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.