Monday, September 18, 2017
I know his teacher fairly well, but I'm not saying that in a positive way. Knowing what a lazy grader she is, I was surprised to see that she gave the class a relatively detailed rubric for the in-class essay.
"Okay, do you know what the essay topics are that you might cover?" I asked.
Yes, he did. The teacher had given them a list of possible topics, and mentally I blessed her for not leaving the students entirely in the dark.
"She says it has to be a five-paragraph essay," he said hesitantly.
"So, okay - wait, what?"
"A five-paragraph essay," he repeated.
I looked at him, aghast. "How long are your classes?"
"Uh, it'll be 45 minutes that day, because of the assembly. And she says we need 3 pieces of quoted evidence per paragraph."
"Okay," I said. "Can you use your book?"
He looked relieved. "I asked that too, but she said no."
So, in 45 minutes, the teacher is expecting the class to crank out a five paragraph essay with 15 pieces of quoted evidence in it? That's some high expectations, in my opinion; so high, in fact, that I was surprised she didn't already have a nosebleed.
"Are you supposed to memorize the quotes?" I asked.
He shrugged. "She says we can't paraphrase. Then she told us not to worry about it. I mean, she actually said that if we didn't have it all, we'd get points taken off, but not to worry about it. She says we don't need a really high grade for this first test."
They don't, huh? Wow, this teacher is incredibly helpful, precise and insightful. I wanted to ask if she showed up fully dressed each day, but thought it was better not to.
You know what's sad? In my new role, I see a TON of this: Teachers who give out instructions to students that are impossible to follow, or that don't make any common sense. These same teachers say crap like "don't worry about it" because the teacher hasn't - apparently.
We worked on a skeleton structure, and I wished him luck. What I really wanted to tell him was to count on a B for his grade. Knowing her like I do, she won't read past the second paragraph anyway. So he shouldn't worry about it.
Monday, September 11, 2017
Monday, September 4, 2017
Monday, August 28, 2017
Monday, August 14, 2017
So yeah, school is starting in just a few days. In some ways this is less stressful for me because I don't have my typical teaching job at a typical school anymore. No worrying about whether or not my classroom is set up properly, no last minute requests for materials that won't get delivered anyway, and no "Welcome to Ms. Marlowe's class" PowerPoint to edit.
In some ways that makes me a little sad, but not so much. I'll still be working with students, but one-on-one, and I won't be teaching traditional lessons. I'll be interacting with administrators most of the time. I spent a good chunk of the summer reading, rewriting curriculum and working on developing a new class for students with reading comprehension. It's rewarding, but exhausting in a completely different way.
I guess it's good to have change. This is where I wanted to be anyway, but it feels weird to be out of the regular classroom. It's like I'm also graduating, just like my old students did. So I'm happy but sad, moving forward but looking back, and all those other paradoxes.
In the meantime, I ran into one of my old students at Target in town. She looked shocked to see me there, but said she would miss seeing me in the hallways this year. "You were always telling students to stop running and looking really annoyed while you drank your Coke Zero!"
Yeah, good times.
Monday, August 7, 2017
Monday, July 31, 2017
I think it’s clear that teachers must be awful people.
Take my friend Amy. She teaches a remediation class for students who are seniors and who need to pass previous year’s end of course exams. It’s not a job for the faint of heart, or even the stout of heart, or generally anyone who has a heart at all. Most of these students have learning disabilities, serious behavior problems or absolutely don’t care at all. The fact that they got to their senior year is baffling.
Amy cares about them, a LOT. She goes to all the senior events at school and games and tries to encourage each of them. She also knows her stuff, since she has a master’s degree and teaches remedial English at a nearby college as well. Plus, she works super-hard to try and get each student to understand the material, but she still holds them to high standards.
This makes her an awful person. Are you following me?
She has a co-teacher* who works with her during one of her class periods. This co-teacher told her that she needed to “search her heart” and really look at “what kind of teacher” she is, because she failed a student who is classified as special ed.
Why would she fail him? The student, whom we'll call Mr. Wizard, decided to plagiarize a poem he found online, rather than write one of his own. This comes after weeks of review and practice assignments, none of which he completed. Amy confronted him about it. Mr. Wizard insisted he wrote it himself; however, when confronted with the evidence, he claimed he didn’t know they couldn’t use an already written poem. Amy contacted his mother and told her that he was going to fail for the term and why. This isn’t news to the mom. Her kid already failed last semester because he wouldn’t do any of the work. Mom is fed up with Mr. Wizard and wants to teach him a lesson.
The co-teacher says she’s unfair. He reported her to the principal for “not assisting” the student in boosting his grade. The principal said she needed to give him another chance to pass, even though in most districts, plagiarism is an automatic F with no makeups. This is when Amy found out that the report of her “unfairness” came from the co-teacher.
