Should He/She Be Teaching?

I’m usually a pretty nice person, but what I’m about to write might be considered by some to be somewhat mean.

I was friendly with a woman in college. She had the same major as I did — English Education. She was a sweet girl, but let’s be blunt — she was dumb as a rock. The prospect that she would be a teacher used to make me feel very uncomfortable, and I would never have wanted her to teach my children. She wasn’t smart enough to be a teacher, in my opinion.

I can’t remember where, but in the EduBlogsphere of late (I would appreciate links, if you have them), I have seen more than one post about education majors having low test scores and grades compared to students in other disciplines. The implication is “those who can’t, teach,” and as a teacher, I just know that you are not going to make it if you aren’t intelligent. You won’t be able to answer student questions. There is nothing wrong with saying “I don’t know, but I’ll find out.” If you have to say it all the time, then one must wonder why you’re in front of a classroom. Teachers have to know something in order to teach it, don’t they?

My friend didn’t make it as a teacher very long. I reconnected with her when I was back in college finishing my degree. She complained to me about an English Education professor she said was “mean” to her, who had discouraged her at every turn. I couldn’t bring myself to say so, because I am just not that direct when I know it could be hurtful, but the thought definitely crossed my mind that her English Education professor was trying to do the best thing for both that woman and her future students and convince her that she wasn’t cut out to be a teacher. Predictably, she lasted about year and quit teaching. I wonder about the high statistics involved with teachers.

According to research by Richard Ingersoll, a professor of sociology at the University of Georgia, 11 percent of teachers leave the occupation after one year on the job. After two years, 21 percent have quit; after five years, 39 percent have quit.

I agree that it is sad that so many teachers quit because they feel a lack of support. I myself have been in that situation, and it is absolutely insufferable. I can remember hating my teaching job so much that I cried on the way to work, especially after a break, and I checked off days in the calendar so I could say to myself that I made it through one more day and was one day closer to the end of the year. It is a sad state of affairs when adminstrations allow discipline problems to become so pervasive that teachers feel as if students run the schools, and it is equally sad when teachers are blamed for those problems instead of supported and assisted.

I included this information to make it clear that I am not saying that I believe a majority or even a sizable percentage of teachers quit because they can’t cut it intellectually. But there must be some, and I do wonder what part of that percentage they make up. There is a notion that teachers are not intelligent, and it doesn’t come from nowhere. And what do you do if you have a colleague that doesn’t cut it? I’m not sure there is really anything you can do, except complain about it (not necessarily to the administration).

I think one way we can solve the problem is to make teachers a part of the hiring process. After all, we are the ones who will be working most closely with these potential colleagues. Should we not have a say in who those colleagues will be? Some schools have implemented this sort of hiring process, and I myself have been involved. I think I could have interviewed my friend for about five minutes and discovered she wasn’t going to work out. I don’t think principals can always do this alone, especially if they are interviewing someone outside their discipline.

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The Great Gatsby

This week I begin teaching The Great Gatsby. Of the American literature novels I teach, it is perhaps my favorite. I confess I have a crush on F. Scott Fitzgerald. I am in love with his way with words, his lavish description. It is perilous to teach something we love.

Rebecca Hayden wrote an article entitled “Teaching Works We Love: Hazards of the English Classroom” for the March 2005 issue of English Journal. Hayden writes of an experience teaching Tess of the D’Urbervilles to a group of students who, well, didn’t exactly share her appreciation for “the novel she credits with turning her into an English teacher” (41). In a pull quote that aptly sums up the gist of the article, Hayden writes,

Like many English teachers, I feel that favorite books are part of my soul, and the question arises, To what degree am I willing to bare that soul to hundreds of adolescents, who may be harboring their own quirks, prejudices, and lightning-quick dismissive judgments?

I think what makes us nervous about teaching works we love is that our students seem to complain about everything they’re required to read, and we just can’t bear to hear that when it’s in reference to our favorite books.

I overheard a conversation between two seniors at our school. They are taking a film class that will serve as their English credit for second semester before they go to Israel (all of our seniors have the opportunity to complete their senior year in Israel). They were actually complaining. Imagine! Watching movies for school… and yet there is still something to complain about! It seems they don’t like the movies — classics such as North By Northwest and On the Waterfront. I know, I know. Sometimes I think there is just no making students happy — unless they have complete choice, I suppose. I’ll bet they’d still complain.

Hayden wonders, near the end of her article, “whether it was worth bringing [her] private self into the classroom” (43). She asks herself, “Why bother?” Indeed.

Last year before I began Gatsby, I actually read this article to my students. I thought about it, and I decided it might be interesting for them to know how I really feel about this book — actually come right out and tell them that when I teach it, I am holding my figurative heart out to them and hoping they don’t rip it to pieces.

It worked.

Students responded to the vulnerability and the passion. I doubt they enjoyed the book as much as I hoped. But I do think the students learned a larger lesson. I suppose one could say they learned I’m human. Or perhaps it’s just a little about my background — who I am. Or maybe it’s even that books can change lives, and this one changed mine. It might not have changed theirs, but perhaps another one will.

I guess that’s why we bother, and ultimately, why we teach literature. Or anything at all, for that matter.

