Wednesday, July 30, 2008

It's "For My Students"

My younger sister is a teacher on the east coast. She's home for the summer, and we've gone shopping a few times together. She has been on the hunt for pillows for her classroom--she is required to have a "homey" classroom.

Her complaint was that by the end of the year her pillows are dirty--so she was debating pillow covers and outdoor pillows (which she said wouldn't be comfortable enough, what?).

At the end of this one-person discussion, she says, "I spend so much money on my kids."

And, I had to pause at this. I kept my mouth shut, but I wondered... is it really for the students? Do those pillows increase achievement, concentration, learning? Do people that pour money into their own classrooms really do it for their kids or do they do it for themselves and for their administration?

I had a professor once who said every thing we do should be for our students, and while I understand where she was coming from, I hesitate to agree that every single thing should be in the name of our students. I think teacher's need to exercise a little bit of self-perseverance and sometimes that means not grading papers one day or taking a breather from a difficult situation or something else that may be for "you" that may not be FOR your students. Certainly we should try to avoid doing something that is a detriment to our students, but they should not and can not be the only thing we work towards. At least, I am not selfless enough to live like that.

But, I think her point down at the heart of it was more geared toward this very instance. I think sometimes we assume something is good for our students when it's really what's best for us. One of the things I'm really trying to focus on as I plan my classroom isn't what's going to "work" or how can I keep students from flapping their gums all the time--but how can I best help them learn. When I say, "it's for my students," I want it to really be for them.

And if it's for me, I'll admit it and say, that's okay too.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Status Quo

I am not a revolutionary. I tend to follow the status quo. I do not question authority or the way things are unless they really stand out as being bizarre. However, the last class I took this summer for my Masters made me change that way of thinking about teaching. The professor asked us to question what we were doing and make sure it was for the good of the student--not just because that's the way things had been or that's what other people did.

In a lot of ways, it put me out of my comfort zones. In a lot of ways, I didn't agree with what she was questioning. But, also in a lot of ways, I found things that didn't make sense, that I should change, and that I should question.

In my class we never discussed grading. Homework and failing and discipline, yes, but never grading. So, I found this post by Ms. Teacher extremely interesting. I know so many of my students last year who would have said "JUST GIVE ME THE ZERO." And I totally agree with Dr. Reeves that giving up is not the answer we should be teaching our students.

On the other hand, I wonder how we make them do the work. Yes, sometimes students are just busy and can't get the work done in the time allotted, sometimes they don't understand the work--but sometimes they just don't want to do it. My question is HOW do we make them do the work? Sure, I can give them all year to do it--but if they don't want to--are they going to?

It's questions like this that make me uneasy--because it gets caught up with all these other questions I don't have answers for. And it leaves me in that position of feeling like there is NO answer.

And maybe there isn't, but I don't want a zero in life... so I just keep plugging along.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Active Church Member

One of the pieces of being a Catholic school teacher that I am having difficulties with is the being an "active member of my church." This is difficult for a number of reasons, the two biggest being I have never attended church regularly and I have some misgivings about organized religion.

My issue here is not with the faith itself, it's with when faith becomes something else: political and monetary. And that's where my stand on church gets a little uncomfortable. I believe that religion is a personal choice, and I believe it should be worshiped in a personal manner. I don't feel I should have to prove my faith to anyone but God. Sometimes, church becomes more about who is doing more, giving more, praying more and less about thoughtful worship.

It's not that I have anything against church. I think it can be a great social tool--getting to know others that share your faith. And, it can be a great learning tool to discuss your faith and to pray with others. It makes you part of a community and in that way, it's wonderful.

But, at times, it can also divide. It can also become about money and power. It can also mean a mere mortal man thinking he can dictate to a group what to feel and believe about any manner of thing.

And for me, someone not very comfortable in group social situations, someone who prefers to be more private in terms of emotional things such as faith and love, being an active member in a church isn't something that I feel is necessary. It doesn't fit me, and it doesn't fit my relationship with God. And, even in a parochial school setting, I think that should be okay.

So, as the school year sits in the not-so-distant future, one of my biggest fears is that I will be quizzed on what church I go to.

I don't go to church, but I still believe my faith to be strong and my ability to teach unmarred by this.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Julius Caesar

When I was in 10th grade Honors Language Arts, I had a great teacher who made so much of what we did interesting, fun, and important. One unit, however, stood out as possibly the most boring and tortuous unit of my high school career: Julius Caesar.

The first issue with this unit was that it was taught by a student teacher. She was the type of student teacher who continues to be the type of teacher that is young and pretty and everyone’s friend. I’m not sure she’s the type of teacher you learn a lot from. However, I cut her some slack because she was a student teacher and while there are some good student teachers our there, no student teacher is a good teacher in my experience (including myself).

The second issue with this unit was the text itself. I like some Shakespeare, but Caesar was incredibly boring to me. This was not an issue of comprehension—I was in an honors class, I scored at a college reading level, and I had some fairly strong Shakespeare background. I’m not big on Roman history, but I’d always been interested in history and liked older texts—so there wasn’t an issue there either. The whole unit was just boring. I dreaded going to class every day. Because, what did we do? We read aloud… the end.

When I found out I had to teach Caesar this year I was upset. How could I do this to my students? I didn’t want to bore them to death, I wanted them to come to a literature class with a sense it would help them—not with the dread I felt those Caesar weeks.

My youngest sister just completed her sophomore year of high school. She was also in an honors class and she also had to read Caesar. When I said it was the most awful, boring weeks of my life and I was so disappointed I had to teach it to my students, she looked at me funny and said, “I liked it.”

My sister, though in honors, does not like to read. She hates books. She is a product of the computer age through and through—where I used to bury myself in books when I was her age. To hear she enjoyed something that involved reading was kind of a shock.

So, I had to ask—why did she like it? What did they do in class that made it interesting? Thankfully, we were on a four ride car trip together and she couldn’t run away.

She said they read it out loud, but they acted out important scenes. She said the student in the class that no one liked was Caesar, so the stabbing scene was so much fun. She said they dressed up in togas (sheets over their clothes) and had swords (plastic, she assured me).

Her advice to me was togas, acting, and pick a kid no one likes to be Caesar.

That sounds great, and I think I will try to approach it that way, but I have my doubts if it is enough. The last thing I want to do is waste my student’s time. So, I’m asking for your help: How do you make Julius Caesar interesting?


As I have been planning for my second year of teaching, but my first year of teaching at a Catholic school, I have been looking to education blogs for help. I noticed that there are very few Catholic Education blogs that I could find, and even less blogs about those who are not Catholic teaching in the Catholic school system.

I figured I would start my own blog, both as a way of sharing my ups and downs, and as a way of reaching out to educators in the blogosphere, eager to work together to discuss our education system and how we can best serve our students.