Monday, June 20, 2016

For once, a spot of positivity, if that's possible

A woman came into my classroom today, which I was cleaning up.  The school year’s over, and my room is being moved across the hall for the next school year.  I was trying carefully put everything away and clean it out so that fewer items will be lost in a move that’s less than 15 feet. 

“Hi,” she said, sticking out her hand, “I’m Karen Sandoval.”

I shook it.  “Nice to meet you, Mrs. Sandoval.  What can I do for you?”

She held out a piece of paper.  “My daughter would very much like to take your class next year.  But she’ll be a freshman.  The principal says your class doesn’t take freshmen.”

“Actually, that depends.  Which class does she want to be in?”

“Newspaper,” Mrs. Sandoval responded.

“Yes, that’s true, we restrict it to sophomores and upper grades.” 

Mrs. Sandoval nodded slightly.  “Right.  Mr. Mehmet said I should come and talk to you and see if you’d give permission for her to be in your class.  She’s a good student and said that she very much wanted to be in Ms. Marlowe’s class.”

Oh. Oh crap.  Is this a student I even want in this class?  What has she heard?  I had a student this past year who thought that newspaper meant he could skip class regularly so he could “work on a story.”  Someone told him that’s how Newspaper class works.

“What’s your daughter’s name?”  Maybe this will buy me some time.  Maybe I should just say no, it has to be upperclassmen. 


“Yolanda Sandoval?”  I don’t know her, but that doesn’t mean much.

“Her brother Melvin had your class last year, and he recommended that she try and get in.” 

“Melvin Acosta?  That’s your son?”  Melvin is a genius, an incredible writer and funny.  “He was a fantastic student.”

She smiled now, big and bright.  “Yes, he’s a very hard worker.  Yolanda is much like him.”

“Then yes, Mrs. Sandoval, I’d be happy to have her in my class.”  She thanks me and asks if I can sign the form giving permission.  I fill it out, relieved that it’s a good thing I’m dealing with, for once.

“What’s Melvin going to major in?” I ask as she gathers up her purse.  He graduated as the valedictorian. 

“He’s doing chemical engineering,” she says proudly. 

“You must be so proud.  He was a wonderful writer.  I’ll miss having him.”

“Well, Yolanda wants to be a writer.  Melvin said if she wants to write well, she must take Ms. Marlowe’s class.”  She turned to go, and smiled at me.  “So nice to meet you.  Have a good day.”

I don’t think I’ve had such a good day in years. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Brevity is the soul of desperation

I thought you might get a kick out of this email exchange I had with a student who was worried about the English final.  Let's call her name Mary, because that's her name.  The first email came at about 6 pm, but I didn't see it right away because I was finishing up some other grading.

Hi Ms. Marlowe,

I'm still kind of confused on how we should format the essay. Are we just proving different parts of the thesis statement per paragraph? Like if your statement has the ideas of identity, mutability of life, and power does each paragraph focus on one aspect? Because I know you said to treat the three ideas in the statement as one, so are just proving the same thing over and over again per paragraph? Like the intro sentence to body paragraph one would be like "We see this theme in the book Beowulf, Macbeth, and 1984..." and just prove the statement for those books and then do the same thing for body paragraph two but with different books/ poems?

Or say that the major topic were given is identity, so we have out thesis statement along the lines of surviving in the battle to maintain identity, and each paragraph has something to do with identity (like body paragraph 1 would be identity from relationships, body paragraph 2 would be identity with experiences, etc.) 

The next email came at around 9 pm.

Ok like basically what is each paragraph supposed to be focused on? Do you just reiterate the thesis over and over again? 

I tried to help her without giving too many specifics since I couldn't give away the essay question before the test.  However, I suppose this wasn't helpful enough.

Her last email came about an hour later...

So I've realized what I'm asking here is how do you write an essay.

Hey, at least she's getting straight to the point now.  I sure wish she'd asked this question at the beginning of the school year.  

Monday, June 6, 2016

Don't say "cheese!"

“How are we going to handle picture day?”

“Excuse me, what?”  That was my response to the above question.  How the heck should I know?  I was in the teacher’s lounge, trying to make copies without being bothered by an administrator who apparently doesn’t know how to do her job because she’s now asking me about it.

But Ms. Lear must have felt that the time was ripe to ask me this question, and to inform me, “You’re the yearbook teacher.  The yearbook teacher always handles picture day.”

