Thursday, February 24, 2011

Romeo and Juliet

The play stays the same but the students don't. I shouldn't be surprised that this year's students wouldn't react the same way that last year's did but I am.

Last year's kids were a bunch of romantics, apparently I have a more bloodthirsty pack of kids this year. Many of them didn't really get into the first two acts because there was no violence, but they're way into Act III where both Tybalt and Mercutio both end up in the morgue. Last year the kids were not super shocked by the dad's anger when Juliet didn't want to marry Paris, but this year they were really shocked by how angry and how abusive he was with her. I am, however, worried that they are not taking this test as seriously as the first one and that they'll bomb this one. This happened with the second Odyssey test last fall and I can already see it coming. I guess they didn't learn their lesson the last time around. My honors kids are just starting the play so it will be interesting to see what they think of Romeo and Juliet.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The mess in Wisconsin

I wasn't going to comment, I swear I wasn't, but I simply have to put in my 2¢ worth. I've looked at the bill and the protesters and I'm just tired of the whole thing.


To the 'teachers' in Wisconsin who called in 'sick'...

How dare you. How dare you betray your students and violate the terms of your employment contract because you have to donate more money to your retirement and health care plans. How dare you decide that you are more important than the financial well being of your state. In case you didn't notice your state is short about 3 Billion dollars over the next two years. What would you rather have? A smaller paycheck or classes of 40 students plus? Do you really think no teachers will get laid off if you win this battle? How dare you forget that your paycheck comes from the taxpayers. I hope that your employers not only fire you but revoke your licenses to teach. You are a disgrace to your profession. And that goes for you 'doctors' who fraudulently wrote sick notes for those same 'teachers' I hope you also lose your license to practice medicine. Maybe you ought to retake your ethics classes one more time since you obviously didn't pay attention last time around.

And I'm sooooo sorry that you won't be able to negotiate your working conditions and that you might end up getting fired at any time. That's called reality in the private sector. Before I taught I spend about 20 years working from every sized company and I knew that I could lose my job at any time. Hell, one time I got fired because an employee transferred in from another state and they needed to find a work station for him, last hired first fired. And it's not like there won't be competition for your services with all the different school districts in your state. If you don't like how you're treated at one place then take your services elsewhere.

I'm out of pity for the lot of you. Suck it up or find another job, preferably one in the private sector, a cold dose of reality would be good for you.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Honors or Not?

One of my jobs as an Freshman English teacher is to make recommendations about which English and History class my students should take next year. Last year I was way to nice to students, including my honors students and sent kids to Honors English, Honors World History and AP World History who didn't deserve it.

This year I was very selective. Only about 12 kids have the option of AP History and of my 66 honors students, 11 didn't make the cut and will be taking regular English and History classes. Of my 76 regular students only 5 will get to move up to honors classes and 1 will do AP History.

Of course students and parents may challenge my decision and some will. But I am comfortable that I made the right choices. If you got either a C or a low B last semester you have no business in an honors class, especially if the same teacher teaches it next year.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Romeo and Juliet

Romeo and Juliet is one of those required texts that 9th graders at my school must read. I was admittedly nervous about teaching it last year and was pleasantly surprised by how well it went. Once students were able to get past the language, they really enjoyed the story.

Probably the smartest move I made (and repeated) was to show video clips from both the 1968 and 1996 versions of the play. And just out of curiosity I always ask which version they like better, last year it was about 60/40 old version. It's one of the essays they can write about on the test (Acts I & II). This year I was shocked that the old version won by about 85%/15%. I thought that the older version might be more popular but I was not expecting it to be this big a difference.

Another cool thing that happened this year was when one of my students connected the crow in Act I to Romeo and Juliet dying. I'll be honest, I never made that connection. Not that I never talked about it, I mean I literally NEVER made the connection between the use of the crow and the deaths of Romeo and Juliet, and I've read and watched the play several times. The best part is that while this student is one of my favorites due to her wonderful work ethic and smile, English is not her strong point. I was so excited I gave the essay to her TOR (teacher of record) so she could see it as well. And one of my students who is reading about the 6th grade level only missed one question on the scantron half of the test.

These are the days that make teaching the greatest job in the world. The fact that only one student failed the test out of the three classes who took it doesn't hurt either.

Monday, February 07, 2011

The Power of Words

For some odd reason the area I work in has asked that the word adequate be used in performance evaluations. I bring this up because while the district may think that adequate might be just fine and dandy for evaluations, every time I saw it on my evaluation forms (three) I was left wondering what the hell I did wrong that lesson, especially when my AP (Assistant Principal) gushed about the lesson to me when it was over. After talking it over with my neighbor who felt the same way I did, I emailed my boss and asked him if adequate was good or bad. He reassured me that it was a good thing and given his druthers he happily pick another term to use.

And people wonder why Nevada is ranked #49 in the USA in education? Obviously someone does not understand the real connotation of the word adequate. It may mean 'fine and dandy' but in the real world it means 'barely good enough'. Well that's the polite version anyway. Either the people who made this change were never English teachers and are therefore ignorant of the stress they are creating, or that creating stress was the goal all along. Someone at some point should have mentioned that using the word adequate in a review normally bodes ill for the employee who is involved.

