Sunday, July 30, 2006


I've been preparing for next year's Pre-College English group by examining whether or not to include the typical History of English unit. It is not my favorite to teach; and I suspect it is not the students' favorite to learn. It is, however, interesting how language evolves and changes, but ultimately always holds the ability to communicate.
In a recent post, I commented on the 'uproar' over President Bush's use of a four letter word. Then, during this most recently completed week of summer school, I had a student communicte with me in a very similar fashion. We had difficulty communicating because he was angry and I was not. My ability to get through to him may have been hindered by my inability to call his actions bullsh--.
Would our ability to communicate with our smart a-- students or those little f---ers (a term I heard an elementary school teacher use to refer to his/her students) improve, if we could use the language they use? I mean really, has anyone ever overheard this conversation:

"Hey John, why the f--- didn't you come over this weekend?"
"I was hella busy."
"Man, we did some crazy s---!"
"I heard."
"From who?"
"That little b---- Jill."
"Hey, we better get to class. Mr. Mac's been a real d--- about tardiness."
"I know. That guy needs to get the stick out of his a--."

It reminds me of the comedy set that Bernie Mac does in The Original Kings of Comedy about the word muthahf-----. A great set if you find the current use of cuss words humorous. But in truth, I do wonder if the English language has reached a new point in its evolution. Maybe these words that were once deemed highly offensive are only as offensive as words like piss, dang, darn, and shutup were to previous generations. You can hear words like b---- and a-- on television; and movies drop cuss words like their f----- going out of style b----.
Yes, it is an unconventional thought, and I have no intention to regularly use this vocabulary when I teach. But, I can't help but wonder if it would be more effective, at least in certain situations. The first time I hear a student drop a random F-bomb or any other cuss word, I give the students this talk:
Words are powerful. Cuss words are more powerful. If you over use them, or use them without thought, they lose their power. A well-placed cuss word can have amazing results. The typical classroom setting doesn't present too many opportunities to use them. So save them for when you really need them.

Maybe, I just need to tell them that they need to stop using those f------ word in my classroom otherwise I'm sending their a-- to the principal--who might be a real b---- and call their parents; then the s--- will hit the fan.

Monday, July 24, 2006


I love hot and humid days. It is a byproduct of having summers off as a kid in New England. Fortunately for me, Crystal Lake was my backyard. I guess I never realized how hot the days actually were until this recent spell of 90+ degree days in Seattle. But while I try to stay cool, which is not going well at all, I came across this wonderful essay.
I teach regular English classes as well as Reading classes. I hear myself saying, "You have to read actively to be successful," so often, I feel it will mark my headstone. The unfortunate part of teaching the skill of reading in the public sector is that we can't afford to give each student an individual book. Yes, there are a few students who already mark up their textbooks, though the content of their insights are better suited for commentary on the recent Clerks II.
The first marked a textbook or personal novel in college. I remember how naughty I felt, even though the professors had told us to do it. I would love for every one of my students to have the ability to mark up their readings. It really is an essential skill when reading academically. In fact, even the novels that I read for pleasure are peppered with my remarks of intrigue, confusion, and agreeance. Those lines that are poetic or honest or real have my precise underlining beneath them. Lines like:
I never killed anybody and I never developed an intense level of hatred for the enemy. Because my war ended before I ever put on a uniform; I was on active duty all my time at school; I killed my enemy there....All of them, all exept Phineas, constructed at infinite cost to themselves these Maginot Lines against this enemy they thought they saw across the frontier, this enemy who never attacked that way--if he ever attacked at all; if he was indeed the enemy (A Separate Peace).


