Saturday, September 22, 2012

Inspiration has Arrived

So, My wife and I went to see "The Words" today.  It has given me some inspiration to write and to try to write with more emotion and depth.  I believe, however, that I will never be a good writer until something tragic happens in my life.  I am not prideful enough to wish that upon myself, but it is an illuminating truth.  For deep emotions to come out in a genuine flow, there must be a deep scar.  I can try to fabricate emotions that I have never felt, but it is hard for the simple fact that it is hard to explain something that one has never experienced.

Robert, my main character, has something coming.  I am going to do my best to create feelings of loneliness and emotional pain.  While I have had my share of limited emotional pain, I have never been scared like I hope to write about for Robert.  My frontal cortex will have to work overtime so that I can sink deep into fear and anger and hatred and passion and embarrassment and rage and uncontrollable day dreaming.

Wish me, Tara, Robert, and Ann luck.   We're going to need it.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

"Essay, Essays Everywhere"

This past Friday I collected essays from my classes. I wasn't smart enough to remember how long they take to grade. With all of those essays, I spend every ounce of free time on them on Friday, Sunday, and Monday. I finally finished all of the essays that were turned in today (Tuesday) at 9:00am. The next essay will be different. I will have to do something different and stagger the due dates. It is easy to get burned out on so many essays at once.

The plethora of essays gave me the realization that I am spending way too much time on school while I am at home. For the next few days, and hopefully weeks, I am not going to do anything for school (apart from reading) at home; I will not stay at school past 4:00pm either. This goes against my personality. I pride myself in my teaching and preparation. However, it will force me to work even harder at school so that I don't have to bring anything home. I might have to hide to get work done or simply not be as prepared as I would like to be.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Just Write it!

Writing is one of those skills that fails to excite the instant gratification that Americans (and increasingly) the world have come to expect.  Writing yields dividends for the courageous; whether the writing process clarifies ideas in one’s mind or reveals errors in them, at least one knows where they stand and can move forward.  E.M. Forster said, “How do I know what I think until I see what I say?” Of course, when ideas are scratched down on paper they are vulnerable, but they are also prophetic.

The problems arise when we start equating our initial thoughts with our worth.  If that was the case, I may never write again.  It is too often that I write something down the first time only to realize that what I thought I knew was horribly wrong or even heretical.  There must be a level of trust built with the pen and the pad.  There must be a brotherhood that says, “Even though you are an idiot and thought that idea was good, I’m still here to help you revise it until my pages and ink run out.”

Write for fun and for self illumination.  Write to convince and to encourage the wayward.  Write to tell someone you love them or that you can’t stand them.  Play with your words and steal a few from those that are better at it than you.  Above all, write and write often.  And then, sail it off into the world of readers to be bashed and tattered by the winds and rains.  Without time on the open sea of opinions, you will never get better at writing.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Week Two is Complete

Here are a few observations from the week.

1. Students want to WRITE BY NUMBER so that they don't have to think to write.
Now this isn't totally their fault. Our students have been taught to write 5 paragraph essays that follow the same pattern no matter what they are writing about. I approached multiple students this week and tried to break them free from the shackles of write by number. My attempts were met with responses like: "But I don't know how to write any other way," "You mean I have to use another way?" "Why were we taught this way then?" "But that's not on my outline," "It hurts my head to think of my own structure." We WILL get to the point of being comfortable with a pen and a thought. I love this challenge and seeing the students realize that they can write better than they have ever been expected to.

2. Students don't quite understand that teachers don't have to grade everything.
A student asked me today (after I followed her twitter account with my teacher account) "Are you going to grade me on my tweets?" Why would I grade tweets? Has anyone ever done that? We haven't used a back channel in class yet but why would I grade that anyway? I thought it was an interesting and telling question from an honest and suspicious student.

3. Students are the worst tweeters.
It has been said that alcohol gives people liquid courage, but I think that Twitter gives students uncommon and cowardly courage. Students would not use half of the phrases that they use on Twitter if the communication was face-to-face.


I have also be thinking back to my middle school teaching days. Here are a couple of projects that I did which I would definitely do again if I found myself in the middle school classroom in my future.

1. Non-Profit Organization Project.
I had the students choose a non-profit that they liked. In groups of four, they created an advertising plan for the company. They were required to make an ad for TV, radio, a magazine, and a billboard. This was done after researching the company and coming up with an advertising purpose and target audience. We used video cameras and class presentation to reveal the advertisements. We had a lot of fun with it, and many of the "tough" students bought in.

2. Business Critique
The students chose a business that they had a problem with. After establishing an area where the company could improve and an area where the company was being effective, we learned the business letter model and began writing. I asked the school to provide stamps and then we sent them off. It was great to see the excitement that the kids exuded in anticipation of a response and the pride they had when a response came. Only 30-40% of the letters had responses, but it was a good lesson in learning that criticism doesn't always get handled so well.