She confronted him. Co-teacher told her basically that she’s unfit to teach because she’s failing kids with learning disabilities. Amy wisely decided to hash this out with him in front of an administrator. Our assistant principal had them come into the office, where said co-teacher made his complaints. Amy asked, “What are you doing to prevent them from failing? I’m sorry, but I don’t see you being proactive and helping them at all, even though that's your job. Generally you sit in the back of the room and ignore them and work on your computer. That's if you even show up for class."
CT fired back that this was HER fault because she doesn’t grade fast enough. Plus, she’s teaching way over these kids’ heads. When she countered that she’s teaching at an 8th grade level (remember, these are seniors she’s teaching), he replied that the level was still too high, and that her expectations were "abusive."
"Abusive expectations?" That's a new one. I can't wait to use that phrase in class. Trust me, it'll be a thing soon enough.
The good news is that the principal is lazy and never tried to follow up on her directive or talk to Amy about what happened later. The better news is that the co-teacher decided that he couldn't, "in good conscience", sit in Amy's class again and see her try to teach her students. The even better news is that an administrator came looking for him every day for a week, and since he wasn't in class where he was supposed to be, he was fired. EVEN BETTER - Mr. Wizard refused to do the new assignment and failed anyway.
But the BEST news of all is that despite all she went through, Amy still tried to get her students to work at grade level.
This, naturally, means that she's still an awful person.
*Co-teacher - someone who is supposed to be a help or resource in a class that has a high population of special ed students. Amy's co-teacher was the golf coach who was mad that he had to spend any time in a classroom.
Monday, July 24, 2017
Monday, July 17, 2017
Monday, July 10, 2017
Most of the time, that hope is vain.
Sure, some of my students did better, but those are students who didn't pass because of things outside of their control. Or the two kids who had a worse than useless English teacher, so even a mediocre one would be an improvement.
Still, one looks through their writing and realizes that God has a sense of humor, and a pretty dark one at that.
Tuesday, June 27, 2017
Well, that didn't happen. I wish it had because it would be a whole lot more cinematic that what actually occurred. But sometimes I like to pretend it did if only to use that scene sometime in the future.
What did happen? Ken got busy negotiating. He'd call me every evening with gleeful updates that made my stomach churn. I had to find every email, every meeting recording I made and turn them over after transcribing them. It was exhausting and felt like I had a colonoscopy every day.
A week after I left, I got my dream job offer, one that is more flexible, pays better, and will propel my career forward in a way that DA never would. Ironically, I started the day that Ken finally finished negotiating a settlement. Basically, I got everything I asked for, plus more. Ken couldn't actually believe it. He was giddy; I was relieved.
I'm just glad I'll never have to deal with Debut Academy again. I'll miss my students, but all my teacher friends there either quit this year or retired. Mr. Glick is still there, but I honestly wonder how long he'll last.
I never thought I'd say it, but I'm glad it happened. I might have stayed and become used to working in a dysfunctional environment, and that's never good. I might have missed the opportunity to apply for the job I have now. Unfortunately, this has made me more suspicious of the people I work with, and I don't know that that will ever go away. But to quote the poet, "My head is bloody but unbowed." Which still sounds overly dramatic to me and a bit pretentious, but when am I ever going to get the chance to use that line again?
Monday, June 19, 2017
Monday, June 12, 2017
I'm no longer at Debut Academy. The perfect job ended up turning into a perfect nightmare. I'm not sure how it happened, except that I DO know how. It began with the new principal, the one who came my second year, whose real name and whose euphemistic nickname, the one hurled at him behind his back, rhymes with "Glick."
Mr. Glick has never been a principal before. He thinks that to be a good principal, all teachers have to agree with everything he says and does. He doesn't like differing opinions or new ideas that aren't his.
Mr. Glick is also "highly concerned" with "maintaining the school's image." So when I found evidence that a teacher in my department was giving out answers to the upcoming test and turned in proof of it (a photo of a student's notes), I was disciplined for "unprofessional behavior." Apparently, cheating on tests is okay, but finding proof of a teacher's dishonesty and notifying the administration is conduct "unbecoming to a DA teacher."
I spent the rest of the school year angry and defending myself from accusations that got weirder and wilder as the year went on. My principal said he kept needing to "check in" with me, because he'd "heard some stories and complaints," but wouldn't tell me who told him these stories or made the complaints.
When I told the administration that if they had such concerns about me as a teacher that they were welcome to come sit in and observe my classes, they all declined and said they were "too busy."
Things came to a head when I was told that there were serious concerns about my performance. Mr. Glick said I hadn't followed through on a series of tasks that he hadn't given me. I blew up and told him that a) he wouldn't know about my performance since he'd NEVER been in my classroom, nor communicated with me about anything other than his "reservations"; b) if I was such a bad employee, why was he basing this on rumors that had no basis, rather than conducting an investigation or putting me on a performance improvement plan?