"When a man leaves home, he leaves behind some scrap of his heart. Is it not so, Godric?" I thought of Burcewen waiting with her basket in the rain and how I kissed my father's head, and nodded yes. "It's the same with a place a man is going to," he said. "Only then he sends a scrap of his heart ahead." ...He said, "Godric, this much at least I know for sure. Until you reach it, every other place you find will fret you like a cage." (Godric)

To read is to understand yourself. It is to find what you have been longing for or what you have been in need of knowing. If only I could get that through to the i-media generation.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Sensitive Issue

An interesting "He said; She said" is developing in Hartford, CT. Now, I don't presume to know the facts, but I had a problem with a quote from one of the students. And, believe me, I know how sensitive the issue can be, and so I will tread carefully.
On the second page of the article, the columnist relays this information:

Even Jose said he believes that Williams tries to fit in with his students, and thinks that Williams' motivation is that he wants to be the students' favorite teacher.
But does he fit in?"Of course not," Jose said. "He's white."

Okay, so, because a teacher is of a different race, he can't relate to his students? There are two things that bother me. One is the assumption that teachers must share race or gender with a student in order to "fit in." A human being who is intelligent, savvy, and aware can "fit in" with whoever happens to be around him. If connecting with the people around us required us to share racial identity, we certainly would be living in a time not of today.
I don't wish to make it sound like the world we live in is not sprinkled with intolerance and nearsightedness when race or gender issues arise. Clearly, one has an advantage with making connections should obvious similarities be present. But, if we are all tolerant people, race or gender should not matter, whether one is a student or a teacher.
The second area of concern is, seeing as I am offended by the statement, "He's white," in reference to ability, meaning, the student is tying race with ability to connect, does the student get held accountable, or do we simply let it go because he is a student. An adult who makes a statement tying race to ability would be chastised. The teacher is being brought to task over an alleged remark, yet the student is not being brought to task over one in print.
Again, I don't wish to step on toes. But it relates to my previous post. Students need to be responsible and held accountable.


Are today's students the most caterd to generation? A Boston Globe article reports that they are.
I believe that today's students do not have near the capacity to make their own choices or fight their own battles as my generation (those born in the late 70's. ) But, I suspect that those born in the late 60's might say the same about my generation.
However, as a teacher, I can't help but be annoyed by the increasing number of students who do not have the skills to communicate for themselves. The number of parents fighting battles for their children amazes me. Even simple issues that could be resolved quickly if the student just came to me, become bigger issues because parents want to "protect" their children. As if this protection amounts to helping their child.
In the long run, students who never have to handle their own problems never learn how to do so efficiently. What happens is the student doesn't ever develop the necessary skill to solve problems, or think for themselves. It is no wonder that our country has become polarized. Today's generation of parents have brought about a situation that, frankly, I am bothered by.

I can go to the world of athletics to best make my point. Today, if a student athlete doesn't get playing time, or the players just aren't good enough, the coach is fired. Student athletes, as in pro sports, can dictate how the program is run--actually, parents can.
But for me, and again, I only have my experiences to draw from, that was not the case. I clearly recall sitting in the dugout of Brookside Park's Little League Field. I felt that I should have been starting the game at shortstop, as I had the previous year. The coach felt differently. My father showed up, and as he walked past the dugout, I whined about not starting. I kept whining as he stopped at the fence. His response: "I don't want to hear it. If you don't like the coach's decision, don't play baseball. " That was it. No "We'll talk to the coach," nothing. Just deal with it.
I believe I am a better person for it.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

July 19th??

What exactly have I done since school got out on June 20th? I wanted to map out the entire year of Pre-College English. Nope, haven't done that. I wanted to create a central website for my classroom. Nope, haven't done that. I wanted to purchase and read a book to improve my ability at teaching Literary Analysis. Nope. Read any book of significance. Nope. Have a few chapters of a book idea written. Not even close.
I have been teaching summer school, though only a 2.5 hour session--now that's a story I won't touch on this site. I have played in some poker tournaments--thus the need to teach summer school. I have played golf--again, summer school.
Sometimes I can be really lazy.

Monday, July 17, 2006


So, the President of the United States of America said a potty word. Unbelievable. I don't know about you or your politics, but if you think this is news, we certainly disagree on that.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Speaking of Parents...

