Friday, October 29, 2010

The Yellow Wallpaper

Rarely do I inflict my favorite stories and poems on my students. I was not a big fan of that when I was a student and I do my best to give them literature they are actually interested in or that are wonderful illustrations of themes, symbols etc.

"The Yellow Wallpaper" is an exception. It is and remains my favorite short story of all time. I read it in one of my college English classes and was hooked. It's not the easiest story to read, I had to read it five times to understand what happened and a few more to really get what the author was talking about. Because it's a difficult story I only have my honors students read it and I offer extra credit to any regular student who reads it on their own.

At first my students thought is was 'retarded and lame' but after they got about a page in, they really began to enjoy it. Interestingly they have not freaked out about it like last year's class where kids were getting dizzy and ill from the descriptions.

Another interesting thing about this story are all the things people have decided that Gilman was talking about, social injustice, equal rights for women, that sort of thing. And while I believe that in her subconscious mind she may have been addressing those things in reality she had a different purpose in mind.

Here is why she wrote it in the first place.

Many and many a reader has asked me that. When the story first came out, in the New England Magazine about 1891, a Boston physician made protest in The Transcript. Such a story ought not to be written, he said; it was enough to drive anyone mad to read it.
Another physician, in Kansas I think, wrote to say that it was the best description of incipient insanity he had ever seen, and -- begging my pardon -- had I been there?
Now the story of the story is this:
For many years I suffered from a severe and continuous nervous breakdown tending to melancholia -- and beyond. During about the third year of this trouble I went, in devout faith and some faint stir of hope, to a noted specialist in nervous diseases, the best known in the country. This wise man put me to bed and applied the rest-cure, to which a still-good physique responded so promptly that he concluded there was nothing much the matter with me, and sent me home with solemn advice to "live as domestic a life as far as possible," to "have but two hours' intellectual life a day," and "never to touch pen, brush, or pencil again" as long as I lived. This was in 1887.
I went home and obeyed those directions for some three months, and came so near the borderline of utter mental ruin that I could see over.
Then, using the remnants of intelligence that remained, and helped by a wise friend, I cast the noted specialist's advice to the winds and went to work again -- work, the normal life of every human being; work, in which is joy and growth and service, without which one is a pauper and a parasite -- ultimately recovering some measure of power.
Being naturally moved to rejoicing by this narrow escape, I wrote "The Yellow Wallpaper," with its embellishments and additions, to carry out the ideal (I never had hallucinations or objections to my mural decorations) and sent a copy to the physician who so nearly drove me mad. He never acknowledged it.
The little book is valued by alienists and as a good specimen of one kind of literature. It has, to my knowledge, saved one woman from a similar fate -- so terrifying her family that they let her out into normal activity and she recovered.
But the best result is this. Many years later I was told that the great specialist had admitted to friends that he had altered his treatment of neurasthenia since reading "The Yellow Wallpaper."
It was not intended to drive people crazy, but to save people from being driven crazy, and it worked.
SOURCE: The Forerunner, October 1913.

My students will read this article once they are done with the story and answer a few questions about it. I always find it interesting how readers and viewers react to art weather it be literature, poetry, paintings or music. We tend to put into it our own life experiences and that is what makes it fun.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

End of Quarter 1

The first quarter ends on Thursday the 28th and I've done almost everything that I wanted to do this year. I won't finish the expository essays before the end of the quarter but that's not a huge deal, it'll be the first grade of the 2nd quarter and the book project has been better than I thought (see post below). The kids are not only better academically, but they're better behaved as well for the most part.

I do have my exceptions, I have a few kids in 5th period that talk to much and one in another class that I had last year. This student is repeating the same mistakes that he did last year, so I finally told him that his homework over the weekend was to decide if he was actually going to make an effort this year and then tell me on Monday which way he wants to go. If he decides not to try I will have him sign a form saying he chooses to fail and then as long as he does not decide to disrupt my class he can learn the hard way. If he chooses to try then I am going to stay on him to make sure he passes.

