Thursday, October 30, 2008

Survival Mode

I'm stuck in survival mode. I stopped reading blogs because I can't handle thought, reflection, trying to get better. At present, I can only enough to do what I HAVE to do.

I was planning to grade the knee-high stack of papers tonight, but I decided to try and jerk myself out of survival by doing something for myself: bake some Halloween goodies.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


If you're like me, or the other teachers at my school, you see lying in action every single day.

Teacher: Stop talking
Student: I wasn't talking!

Teacher: You copied your answers off of your neighbor.
Student: No I didn't!

Teacher: Where is your homework.
Student: My dog broke my flashdrive!

My first two are my favorite, because they are observable behaviors and I SEE it happen and students still deny it. It's frustrating. I always hear teachers ask themselves, do they think we're stupid? I tend to stop at 'do they think?'

I understand the impetus-- they don't want to get in trouble after all. But, what I don't understand is the lack of shame or remorse. The flat out lie and total disregard for consequences.

And then, last evening, I was sitting down to watch TV. Commercial after commercial came on--and lie after lie poured out. This car gets 30 mpg, this pill will make you skinny AND happy, this candidate voted this way or that way... and it's all lies, lies, lies, lies. And these lies are tossed out millions of times over and over.

So, is it any wonder kids lie? I don't mean to say that commercials cause kids to lie, merely that it is another symptom of our times. Politicians can bend and break the truth and the American public accepts it, believes it--if that's what they want to hear. The latest pharmaceuticals are touted on TV as the miracle cure for ALL your problems, and the American public goes to their doctor and asks about it--if that's what they want to happen.

I can't help but feel like so many of us are completely out of touch with reality, and we're letting our kids follow down a path where it doesn't matter what you say, as long as it's what people want to hear. A path where you don't have to think critically about the issues at hand, just find the one that sounds good. Aside from lying to my face, my kids couldn't recognize bias if it bit them on the nose.

If there is one thing I want to do as a teacher, it is to get my students to question what goes on around them... so many just accept what they're told, what they hear, what the see. Because questioning that is too hard. Even harder than writing in complete sentences!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

DWG Canon

I am not particularly happy with the slate of books I have to teach this year. Some are fantastic (Night) and some I believe every study should walk away from high school having read (The Great Gatsby), but overall they fall into the DWG category: Dead White Guy.

Thinking about this jogged my memory a bit back to when I was in high school and I distinctly remember one of my teachers talking about the DWG Canon and how she was trying to get away from it. Not that the DWG are bad, boring, or even unimportant, just that some diversity would be nice.

So, I looked at my student's list of novel reading and realized only ONE book they read their whole high school career does not fit into the DWG canon, and that is To Kill A Mockingbird which, is great, but hardly a testament to the diversity of literature out there. I made a list of the 32 novels/plays I remember reading as a high school student and though the list is dominated by DWGs, there was a obvious attempt to diversify the offerings--and not just because I was in honors/AP all four years.

When I looked back at my high school career and the books I enjoyed the most, some fall into the DWG category, but many come from FEMALE writers and minority writers. I realize I teach in a Catholic school and perhaps that accounts for a more traditional approach to literature, but to have one woman and no minority novelists or playwrights whatsoever is a travesty in the year 2008. Yes, the short stories and poetry might add some diveristy, but why not in our longer literature too?

I also realize I teach at a school without much diversity. Our minority population is miniscule, but I did not exactly go to a diverse high school myself. Though public with a voluntary transfer program, the majority of the students in my area and in my school were white. Even more reason for us to read diverse literature, to realize there is more to this world than our white, suburbian existence. My entire life I have lived without much diversity (even the college I went to was predominatly white), but I feel that reading the vast variety of experiences out there made me more aware, more tolerant, and less ignorant to the great wide world around me.

There is a plethora of amazing literature out there. Some of it resides within the DWG canon, some of it does not. It amazes me that more attention is not paid to who is writing the literature we teach, and what they can offer about life experiences that perhaps the DWGs cannot.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

British Lit: Great Activity for Macbeth

I've been struggling through Macbeth. I think I've finally found a stride with it, where we're not going through scene by scene. Instead of having them struggle through the reading, we're doing summaries and overviews and the occasional study of a monologue. My kids had a great discussion today on Macbeth and Lady Macbeth's relationship.

I got this activity from
and it could likely be used at the end of the play, but I did it after Act II, and I think I will ask these questions again at the end and compare their answers.

Divide the class into boy and girl groups and have the groups prepare organized arguments on the following questions: Is the relationship between Lady Macbeth and Macbeth a
healthy one? Is Lady Macbeth helping Macbeth? Does Macbeth have weaknesses and does Lady
Macbeth help eliminate them? Do they make a good team as they work together? Who is stronger? Do they complement each other? Are they two halves of a whole? What attributes do you like in the couple? Would you find these attributes desirable in a boyfriend or girlfriend?

