Tweaks and Changes

Please let me know if you have any problems navigating the Web site. I have updated my theme to a newer version and added a sitemap. Also, I changed some things around and added a new picture on the About page.

I put a Goodreads widget in the sidebar and removed my LibraryThing widget. I don’t actually use my LibraryThing profile because free users are limited to 200 books; however, Goodreads allows users to add as many books as they like. Feel free to add me as a friend if you have a Goodreads account.

I’m still having the 500 Error problem when I post. I am not sure what it is, but I’m wondering if it’s related to my theme. I have several other blogs that use some of the same plugins, and I don’t have the same issues. If anyone else is using the Cutline theme from WordPress and has noticed these problems, please let me know.

I need to get caught up on Write Beside Them so I can be a useful contributor at the wiki. Tomorrow!

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Steampunk Computer

OK, this is totally unrelated to education, but my husband sent me a link he found to a steampunk computer keyboard, which is how I came to explore The Steampunk Workshop.  Here is a picture of the flat-screen monitor and keyboard created by Jake von Slatt (click for larger version):

Pretty cool looking!

Visit the site to learn how to make the keyboard and monitor.

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The Teacher’s Daybook, 2008-2009

The Teacher's Daybook, 2008-2009I just pre-ordered my copy of Jim Burke’s handy planner, The Teacher’s Daybook, updated for 2008-2009. The planner will not actually be released until July 10. Usually, it is released much earlier, and I wonder if some of the changes made didn’t cause a delay in publication. The planners usually run from July to June of the year specified, so I can’t help but think there was a problem this time.

I actually mocked up syllabi for this fall yesterday. Why do I want to go back to school so bad when I just started my summer? The Folger Teaching Shakespeare Mini-Institute! I am really excited to teach three Shakespeare plays this year — Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Macbeth, all of which, interestingly enough, are included in volume one of the Folger Library’s Shakespeare Set Free series. As a participant of the institute, I will be receiving a copy of this volume. I already have one, so I plan to donate the older copy to a colleague and keep the new one. I am not sure what the difference between the one I already have and the new one is (aside from the cover). Does anyone else know?

If you can only get one volume of the series, this volume is the one I recommend because it contains two of the most frequently taught plays — Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth — both of which are frequently anthologized in 9th grade texts and British literature texts respectively. It is my hope that if Folger produces another volume in the series, they will consider creating a unit for Julius Caesar, as when I have had to teach that play (twice), I have had difficulty in coming up with creative ideas, although it looks like there are some good ideas on the Folger’s Web site. There is a great idea for the scene when Cinna the Poet is attacked by the plebeian mob that we did at the Mini-Institute, but I don’t see an identical one on the Web site (here is a similar one).

Well, I need to tell myself to enjoy this break from teaching. I am twenty pages from the end of Wuthering Heights, which I am actually reading in its entirety for the first time (sorry Mrs. Keener — it wasn’t personal — I just couldn’t keep up with the reading schedule!) and Penny Kittle’s Write Beside Them was set aside while I finished up with end-of-year business (and I mean “busy-ness,” too), and I feel I have not been a good participant at the wiki. And I need to read the summer reading books assigned to my students (or at least the ones I haven’t read yet) so that I can make assessments for the books.

Techy Addendum: I have been getting a 500 Server Error when I post to this blog that says there is a misconfiguration on the server.  No problems posting at all, so it must be related to something that happens after I post.  No problems when I edit posts.  I am not sure what is causing it, and trying to figure it out over the last couple of hours hasn’t been fruitful.  Please let me know if you are having problems commenting.  Comments are held in moderation, so your comment might not appear right away, and that is not a bug.  However, if you get a strange error message (such as a 500 Server Error message), please let me know.

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Accessing Austen: How Rich Was Mr. Darcy?