What I want to happen and what I think will happen are two different things. I hope he decides to actually pass this year, but my gut tells me he could not care any less about his future. So be it, I have enough students who actually want to pass to waste any more energy on someone who doesn't care. If that makes me a bad teacher then I'm guilty as charged but I am reminded of the old Chinese saying that goes something like this. 'Teacher opens door but the student must walk through'...

Finally, I got my dog Charette down to a local grooming school and got her washed, her nails trimmed and even painted in the school colors for spirit week.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Book Project

One of the things I changed this year was to include a quarterly book project in all my English classes. So once a quarter they read a book of their choice (within reason) and then do some sort of project on it. To make sure they actually do the project I made it 25% of their quarter grade.

I gave them a sheet with 16 different ideas to choose from (#16 was come up with your own) and then took them to the library so they could pick a book. Today was the due date for my honors classes and from what I have seen it's going very very well. One student did a diary for 'Of Mice and Men' and it was just AMAZING. In addition I've gotten crossword puzzles, sculptures, posters and book reviews. (One student did not like 'The Stranger' at ALL) I did get one book report but he did a good job with it so I didn't mind, and no it was NOT on the list. I've even gotten a couple already from my regular kids and those were also 'A' level work.

Now it was not easy to get the kids to do this, but this is an ENGLISH class and they will read 4 books this year. If they want to pass my class they will anyway.

The bonus is that now I have book ideas to add to my library in my house and my classroom. And since I have gift cards to both Barnes and Noble as well as Amazon, it's going to be fun.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Not a happy camper

Today was the tipping point in my regular classes. For whatever reason they all decided that it was social hour despite the fact that at least 5 kids per class were absent today. It didn't even help that I removed two chatter boxes from class and then called their parents after school. And then the kicker was during my credit retrieval class when one of my students told me not to give him attitude...

Of course I told that class FOUR times to stop talking when I caught him and his friend talking yet one more time. His excuse was that his and his neighbor's computer had suddenly shut down. I told him I didn't care about his computer and then after his comment about my attitude I kicked him out of class.

So tomorrow the kids get new seats and zero tolerance for the chatter and that kid who gave me lip is going to be in for a shock tomorrow.

I don't do disrespect.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

If it isn't broke...

Don't fix it right? Apparently not for my students. Why do I bring this up? Well, because they took notes and payed attention to Book 9 of The Odyssey and did really well on the test. So you would think that since it worked for Book 9 it would also work for Book 10 right?...

Well not so much. I knew that the scores would drop a bit from that test to this test because there were more short answer questions than on the last one, but I did not expect the classes to literally do a full grade worse. I literally had a student get a 32/40 on the first test and a 4.5/40 on the second test. Seriously? You go from about an 80% to about 11% in four days? This same class had an average score of 83% on the first test and a 68% on the second one. Can you say 'overconfident'? I knew you could. Now I will say that the kids who totally bombed the first test did not repeat their mistakes on the second one. Not that they all passed, but I am pleased when you go from an 8/40 on the first test to a 22/40 on the second one. I know it's still an F, but he increased his score by almost 300%. I just hope he takes the Book 12 test seriously, because I want him to succeed.

I do know that today when I was reviewing the material for book 12 the students were certainly paying more attention than last time. Of course it was no accident that I handed back their tests at the beginning of class to give them a bit of a kick in the butt.

Finally I asked them what the biggest surprise of the book was and the two most popular replies were as follows: "I can't believe that Odysseus slept with Circe" and "I thought it was going to be boring but now I'm into it." I may let them finish listening to the story after the test tomorrow and a bit on Thursday.

Lets just hope this test isn't the Hindenburg Part II...

Thursday, October 07, 2010

A big difference

This year is so totally different from last year. Maybe it's the fact I have a year under my belt teaching English (as opposed to math, long story) and don't have to make it up as I go. Maybe it's the fact I have both honors sections and can actually teach two different things. Maybe it's the fact that the kids are not only better behaved but harder working, but so far this year has been much less stressful than last year. I even have a handle on the credit retrieval class now. I just need to update the grades again in the grade book. I am also enjoying myself more this year than I did last year and last year I had a blast.

