed up world, just say, "I didn't do it exactly right." Why can't our news agencies focus on the various relief efforts, the astounding show of human compassion on fellow human beings? Instead, we are impressing this next generation with the cynicism we hope to God, or whatever it is you hope to, they do not develop.
Coach Brown is right. In the end, the final analysis, it can be us, the teachers who should stop adding to the chaos with our own rhetoric, who can point out the great show of mercy--which ultimately should be the lesson learned.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Cal Ripken Jr.

I must take a moment to offer a break in the regular programming. Ten years ago today, my boyhood hero, Cal Ripken Jr., broke the unbreakable record. He surpassed Lou Gehrig's consecutive games played record of 2130. Ripken's streak ended at 2632.
I must pay tribute to a man I've never met because he influenced the way I play my game. I teach professionally and I try to be as classy as Cal. I try to respect the profession and enjoy the profession.
Thank you Cal for setting the standard. I cried the night you broke the record; I cried the night you ended your streak; I will cry the day you enter the Hall of Fame.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Calling all English Teachers

A colleague of mine has requested that I offer a grammar and writing unit for all to use. He claims technical lag (similar to jet lag). I can't say I'm too far ahead, but I do have this blog. So, if you wish, use it. Also, if you care to, please offer feedback. The author of the unit is Mr. Foley.
Grammar and Writing

My colleagues unit brings to mind a topic of great interest to me as an English teacher. In the education world where standards and testing are at an all time high, how do we teach writing. I can say taht I don't feel all that competent at taking a student's writing from point A to point B. Writing, and the corresponding skill of grammar, has come easy to me. But many of our students struggle with writing correctly.
How do you teach writing? How do you teach grammar? Is grammar even an important thing to teach? How do we make grammar more accessible to our students (translated: more interesting)? Please let me know.