Quite apart from reading and appreciating Jane Austen’s language, it has been my experience that students have difficulty understanding her world. For example, is Mr. Darcy really rich? After all, £10,000 doesn’t sound like a lot of money. What’s a pelisse anyway? What’s with all the letter writing? What’s up with all the tea? Of course, these questions probably barely scratch the surface, but you get the idea.  In this new series, utilizing Jane Austen blogs and Web sites, I intend to attempt to gather resources that will help high school students access Jane Austen’s world.

Money (and its lack) is referenced often in Jane Austen’s work. In fact, the first line of Pride and Prejudice, references money: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” Indeed, two single men of good fortunes appear in this novel — Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley. Mrs. Bennet, excited at the prospect of one of her daughters snagging Mr. Bingley, says, “A single man of large fortune; four or five thousand a year. What a fine thing for our girls!” [I love Mr. Bennet's reply, but as it doesn't touch on my point, I shall restrain myself from expounding upon it.] Exactly how much is that? To modern sensibilities, that doesn’t sound like much of a fortune. The wonderful blog Jane Austen’s World has a post, “Pride and Prejudice Economics: Or Why a Single Man with a Fortune of £4,000 Pounds Per Year is a Desirable Husband,” which describes several monetary references in Austen’s novels and letters in modern terms. Mr. Bingley’s £4,000 a year would be £135,840 in modern terms. If your students are American, they’re most likely still in the dark. Currency converters abound all over the Internet, but my handy converter on my iGoogle home page says that this sum is currently equal to $265,841.29. Not too shabby. Not insanely rich, but certainly extremely comfortable and wanting for nothing. So what about Mr. Darcy’s £10,000 a year? Roughly £339,600, or $664,603.21. Well over half a million a year certainly puts Mr. Darcy in the upper echelons of society, not to mention this sum is only 4% interest on his entire “vast fortune.” And the poor Dashwoods, who had to get by on only £500? Well, they’re certainly not well off by anyone’s measure, but they (sadly) pull in about the same amount as a teacher’s starting salary in many areas of the country — about £16,980, or $33,230.16. Jane Austen’s World also has an interesting discussion of Marianne Dashwood’s assertion that £1,800 to 2,000 is a “moderate” income.

This post is the first in a series on teaching Jane Austen’s novels.

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Folger Shakespeare Mini-Institute

Last week, I participated in a Teaching Shakespeare Mini-Institute with the Folger Shakespeare Library. If you ever have the opportunity to participate in one of Folger’s institutes, seize the opportunity. You will not only learn great practical methods for teaching Shakespeare and learn about Shakespeare and his plays, but you will also develop professional ties to amazing educators from all different backgrounds.

Much of the Teaching Shakespeare Mini-Institute’s methodology will be familiar to teachers who use Folger’s popular Shakespeare Set Free series. Our focus was on Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. We began the first four days with a lecture from either Barry Gaines, professor at the University of New Mexico, or Christy Desmet, professor at the University of Georgia. We also had curriculum sessions twice a day, seminar discussions, and performance classes taught by Laura Cole from the New American Shakespeare Tavern and Caleen Sinnette Jennings from Folger. Our culminating project was performance of a scene on the stage of the Shakespeare Tavern, which was an amazing experience. Here is a video of my group’s take on the scene when the Mechanicals in MND are receiving their parts from Peter Quince.

We all went to the Shakespeare Tavern to see Laura as Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing, which was a great experience.  The actors were kind enough to stay late for a Q&A with all of us, and the Tavern was generous with great seats.  If you live in the Atlanta area (or even just Georgia or nearby) and have never been to the Tavern, do yourself a favor and go.  You will not be disappointed.  Laura was brilliant, and the rest of the cast was also a delight.

I had an amazing time, learned a lot, and made new friends.  I am still processing everything I learned, so please be patient as posts about the experience will come out as I think it through and make connections.

Here’s a picture of all of us on the stage at the Shakespeare Tavern.  Click the image to see a larger version.