CNN has an article in their Education section about homework. Many teachers have given in to the no homework movement started by the generation of parents who coddle their children because, oh my, we don't want him to feel bad. Now, my own experience in high school was that I could finish most of my work during my study hall. The rest I would take home and do. I hated busy work, but the mindless, time occupying assignments were handled easily. Today, students have many more options fo mindless, time occupying activities. I had my baseball cards and the Summer Olympics floppy disk for my Apple II C. I was really good at the BMX biking, but not so good at the surfing--typical for an East Coast boy.

There are some helpful hints for parents; unfortunately, I have the suspicion that the people who read already do many of the ideas. But my favorite part of the article was reading about Sara Bennett of Brooklyn, New York who is co-authoring the book The Case Against Homework: How Homework Is Hurting Our Children and What We Can Do About It. She says, "Homework was interfering with my kids' intellectual development," then adding, "To stop to practice spelling when your kid is reading a book is ridiculous." First, I'm not sure why she would stop to practice spelling when her kid is reading a book. The real issue is, why is it ridiculous? Oh, that's right, because her kids are brilliant, and brilliant people don't need to practice. Seriously, just ask Tiger Woods. I bet he doesn't ever stop to practice putting because he is a pro golfer. (sorry, I'm being petty; I'll stop.)

It is the parent like Ms. Bennet that has created a problem for me. Her attitude about homework carries over to what is done in the classroom. Essays are interfering with my kids' intellectual development. I mean, to make them write a one page response when your kid has already passed the state test is ridiculous. And furthermore, to make my kids' turn in assignments when they've already turned thousands in before getting to your class is outlandish.
Listen, I'm sure Ms. Bennet is a very nice woman. She clearly is looking out for her kids, and that's great. But removing homework from the classroom, at least, removing effective homework, is ridiculous. (Shades of Bill O'Reilly)

Monday, July 10, 2006

Swimming up Stream

Ms. Cornelius over at A Shrewdness of Apes picked up on my previous post about high school transitions. She links to a wonderful article about how a school is trying to solve the difficult transition between middle school and high school. I had mentioned the idea of a week of "camp" to help students transition. A commentor on Ms. Cornelius's post related this to the week of orientation that many universities do and to the newer efforts to have students take classes during the summer.
First, though, we must admit that too many of our school districts do not do a very good job of streamlining the flow of students from one building to the next. For instance, a group of students may start out at Feel Good Elementary School. After spending K-5 together, they join Poverty Elementary School and Rich Side of Tracks Elementary School at We'll Pass You Middle School. Meanwhile, We Don't Care Elementary School and You're Not From Here Elementary School get together at We Don't Have the Renovation Money Middle School. Both middle schools move students along through the eight grade. Many of the students have been together since elementary school, but at the least, have been together for three years.

Then, when it is time to go to high school, districts take 3/4 of the We Don't Have the Renovation Money Middle School students and send them to Way Downtown High School. 1/4 then go to Every Room with a View High School to join the full population of We'll Pass You Middle School.

Confusing? Yes. The middle schools and the high schools don't communicate. Some students benefit from district lines, while others are shipped off to join students they've never attended school with.

I really do like the idea, especially after writing this confusing and muddled post, of having all ninth graders attend a week long orientation. It is unfortunate that it would get in the way of the parents' lives. Seriously.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Is this my life?

BabyTate continues to grow, smile, and even vocalize. I continue to teach. For the third year in a row I am teaching summer school. I happen to enjoy the session, and it keeps me from spending my hard earned money hitting a little white ball from one side of a fairway to another. Maybe it is my New England Puritanism that keeps me from loafing during the summer, but I am a little sad that I can't spend more time with babyTate, even if she is doing a lot of crying.

I had a conversation with a colleague, he's off to Europe this summer, about where our priorities should be. He told me of his early years in education--well before I was born. He had volunteered to transfer to a new school openning in southern California. As the principal welcomed everyone, he told his new staff that teaching was the most important thing in each of their lives. There should be nothing else that comes before this duty. A veteran teacher of twenty years raised his hand and said, that no, teaching was not more important than family. To which my colleague, a three year veteran at the time (which happens to be what year I just finished), scolded the teaching veteran for his lack of dedication.