So what are your favorite projects? What did you learn this week?

Monday, September 3, 2012

New School Year #4

The year has started off great. The students have had five days of class and are ready for a new challenge (most of them). This semester I am teaching AP English Language and Composition and English IV. There are a few students that I see needing some extra help to pull them through, but for the most part the students seem like they are ready to get the job done.

AP has learned about highlighting and annotating along with prewriting and working on a position paper. After reading through the first practice timed writing, I had two sixes and every grade below. I think that we have a good chance of putting everyone over the 5-6 mark before the semester is over. They are ready for the challenge and are hungry to learn. If I could only rid them of the grade fallacy and get them to focus on the process.
English IV is going well and the students are presenting their Anglo-Saxon projects on Tuesday. The main thrust of that assignment is prior knkwledge and aligning supporting detail to an essential question. We have been reading Beowulf and look forward to reading The Canterbury Tales next week. Diction has been the name of the game while reading. We are working hard to understand why translators and authors pick the words that they do and how that diction affects the various meanings.

At home, my wife and I have been praying about homeschooling my son. He is in public school as a 1st grader now and has been in since pre-k, but we are starting to think that Bryson would be better served by learning at home. As a state school teacher, I have faith in the public school, but I also see that it is not the best environment for every child and family structure. My daughtr will start in the public school next year, but Bryson needs caring one-on-one instruction every day for every skill and activity.
Bryson has been showing an emotional reaction to certain processed foods lately, so we are going on a more natural diet. My mom is in town to try it with us and my wife has been wonderful at cooking our meals at home. I hope that we stay with it and that it will benefit my son, our family, and my mother well.

We will have to find something else to occupy our nights now that the Mudcat's season is over. Maybe we will go on more walks and see some great high school football, soccer, and volleyball.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


Today, let’s talk about grades.

I love to read discussion about grades because I like to see the struggle that seems to be so intense when one discusses grades or marks.

It seems that most educators would say that they are concerned with student learning and achievement.  Apart from one or two teacher that I have been around, they all want their students to perform well.  What does ‘perform well’ mean though?  Does it mean that hey want to see the standardized test at high marks or the final grade in the class to be an A or the student to leave the class being able to show evidence of learning or for a student to be able regurgitate information back or mastery of all of the skills outlined by the course of study?  What does it mean?

For most schools, a student’s performance is measured periodically and cumulatively by a grade of A (superior), B (above average), C (average), D (below average), or F (failure).  These grades are the standard by which students rate themselves and educators rank students.  The grade is meant to be a scale that is used to track a student’s performance for the students own good, but it has grown into a monster of expectation, guilt, demoralization, false hope, and false identity.

Grades are an idol or a destructive force to many students.  The grade becomes the goal or the consequence to be avoided.  Shame on educators when we use a grade to shame students into obedience.  Shame on parents when they hang a grade over their child’s head.  Shame on our culture for allowing this atrocity to go on.

I want to bring learning back to my classroom for the sake of growth and equipping students for the future.  What good is it to gain the A and lose your learning?  I must give a grade to my students, but I want it to be different than it has been.

I understand that measuring growth is the easiest way to hold people accountable in the system that we have as public educators, but it is flawed and the data is bad data.  There in no depth to the numbers.  There is no genuine accountability there.  Teachers are afraid of grading practices because that measuring stick that is beat over heads when the numbers are not favorable.  There must be a better way.

Sorry for the rant, but that’s all I have right now.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Attendance Policy

Today way the last workday of the 2011-2012 school year.  At our last staff meeting we discussed: attendance, grades, make-up work/tests, test re-takes, and late work.  I would like to take a few minutes to get my ideas on paper while they are still fresh in my head. I am still working through what I believe on these issues; here is my rant. Please remember that my ideas are for high school (specifically juniors and seniors).

Today I will tackle Attendance...

The state policy is that students who have ten or more absences in the semester fail the course.  This policy is rarely followed because the principals have the freedom to create their own workable policy.  I like the idea of attendance being required because class time is immensely valuable for interaction, collaboration, and social learning.  The quality of education is much higher when it is shared with a small group of individuals.  Therefore, if a student is absent over 10% of the semester, they are losing valuable classroom learning time.

The student may be learning outside of the classroom, but there is no true accountability and the student is not getting the full benefit of journey that the class takes.  A student who scores an 85% on all assignments while attending class is gaining a more social and rounded education than a student who scores an 85% on all of their make-up assignments.

So, should a student fail if they do not show up for the required number of classes?  This is a difficult question, but I believe that a student who misses 25% of the class should be required to make up that attendance somehow (or fail).  The class is not simply about the mastery of the content and skills but about the collaboration and discussion involved.