That would be your tax money at work people...

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Black History Month

I have mixed feelings about these things. I really do, is it really necessary to have a month dedicated to Black History, or Hispanic Heritage? But, since my HS wanted to know what we were going to do for BHM, I decided to dust off an old lesson I had not taught since I was an apprentice at the Andre Agassi school.

Right now my honors kids are reading 'Letter From A Birmingham Jail', and I am glad I did it. Most of them didn't have a clue as to what real racism was, or why Dr. King was held in such high esteem. Happily I can report that now my honors kids understand both, especially because they also listened to Dr. Kings's 'Mountaintop' speech, which is the one he gave the night before he was assassinated.

My favorite part of the speech is when Dr. King is talking about getting stabbed in NYC by a crazy lady (is this Palin's fault too?) and relating how if he had sneezed, the blade lodged in his chest would have pierced his aorta and he would have died. This report made into the NY Times and a 9th grade student then wrote Dr. King a letter saying how happy she was that he didn't sneeze! (she also mentioned that she was white) This got his audience and my class laughing at her earnest innocence. I found it interesting that out of all the letters he had received after the attack (including ones from the President) that the one that he remembered most was the one from the girl. I guess we should not be surprised at this because he was, after all a man of God, and not after the fame and fortune that he received.

I am also doing some biographies this month as well for all my classes, including William Wilberforce, Dr. Condolelleza Rice and Bishop Tutu. It might make a welcome break from Romeo and Juliet for my regular classes.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Spring Semester

Well, the first semester is behind us and now we're on to semester 2. Honestly I like teaching more in the spring than I do for the winter for a few reasons.

1. Romeo and Juliet. While this will probably make eyes roll and groans abound, I do enjoy teaching Shakespeare. Now understand that while I admire Shakespeare and understand his importance in Western Literature, I don't worship at the altar of 'The Bard'. I've only read 4 of his plays and only a handful of his sonnets.

What I enjoy is watching inner city 9th graders not only understand R&J, but really get into a play that is more than 400 years old. I enjoy opening their eyes and ears to the power of the written word. I like teaching them about the symbolism contained in the play, and I hope that I get another moment like last year when Romeo proposed to Juliet and I had a student audibly go 'Oh!... ahhhhh' when she understood what had happened. I love it when I get a kid like last year who averaged about a 19% all year... except for Romeo and Juliet when he averaged an 81%. I like it when hardened kids get sucked into the romance and tragedy that is Romeo and Juliet. And no, there are no Shakespeare posters in my room, hopefully there never will be...

2. Poetry: What irritates me about HS poetry is that it's really PiNO. Poetry in name only. Sure they talk about rhyme schemes and meter, and even bore er teach kids about a few important poems and poets, but seriously? Is that the BEST they can do?

Needless to say I ignore the garbage in the textbooks and created my own month long introduction to poetry unit. Gone are the idiotic poems and half-assed explanations. Instead the kids get to learn about the poetic form and what makes a ballad a ballad. I show them what rhyme schemes are and why they matter. I teach them the difference between major forms of poetry. We listen to poems being recited over the speakers and then learn about poets and poems.

When they are done, they know what the difference between a ballad and a heroic couplet is. They know why pastorals are important and why Shakespeare and Marlowe used blank verse to write their plays in. They get the joy of reading fun poems like 'The Tale of Custard The Dragon', and see the emotions behind poems like 'Warming Her Pearls' and 'Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night'. They also learn about Haiku and Tanka poetry.

Finally they get to write some of their own poetry. They must write a haiku, a tanka, a ballad and a heroic couplet. If they want extra credit they can give any of the forms we study a try. I don't really do much with meter or the really technical part of poetry for a couple of reasons: I don't care and I don't want to bore them to death.

3. Extended teaching time! By this I mean no vacations. I like vacations but honestly November and December are wasted months because kids are always on vacation mode. They are either getting ready for a long weekend or just coming back from a long weekend. It's impossible to really teach because you can't build any momentum. I like having a long stretch where I can really just go for it with my teaching and not worry about long weekends and extended breaks.

4. Summer vacation! When you look at reasons 1-3, would it surprise to you find out that I'm pretty much wiped out when summer break starts?

Before I forget, I wanted to mention something funny that happened this week. My honors students are reading 'Letter From A Birmingham Jail' before they start on Romeo and Juliet. The teacher across the hall from me asked me for a copy of the letter so he could read it over the weekend. Mr. J., who is black came up to me on Monday and said this about Dr. King... 'Dr. King's got a little thug in him doesn't he?' I laughed about it in agreement. Mr. J. was impressed with the courage and backbone that Dr. King possessed and was surprised by his willingness to call other religious leaders on the carpet and properly chastise (well chew them out) them for their lack of support for the cause of civil rights.

I'll never look at Dr. King the same way again.