Work Cited: Hayden, Rebecca. “Teaching Works We Love: Hazards of the English Classroom.” English Journal. 94.4 (March 2005): 41-44.

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Ideas

OK, I have opted for something simpler for my Ideas page.  It will be a collection of links to my lesson plan wiki, where I will house all my lesson ideas.  I am still restoring handouts and Power Points, so forgive me if some of the links aren’t working correctly yet.

I read a couple of good articles in Reader’s Digest.  I know a lot of you want to give me a hard time for reading that magazine.  Go ahead; I can take it.  Anyway, one was an excerpt of Frank McCourt’s new book Teacher Man, and the other was about cheating.  I have decided I definitely want to read McCourt’s book, as it looks decidedly more uplifting than Angela’s Ashes, which I couldn’t finish.  I have some thoughts about these two articles that I want to share here.

My school is also embarking on professional development regarding assessment, and I have some good articles that I would also like to discuss here.  So, watch this space!  I’m going to be discussing education here again, soon!

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Personal Sites

I have my personal blog going again at danahuff.net. I am in the process of restoring my Harry Potter and genealogy blogs. Once I do, I’ll link those, too. It’s been a lot of work, but I think I’m on the right track. Because I had migrated to Word Press from Movable Type on the personal blog early in January, I was able to rescue most of the posts on that blog. I had exported the file. However, I had never done so for any of the other blogs, including this one, so I fear those entries are gone. I am going to try to rescue some of them from various web caches, but I learned a lesson. Back it up. You just never know what will happen, and I can’t think about losing all that writing too much or makes me sick.

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Romanticism Webquest

Romanticism: A Movement Across the Arts has been completely restored. I have uploaded some of the instructional Power Point presentations, but a few of them are on my computer at work, and I’ll need to get those uploaded from work. I have also uploaded many of the handouts I use, but not in pdf form yet. Again, those are on my computer at work.

I do not yet have my ideas or lesson plans pages ready. I’m working on restoring those pages.

For readers of my personal blog, my genealogy blog, and my Harry Potter site, please be aware that I am moving those sites to a separate domain. I’m still waiting for that domain to be connected to the servers, but I will announce here when things are ready.

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Update Two

I’m afraid I haven’t had time to try to work with the Radio Blog files on the Gatsby and Romanticism pages yet, but the Radio Blog on the Hurston page appears to be up and running. Let me know if you have trouble with it.

I’m not sure, but I think the blogs that appeared on this site are gone for good. It makes me very sad, as it represented about two and half years of writing, but I don’t know what to do about it. I’m complained about my host to the Better Business Bureau.

In case you’re wondering, essentially what happened is that my host was bought by another company. My site was taken offline and replaced by a placeholder page. However, the fact that this transition was about to occur was not related to my former host’s customers. In fact, they have always been very bad about communication when they will be making updates that will cause downtime. Anyway, this was one time too many, and I lost confidence in their abiliy, so I switched to Bluehost, and I’m very happy so far.

It is probably going to take a significant amount of time to restore some of this site, but I should explain some of the changes I intend to make.

  1. My education blog will now appear here, at this URL — http://www.huffenglish.com/. It was formerly at http://www.huffenglish.com/blog/.
  2. My classroom site will appear at its own own subdomain: http://class.huffenglish.com/. It was formerly at http://www.huffenglish.com/class/. This is not live yet, but I’ll update when it is.
  3. My personal non-education related sites, including my personal blog, my genealogy blog, and my Harry Potter blog will all appear at their own domain as soon as it’s online. I will unveil that when it’s active.
  4. The classroom wiki and lesson plan wiki were hosted offsite and are unaffected by my hosting problems.

In case you missed it, I wanted to take this opportunity to announce that my piece “Toward ‘Moral Perfection': Integrating Judaic Concepts and Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography” will be published in July 2006 in English Journal. This issue’s theme concerns teaching practices in private, parochial, and independent schools. Look for it!

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HuffEnglish.com on Repair

Much apologies to my visitors as I try to repair the damage done when my old host, Maxipoint, Ltd., decided to take down my site without telling me first and went days without explanation, by which time I tired of their shoddy business practices and non-existent support and moved in at Bluehost.

It will take some time to get this site back in the shape it was in. Unfortunately, I believe most of my blog entries are lost forever. My former host is either unwilling or does not know how to give me access to my files.

So far, I have managed to restore

Please note that the music files in the Radio Blogs on The Great Gatsby Treasure Hunt, Romanticism, and Zora Neale Hurston are not yet functional. I will be working on restoring these this evening and will update when I have.

Please bear with me as I rebuild this site.

Update: I am unable to get the Radio Blog files to work, and I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong.  I will keep at it and let you know what happens.

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Wikis for Book Discussion

I am showing my students Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence, which I highly recommend.

However, I noticed that due to a strange confluence of events (or possibly lack of thorough planning), we wound up finishing novels in two classes right in the middle of viewing the film. I was scratching my head, wondering what to do about that when I remembered I have a website.

I asked the students to discuss the novels on the class wiki I set up.

If you want to peek in on the discussion, here are the links:

I think they’re still trying to figure out this technology. It comes more naturally to some of them than it does others.

In other news, my article describing a project that integrates a study of Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography with Judaic concepts will be published in English Journal this coming July. I’m very excited; I just received the acceptance today.

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