This conversation occurred on the second day of school.  Students and teachers alike were already rattled by the smooth efficiency of TCS, which meant that classes ran like soccer riots.  Students were still wandering in and out of classes, trying to figure out their schedule, how to open their lockers, and find the bathrooms.  I hate to say it, but after just learning I had to take on an extra 15 students in my classes that were supposed to be capped at 20, this new nugget of information felt more like she’d just handed me a big steaming load.  Which she did.

“Okay, see, I wasn’t the yearbook teacher here LAST YEAR, so I WOULDN’T HAVE KNOWN THAT,” I responded, speaking slowly and emphasizing the important words.  “So even though I WISH SOMEONE had TOLD ME THIS A MONTH AGO, can you NOW tell me who I need to TALK TO so I can GET IT TAKEN CARE OF?”

I had to make a few phone calls, but finally, I got the day and time set up (in 3 weeks) and even worked out the order in which the classes would come in to get photographed.  I patted myself on the back for being so professional and handling it so well, despite the administration’s talent at dropping the ball.

Then picture day came.

Here’s the problem with picture day – you need an administrator to oversee it.  The problems that result will need to be handled by the big guys, not just a teacher.   But our administrators were wimps who wanted to hand off the huge tasks to a sucker. 

Yes, we did have students trying to flip off the camera, wear something inappropriate, or just refuse to sit for the shot.  We had some that took the photos as an opportunity to ditch class, as the teacher was momentarily distracted.  But luckily I had my entire yearbook class on hand to herd everyone into the line, check off names and run interference if someone was missing.  And if someone WAS missing, they were quick to point that out.   Yearbook students are generally great.

But teachers, other teachers, just suck on picture day.

I can’t tell you how many teachers I had to grab by the arm and pull down to the photo setup.  If you think students are unreasonable, grown-up teachers are even more so.

“I HATE having my photo taken!”

“I’m busy right now, and I have to get these tests graded.”

“I’ll come by later.”

“Why can’t you stay with my class instead of me hanging around?”
I grew a bit short-tempered, as you can imagine.  My requests went from, “Can you please come as soon as possible so we can get this done?” to “I really don’t care.  I’m on a deadline, with the administration breathing down my neck, so get your butt in here, because I also have other things to do than chase you down like a bratty teenager.”

That teenager line tended to do the trick. 

One teacher absolutely refused to come in, even though we needed all the staff photos for the yearbook.  I sent the principal in after him.  He stomped in with the principal, complaining, “I can’t believe you told him I wouldn’t come!  I said I was busy!”

I calmly said, “Yes, Mr. Horton, we're all busy.  Especially the principal, wouldn't you agree?  I'm sure he has better things to take care of than tracking down the one teacher who doesn't want to have his photo taken.”  The principal just stared at him silently while Mr. Horton mumbled an apology. 

On the minus side, people were less friendly to me after that.  On the plus side, I got fewer requests to “just make a few copies for me while you’re in the copy room.”  But the biggest plus was that I got to choose which staff photos would be in the book.  Sorry you had one eye closed, Mr. Horton. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

IWSG - Now I'm the one who has to be schooled

I know this may come as a surprise to you, but even though I teach, I don't like school.

Yes, I understand the value of classroom instruction - how could I not?  But I don't particularly enjoy being a student.  I like to learn, but sitting in a roomful of other students, listening to a lecture or working on various educational activities makes me tense.  I'd like to say that I understand when students tell me they don't like school, but I don't see it manifested in the same way.  I see a lack of interest on their part in anything that requires effort.  My problem is not that I don't want to expend the effort and broaden my mind - I do and I can.  It's that I don't want to do it with other people around, bothering me.

Why is this even an issue, on IWSG day?  It's an issue because it's time for me to dive back into school for myself.

I've put off getting a master's degree for years.  Time, cost, and effort were and are real concerns, but they aren't serious concerns anymore.  If I want to improve my lifestyle and further my career, I need that graduate degree.  The real problem is that I just didn't want to be in class myself.

"You'll love it!" my teacher friends reassure me.  I smile, but I'm fairly sure I won't love it because I'm not a people person.  No, really!  I'm not shy, nor do I have social phobias.  I just don't like other people.

I like my students, but at the end of the day, I want to go home.  Having classmates will make me want to take another look at online schooling, where I won't be annoyed by the habits of others around me.  I'm the classic introvert.  I write because I have things to say, but I don't want to, you know, SAY them to other people because they might want to have a longer, more boring conversation.

But I can't put off graduate school anymore.  I'm just getting older, and pretty soon, another decade will go by, and I won't be any closer to having completed that advanced degree.  So this summer I'm going to find a program, take the GRE and try to get things started, preferably in an online program with a minimum of human interaction.