If we are not concerned about the attendance, why don’t we simply have online courses that students can complete in their leisure or at a central computer lab?  There would be no wasted money on so many teachers, classrooms, etc. A school district could have one large computer lab that employed 3 or 4 support lab administrators. 

There is something to be said about the personal interaction of a facilitator and students that cannot be captured when a student misses class.

For 95% of the students in our schools, there should be an attendance policy. There will always be the 5% that legitimately cannot be present in class and must have the ability to graduate fro high school, but the majority of students should be engaged in corporate learning.

I see this in my own life.  I can read and study a subject until I believe that I have mastered it, but as soon as I join a dialogue with someone about the content, I am stretched in my learning and gain a new perspective that must be heeded.

Monday, June 4, 2012

A Summer of Reading

The end of the school year is here and I have turned in my grades for the semester.  I am proud to say that the students really accomplished growth this year and I feel that the majority of them will be ready for the challenge in English IV.  Some of them are going to have to do some soul searching if they want to do anything other that simply survive in high school English.

Pending being re-hired next year, I am scheduled to have four different preps.  I am going to teach English IV (AP, honors, and academic) and AP English III.  These are all high level classes and there is a great need for me to be on top of my game.  When I am not prepared, I feel like the students can see right through me.  Here is a smattering of what I’ll be reading through again and reviewing for the upcoming 2012-2013 school year.

 I gave both classes (AP III and AP IV) their summer assignment today.  It is funny to hear the mournful comments from some students and the excited expressions of other students.  They do not realize the amount of work that goes into simply making their assignment, let alone the work that goes into making next year fun and engaging.

I am excited to get started reading, but I can remember my freshman and half of my sophomore year when I hadn’t discovered deep, rich reading.  It wasn’t until sophomore year in high school that I learned what reading could be.  I read The Grapes of Wrath in honors English class and was hooked.  Since then, I have read all of the John Steinbeck books that I could.  Each one was enjoyable except for The Red Pony.  He has a way with words that speaks to my reader’s mind.

My mother-in-law and step-father-in-law are coming to visit this week.  We will enjoy some time at the Carolina Mudcat’s game and time in Williamsburg, Virginia.  Hopefully, I will continue to blog throughout the summer as to journal my reading and preparation for the year.  Right now, I am focusing on The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain.  We’ll see what I come up with.  I am also going to be reading Humility by C.J. Mahaney and Hebrews by the Apostle Paul.

Wish me luck!

Monday, March 26, 2012

End of the Nine Weeks!

It has been a while since my last post. There are a few reasons for that.
  1. I have been coaching baseball.
  2. My lesson plans are made from scratch.
  3. I am a work-a-holic who can always find more to do for my students.
  4. My journal has more posts in it.
  5. High school grading requires more time.

That being said, Thursday will be the end of my first nine weeks teaching high school English.  I love teaching.  It is fun to talk with students and to learn with the students.  Right now, I am teaching English III (academic and honors) and Public Speaking.  My administration is sending me to English III AP summer training in July that will afford me the opportunity to teach English III AP each semester and alternate English III in the spring and English IV in the fall.  I am excited about having the chance to teach something with intensity, but I know it will be more grading and editing.  I’m up for the challenge.

A few observations in teaching Junior and Senior English opposed to teaching 7th grade Language Arts are as follows:  Let me qualify this list by saying my middle school experience was in Vance county and my high school experience is in Wake county.  You can assume the opposite for the other grade.
  1. Teaching 7th graders requires little content knowledge.
  2. The majority of high school students want to be successful.
  3. High school grading takes longer.
  4. You don’t have to hold as many hands in high school.
  5. High school students think they know everything like middle schoolers do.
  6. Middle school is harder on the students.
  7. High school students have more homework.
  8. High school teachers have more autonomy
These are just a few things I have noticed.  I plan to reflect some more on teaching and learning as well as post some student work on the blog.  Hopefully my time will open up so that I can make blogging a priority again.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Leaving HMS and Entering EWHS (Health Science)

It has been an interesting ride at Henderson Middle School.  My first year of teaching was struck by tragedy when a young lady in my homeroom and first period passes away in a house fire.  I can’t imagine the loss for the parents but the school suffered as well.  My second year was a little easier after becoming accustomed to the students and school.  Now, my third year brought new challenges in being a team leader.  I have enjoyed teaching seventh graders and enjoy their energy, but I feel better suited to guide students that have more of a foundation and are ready to take it to the next level for college or career.  It will be a change of pace to enter the high school setting to teach 16-18 year olds, but I am ready.


East Wake School of Health Science seems like a perfect fit for me, my teaching style, and the content.  I love to read and discuss American literature and in high school American literature is where I began to love reading.  I love to speak and debate so the classes that I will be teaching fit right into my passion.  It will be a joy to get into the classroom, build relationships with students and faculty, and begin to grow a career at EWHS.  I am excited for the things that are in store.