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Fitzgerald Scholar Matthew J. Bruccoli Dies

It is hard to imagine how F. Scott Fitzgerald’s legacy would be different today if not for the loving attention of Matthew J. Bruccoli, who died Wednesday, June 4 of a brain tumor.  In the Great Gatsby Treasure Hunt that I adapted from Valerie Arbizu’s work, students are introduced to the wonderful Web site created for Fitzgerald’s centenary celebration, for which Bruccoli was responsible.  Of all of the literary scholars I have read, my affinity has always been deepest with Bruccoli because I understood and shared his affection for Fitzgerald.  I know I have been deeply grateful for Bruccoli’s contributions to Fitzgerald studies.  My understanding of and affection for the author has improved because of Matthew J. Bruccoli.

Read more about Bruccoli’s passion for Fitzgerald and his Fitzgerald collection.

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Changes

Nobody’s complained about the absence of my weekly reflections, but I suppose I feel the need to explain anyway. Our last day of school was today. This week was finals week. I have been crazy busy because not only am I finishing up the year, but I’m also moving classrooms and wearing a new hat, which has taken up some time this week. My department chair is leaving us, and I was offered and accepted the position of English Department Chair. I have never been an administrator of any sort, and I always said I didn’t want to be, but I do want to do this job, and I want to do it well. As department chair, I will take on duties such as managing department issues (professional development, book orders and inventory, ensuring department tasks are done), facilitating meetings between my department members and parents (if necessary), serving as a liaison between administration and my department, planning and conducting department meetings, and probably a lot more stuff I don’t even realize I’ve taken on.

OK, I admit I am excited and honored. I didn’t think I would be in this position a few years ago. Initially, I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it because I wasn’t sure I could do it. Over the last few weeks, however, I have decided that as long as I approach this new position as I always tried to approach my job and I do the best job I can do, it will be fine. I actually am pretty good at the paperwork and bookkeeping elements of teaching. What will be new for me is being in a position of some authority.

I am looking forward to this new challenge. My school has offered me a great deal of freedom and support to grow as a teacher. In the four years I have been there, I have written an English Journal article, made a presentation at a statewide conference, offered professional development to my colleagues in the faculty, connected with educators all over the country and the world through blogs and wikis (with the support of my administration when many schools discourage blogging), and genuinely felt embraced and valued for my contributions in way I have never felt anywhere else. And it has only made me want to do more. I have done more in the four years I have been at my school because I have been able, through their support, to do more.

So… onward and upward to even more great things!

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New Teacher Assistance

My friend and colleague Lauren, who returned to teaching this year after working with administration at my school, has started a blog called New Teacher Assistance.  Lauren’s self-proclaimed audience is new teachers, but we can all learn from her insights.

Welcome to the edublogosphere, Lauren, and watch out — I might recruit you to help me with my GISA presentation on using blogs and wikis for professional development!

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The Power of a Positive First Impression

I e-mailed my adviser at Virginia Tech with a question about registration.  She wrote back in what I thought was an unnecessarily irritable way because I had used the wrong e-mail address to contact her, and because she was upset about that one detail, the tone of her whole reply made me feel as though I had bothered her when I was only trying to seek help.  I didn’t get a positive first impression of the person who will not only be my adviser through this program, but also who will apparently be teaching all my classes, and it made me think about how teachers unwittingly start off on the wrong foot with students, leading to self-consciousness and insecurity on the students’ part.  I know in my case I immediately felt discouraged about my decision to go to Virginia Tech, but I am hoping perhaps she was cranky for some other reason and won’t make a habit of snapping at me when I have questions.  It can be hard to be patient when you’re a teacher, and the students asked something you just answered five minutes ago, or they could find the answer if they just read the handout, and it can be hard to put ourselves in the shoes of our students.  We should really try, though.  It’s hard to be vigilant about each interaction we have with students, but it is so easy to tear down and so hard to build up.  I would hate for my students to have the kind of first impression of me that I have of my professor.

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