Here we are, some thirty years later, and my colleague is telling me, that no, teaching is not more important than family. In fact, he called up the man he chastised a few years ago to apologize. The man replied, "I've been waiting for this call."

My superintendant regularly reminds us that we are doing the world' s most important work; we would be hard pressed to disagree. We all want success, both for our students and ourselves. But at what cost? There are very few times that one will hear me bring up teacher pay, but there are certainly times I consider how lucrative other careers would be. But at the same time, how many of those careers will allow me to spend as much time as I do with babyTate.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Weighing In

Students walk our halls holding 16 oz. cans of Monster energy drinks and venti Cinnamon Dolce Lattes in order to make it through the strenuous early hours of public high school and junior high. These same students pack their lunches with half a package of Oreo's and another can of energy drink. Yet at the same time that parents neglect nutrition without accountability, the schools must create a "wellness" plan for their students. Vending machines have changed drastically in the last two years, and hopefully the students are better off for it. But students don't use the vending machines near as much, not when they can stop at the AM PM or 7-11 before school to pick up their fill of whatever junk food they want.
Don't misunderstand, preparing students to make good choices in life is part of what we do, but are we holding the right people accountable? At the very same time that districts are implementing their version of a wellness plan, they are cutting middle and high school sports programs, and decreasing the size of their Physical Education staff--encouraging students to take P.E. online. Elementary students are having their recess time cut out all together, or are banned from any game that involves running or competetition.
When we get down to the crux of the matter, all of these responsibilities being dumped on today's school districts weighs them down. It is not to say that we don't want healthy students, but I thought we were about educating students. It seems that we have taken away the ability to choose, while at the same time teaching them how to make those choices.
I want to know who is responsible for the weight I gained in the last year. Congress isn't passing any bills that force my favorite stop off to create a wellness plan for me. I am responsibile for my choices. I've been taught the dangers of too many grande extra-hot white chocalate mochas, so I switched for the sake of my health to a grande, tw0-pump (1/2 the normal), no-fat, no-whip, extra-hot, white chocalate mocha.
But, wait, I'm an adult and the students are kids. That makes me responsible for my own actions and someone else responsibile for theirs? When individuals are educated, and our students are educated about health from an early age--but really it should be happening at home, they become responsible for their decisions. The answer isn't in taking away the opportunity, it allowing people to deal with the choices they make.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Guest Commentary

Over at Edspresso, "Your daily addiction for breaking news, commentary and debate on education reform," managed by The Alliance for School Choice, they have a wonderful section dedicated to featured commentary. The Edspresso editor asked me to expand on this post about vouchers. Edspresso has graciously opened his featured commentary section up for that editorial. If you have time, please go check it out here.

I feel so big time!, like the vacationing Edwonk

Saturday, July 01, 2006


One of the many issues facing today's high schools is how to overcome years of mismanaging students as they've progressed from elementary school to junior high and then on to high school. I've been thinking a great deal about what gets in the way of a smooth transition between eighth grade and ninth grade. Two questions came to mind. Does the 10-12 school work better than the 9-12, or does it create a new set of problems? And can accountability happen at the middle/junior high level?
This line of questioning then brought me to another line of questions. What do students need to be prepared for high school? The academics should be a given, but what about other skills like intra- and interpersonal? Who is preparing these students to be responsible self managers and self advocates?
I stopped short of putting those lesson plans on the teachers because NCLB doesn't have any language in the bill to address that. We have more important things to focus on. So I suppose that leaves the parents responsible for preparing their student for life in high school. But, who is teaching them what they need to know? Let's be honest with one another, parents are getting old. The average age for a first time mother is around 27 years old. That puts mom in her forties when her little baby enters high school. The average age of a first time father is just over 30, also putting him in his forties when junior reaches high school.
Now, without denegrating the aging parents, the truth is that as one ages, one loses touch with pop culture. And if you try to hard to keep up with it, either your kid makes fun of you, or your neighbor does.
The question then, is, what do parents need to do in order for them to actually help their student succeed in high school?