I am however going to have to remind my regular classes just who is in charge since they're starting to think it's not me... Big mistake on their part. And the nice thing is I have not had to bark much this year either, in fact I haven't even kicked anyone out of my room yet.

My regular classes are almost done with 'The Odyssey' (books 9-10 and 12) and then they'll start the writing project and my honors classes will start 'The Odyssey' on Tuesday, they'll probably finish up in a week since I can move faster with them than I can with the regular kids, then we start my favorite short story 'The Yellow Wallpaper', which is a perfect story for October. Then both classes will read 'The Cask of Amontillado' and then we'll go from there. I still have to make time to prep the kids for the interim assessments at the end of the month.

Wow is the 1st quarter that close to being over?

Speaking of my room, it's officially decorated for Halloween!

Monday, October 04, 2010

Seriously PO'd

Update: I got played. That student is on probation and decided to cry wolf about the abuse. I'm still mad, but now it's at the student. I know I did what I was supposed to do when abuse is alleged, but that student is now a permanent resident of the dog house. I don't do back stabbing. I don't stab students in the back and I expect the same in return. I can't wait for the parent teacher conference next week...

As much as I love teaching there are parts I'd rather not have to deal with and a few that really truly piss me off. Today I had to deal with the one thing that sets me off faster than sagging jeans and sleeping students: abusive parents.

Today I had my second guest speaker of the year come in and talk about social work, and I think it went well all day. The students pretty much paid attention and asked some good questions.

It was during one of the passing periods that the crap hit the fan. One of my students who has been really struggling (but got a B on the Odyssey test) came up and asked the social worker and I if it was 'OK if my step-dad punches his son in the face'. The look that passed between my guest and I was a combination of 'oh s***! and WTF?'. I replied that no it was not OK for him to strike his son like that and that opened up the flood gates. Turns out that he verbally abuses his wife and physically abuses my student and his step brother. He said that it was only his PO (probation officer) that keeps him from running away to AZ to be with his dad.


My guest and I give him some advice along the lines of talk to your PO and counselor and he goes to his next class because I can't be talking about his business in front of an entire class.
So I email his counselor asking for advice on how to report this piece of er step-dad to CPS. She gives me the number and tells me that I need to talk to my AP, who also prints out the kid's address and phone number for me so I can give it to CPS, which I did after a 40 minute wait. She also told me to tell him that the next time it happens that he can call 911 (Why the hell didn't I think of that?) himself as well as asking him for a bit more information if he is willing to share.

Hopefully this will turn out alright for my student and his family. Hopefully I won't meet his step-dad in a dark alley either, because I'd seriously like to stomp a mud hole in his sorry carcass.

I am still seriously PO'd...

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Not so fast!

I know many people on the right are drooling about the November election and for good reason. This could be a year where the Democrats get their collective clocks cleaned, but before you all start breaking out the champagne and singing 'We Are The Champions', you need this reality check...

Not much will change when the next congress starts even if your greatest wishes come true and the GOP gets both houses of Congress...

Why? Two reasons...

1. The Filibuster, there is no way on God's green earth that the GOP will get 60 seats in November, allowing the Democrats to do what the GOP has done, threaten talk bills to death.

2. The Veto, there is also no way on God's green earth that the GOP will get 2/3 in each house to override vetos, so even if the GOP can overcome the filibuster, nothing will change for at least two years. Obama will veto EVERYTHING that goes against his agenda. He fought too hard to implement it (often against the wishes of his bosses) to simply allow the GOP to repeal it. Trust me he'll use every means fair and foul to keep the changes he has worked to make reality.

This means that in 2012 the democrats can point out how the GOP has done nothing and try to regain power. So hold your horses the battle isn't even won much less the war. Remember the democrats cried foul every time Bush 43 legitimately used reconciliation to give us the soon to be expired tax breaks, and then used it for health care reform. Don't think for a second that they will threaten to filibuster everything if they do lose the Senate, which is far from certain.

If the GOP were smart (which given their track record is a real stretch) they would force the Democrats to actually filibuster the bills. Then they would force the President to veto them.

Like they have the balls to do that, they haven't shown the balls to do much of anything for the last 20 years...