My class really responded to these questions, and while with most of the questions both male and females agreed, there definitely were some gender differences that were interesting to see.

Some questions I added to this were:
  • Are Macbeth or Lady Macbeth "crazy"?
  • Does Lady Macbeth have a conscience?
  • Would Macbeth go through with the murder if not for Lady Macbeth?
It really worked today, although discussion got a little out of hand. I think next time we'll try fishbowl or some other kind of structured discussion.

Monday, October 6, 2008

More Musings on Why Teachers Quit

I already discussed failure as being a big motivator in first year teachers quitting. I also touched a little on too much work being put on new teachers and I would like to expand on that a little bit today.

You see, at my school, (supposedly) every teacher is required to sponsor or coach a team or club (supposedly because I think I know a few who don't seem to have to follow that "rule"). New teachers come in to the mix with whatever is left over (unless they can coach a sport). New teachers who weren't coaching were given a list a couple weeks into school and asked to pick one. I picked one and then was told that, instead, I would be put in charge of a school event along with another new teacher. A school event in which I had no interest, background, or ability.

This event quickly became a source of increasing difficulty, stress, contention, and just downright awfulness. On top of my already difficult 3 preps, 2nd job, and extra supervisory duties, I now had this albatross on my shoulders--an albatross I was supposed to create in just about 4 weeks--at the beginning of our FIRST school year.

It was an event no one wanted a part of--but everyone wanted to complain about how it wasn't being done "correctly."

At the event itself, me and my co-sponsor sat watching the kids wondering if this was really what we wanted to do. We questioned our desire to be teachers, our desire to be in a high school, our abilities to handle all that was expected of us. We were overwhelmed, disgusted with the lack of help we were given, frustrated with our kids, and all in all disillusioned--our previous rose-colored look at our school and the people in it gone.

I think that if this event was in say April, not October, things would have been different. I think that if people had let US do it, rather than complain every step of the way things would have been different. I think if they had forced one veteran teacher to help a new teacher, things would have been WAY different.

I realize that people earn a certain amount of seniority, and I also realize when I have a certain amount of years under my belt I will want to be able to choose what I want to do. But, I also think that it is unfair to stick a new teacher in charge of something they know NOTHING about, that happens at the beginning of the year especially. To dump on new teachers simply because they have no say in the matter.

It's one thing to get last pick in when I will supervise detention--it's a whole other thing to be put in charge of a school wide event.

Another teacher realized this and stepped up and helped us out when she realized we were drowning and gathered a few people to help us out, but the people in power looked the other way, made it increasingly difficult on us, and ignored the fact that I was so far out of my element.

So, what did this experience do? It made us both question our careers. It made us both look at our administration differently. It made us both look at our students differently. It overwhelmed and frustrated us. It made my co-sponsor want nothing to do with an event she was excited about (I was never excited, so my dislike of the event was a pre-existing condition).

It's over now, and already I feel more in control, more hopeful about what I can accomplish now that it's over. Still, the whole ordeal left a bad taste in my mouth.

You want to get a new teacher to stick to their profession, you ease them into it. Less preps, less supervising duties. Give them a chance to ease into it, to focus on their teaching the first year and add duties as they step up the ladder.

On a happy note, I had a student from last year send me an email this weekend thanking me. She said what she learned in my class has helped her already in college. I needed that this weekend. I needed a reminder that they learn even when I think they don't. I needed a reminder that what I do and teach is important.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Back To Frustration

Last week was a pretty decent week. This week has taken a turn back to severe frustration. I'm frustrated with with some supervisory duties that were thrust upon me that have taken a large chunk out of my planning/grading time. Not to mention that the quarter is ending in two weeks and I am trying to light a fire under some of these students and have a feeling I am going to be the one that ends up getting burned.

I am frustrated with my students and their attitudes, their lack of manners, their lack of respect, their total apathy, and the belief that real work is beneath them or not important--the belief that I should spoon feed them everything. I really honestly feel like it is this bunch of kids too, because I did not feel this every single day at my last job. Some days, yes, but here it is EVERY SINGLE DAY. I don't know how to change attitude and entitlement.

I am frustrated with myself. I don't like how I am teaching and I don't know how to change it. I can't trust my students to do group work, but independent work takes different time for different people. I cannot find a balance between that spoon feeding and that learning--basically the balance one needs to actually TEACH. I can't keep up. I can't do more. I can't encourage or inspire. I am a joke, and I know it.

I am upset, stressed, frustrated. The worst part is I know a simple break would do a world of good, would allow me to catch up on planning and get my mind wrapped around what I want to teach, but that's just not going to happen until Thanksgiving.

I hate feeling ineffective and stupid and weak and useless and pointless. I hate being so disgusted by my students I struggle to see the good in them. I hate feeling this mounting panic and I hate knowing that I just don't have the time to fix it.