When Glick said, "You think I have time for something like that?" I laughed and stood up. "I guess it was a bit much for me to expect you to act PROFESSIONALLY, wasn't it? Are we done here?"
Yes, I walked, though he would say he asked me to leave. Campus security escorted me out. I probably would have started crying if I hadn't been so enraged.
Do I care? Only about the students I left.
Don't worry, there's more...
Monday, June 5, 2017
Yes, I owe you an explanation. But unfortunately, it's still not that entertaining or humorous, even though I keep trying to write it that way. So until IWSG day here's some more bad writing to keep you entertained.
Monday, May 8, 2017
In the meantime, I thought I'd crush your hopes for the future by sharing more fun student writing. One of these sentences will make its way to a motivational poster in the future - I just know it!
Monday, March 27, 2017
Just kidding. I never say that.
I'm relishing the fact that I get to sit down with the students to review their work, and the first thing I'll do is start reading it aloud to them. That way, they can squirm and look at the floor and consider their failings, which they should, because I'm certainly considering their failings right now.
Monday, March 20, 2017
Monday, March 13, 2017
Monday, March 6, 2017
Monday, February 20, 2017
Monday, February 13, 2017
Monday, February 6, 2017
Wednesday, February 1, 2017
This month's question asks how being a writer changed my (or our) experiences as a reader. I'd like to think it makes me more understanding, but in fact, I think it's made me more critical. I'm also less likely to argue with those who are critical of certain books.
To give an example, I was working with a student on an analytical paper. The subject was the book "Pride and Prejudice." The student, Tina, said, "I don't know why Wickham would have run off with Lydia. It makes no sense to me."
Of course, you all know I love me some P&P, and I wasn't about to let her criticize it, but I did semi-politely ask her to explain. "It says he wanted to marry a woman of fortune. Unless he's a creepy pedo-perv who likes young girls, she has no money! It's a bigger problem for him to run off with her, and he doesn't need any more problems. The Bennets like him, so why would he want to ruin that?"
Honestly, I was stumped. "Um, well, maybe Wickham is a pedo-perv. He tried to run off with Georgiana, right?"
"Only because she had money. I mean, he was trying to get that King girl to marry him too, even though she was not that hot because she had money. She wasn't 15 or 16. It doesn't fit with his character. He's a guy who wants ready access to money, not having that access cut off by word getting around about his creepy behavior."s
I couldn't explain it because she was right. Wickham didn't even seem to like Lydia that much earlier in the book. "Maybe the author needed a way to show he was untrustworthy, and how bad Lydia's behavior was."
"But why this way? Is that just a weakness in the writing?"
I think sometimes we do put in plot events that don't work for the characters, just to move the plot along. That would make Tina correct - it's a weakness in the writing. The writer is more interested in the story than being true to the characters.
Since then, I've seen lots of evidence of weakness in writing, in works of great literature, even (I'm looking at you, Great Gatsby!) No book is perfect, and we all know how hard it is to try and write the perfect story. Some criticism isn't unwarranted, even (and especially) from other writers.
Monday, January 9, 2017
Wednesday, January 4, 2017
But I will address this month's question - What writing rule do you wish you'd never heard?
Frankly, I like the rules. There's a reason we have them - to keep a writer's work from sucking. Almost every time I see a writer "break the rules," it leads to writing that's hard to follow or just not as engaging. However, just like design rules, you have to know what they are to break them in a way that works.
I suppose the one rule I hear frequently is "don't be formulaic." Writing shouldn't follow a set of guidelines, such as the introduction of the problem, inevitable conflict, rising action, etc. I hear people railing against "the formula" quite a bit in writer's forums. My own students try to show me that the "hero's journey" is a model that no one uses and really doesn't work.
I say garbage.
Look, if your hero doesn't go on a journey of sorts, then there's no plot and no growth and for the reader, no interest. No one wants to read about a boring, static life. Even nonfiction writing has to follow some sort of formula. Otherwise, the reader is lost and can't understand where the writer is going.
I remember once arguing with a friend who majored in screenwriting about plots. He told me that there are nine basic plots. I tried to argue that there were multiple stories and that you couldn't define it so narrowly. However, every single example I gave him of something unusual and "different" fell under one of those nine plots. It had taken several years before I realized why he was correct.
Human beings are pretty similar in our habits and thinking. We gravitate towards what we know, and we cling to what's familiar. That isn't a bad thing, and that doesn't mean we shouldn't try to be original. But I say we should rethink "formulaic," and maybe define it as "familiar" or "what audiences like."
My proof of this? Nicholas Sparks. The man has made millions of dollars following a formula. Now tell me it doesn't work.