The Education Wonk has published the Carnival of Education #106. Thanks to EdWonk for including me. Go check it out!
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The other day, one of my students made a special trip to my classroom to give me a folded newspaper clipping. He asked me if I had read the paper — and as I’m remembering it, I can’t recall the day he asked about — and I hadn’t, so he shyly handed me the article. If you have never been a teacher, you probably don’t realize how touching such a gesture is. It says that the student was thinking about me and thought something would interest me. It says also that it interested him, and he wanted me to know it. I can’t find the article at the AJC’s website, but I did find it here.
The gist of the article is nothing new to educators. Boys need to be enticed to read more than girls. If you are looking for good guy books, try Jon Scieszka’s site Guys Read. I told the boy who gave me the article that I think he will like our next novel — The Catcher in the Rye. A more quintessentially guy book would be hard to find. I think it will be fun to read with that class, which is predominantly male.
Image via BBC.
This afternoon, I finished reading Frank McCourt’s third memoir Teacher Man. When asked by new friends why he waited until he was 66 before publishing Angela’s Ashes, he explains,
I was teaching, that’s what took me so long. Not in college or university, where you have all the time in the world for writing and other diversions, but in four different New York City public high schools… When you teach five high school classes a day, five days a week, you’re not inclined to go home to clear your head and fashion deathless prose. After a day of five classes your head is filled with the clamor of the classroom.
I couldn’t have said it better. Teaching is exhausting, physically and psychologically.
I wasn’t able to finish Angela’s Ashes. At the point when I realized the twins would die, I had to put the book down: it was too depressing. I haven’t read ‘Tis, either. I picked up this book thinking it would be right up my alley, and I walked away feeling that I was right.
It was interesting to see McCourt second-guess himself, to feel he wasn’t a good teacher at times. It was a joy to celebrate with him after a particularly good lesson. I have had moments in my teaching life in which I, too, felt like an utter failure, punctuated by moments when I know I’ve really hit it — I have really taught a great lesson. It’s an amazing feeling. I feel like I could fly afterward, and it is that feeling that McCourt so eloquently captures in his book.
I can’t recall where I read this now, but one comment from a reviewer stands out to me after reading this book. “McCourt hates his students.” I have to wonder if that reviewer read the same book I did. It was clear to me that McCourt loved teaching, especially after he began teaching creative writing at Stuyvesant High School. That he cared deeply about his students is evident on each page. Did he complain about some of them? Sure. Show me a teacher who has never done that — you can’t. That teacher never existed. And each teacher is sure the kids in his/her generation were more respectful, more engaged, more… whatever. McCourt tells it like it is — in his thirty years of teaching, the kids didn’t change. Indeed, his late 1950′s students were just like students I’ve had. However, I also noted that even if he complained gently, he often wrote in the next few pages of reaching a new understanding or peace with the student he was having trouble with. I did not sense any resentment in the end. I think he was very happy with his career in the end, despite wondering at times if he had done the right thing in becoming a teacher.
I came away from the book wishing I had been a student in his class. His classes sounded so interesting, so different. He actually reminded me so much of a colleague at my current school, a fellow English teacher, that I bought a copy of Teacher Man and had it sent to my colleague at school. I hope he enjoys it as much as I did.
My article, “Toward “Moral Perfection”: Integrating Judiac Concepts and Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography,” is now available to subscribers of English Journal online. If you are not a subscriber, you may purchase the article here. If you subscribe to the print edition, you should be receiving your copy in the next week or so.
I think moments like this are why we teach. Make sure you let those who inspired you in your life — teachers, parents, grandparents, whoever they are — actually know how they impacted you. There is no greater gift that you can give a teacher. Having been the recipient of this only on a small scale, I can tell it must be an incredible feeling, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t hope to experience it one day.
My daughter Maggie and I went shopping today, and I made some interesting purchases for my classroom:
Each book is a collection of 180 class activities that can be used as warm-ups, homework, or extra credit. I plan to use most of them as warm-ups, but I think some of them will be good full-lesson assignments on their own.
Here is a sample from the Spelling & Grammar book:
Where in the Whirled?
In the next five minutes, brainstorm as many words as you can that contain the letters, w, h, and e.
What is the longest word you came up with? How many words did you think of that contain w, h, and e, but don’t begin with any of those letters?
This series is published by the makers of SparkNotes. They also have vocabulary, test prep, and math books.
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!
I haven’t posted much in a while; my students are working on research papers, which I find leaves me with not much time to stay on top of education issues. I do want to read the Newsweek article about how we are failing our boys and write about that.
All I have to say for right now is that if you are an English teacher and haven’t read Lynne Truss’s Eats, Shoots & Leaves, you just have to do so.
I am currently reading Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran, much interrupted by my Harry Potter fixation, I must add. When a new Harry Potter book comes out, it takes me a long time to turn back to the world of Muggles again, but I digress.
Reading Lolita in Tehran has a segment about putting The Great Gatsby on trial, which I think I am going to ask my students to read. I found it very interesting, the perspective students in an Islamic republic had on such a Western book.
Reading Lolita in Tehran is also the second book I’ve read lately to include some high praise for Nabokov’s novel, Lolita. I also read How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster, who mentions the book frequently. I suppose I was nervous about tackling the book, but I’m not sure why. I noticed it on a sale table at Border’s and picked it up.
I was talking about Azar Nafisi, though. At NPR, you can read her thoughts about how literature creates connections between people. If there is one thing I have learned from her memoir, it is that literature transcends experiences and binds us together in so many ways that may not even be apparent until years later. I highly recommend her book to teachers of literature.
While perusing the most recent issue of English Journal, I saw an ad for The Teacher’s Daybook (purchase from Amazon). I went to the publisher’s website only to discover that it was not for sale. As soon as it became available, I ordered it. The year has not yet started, so I’ll have to update my relative happiness with it periodically on this blog; however, so far, I am extremely happy with it.One of its strongest features is its insistence, if used as the author intended, to make the user more reflective about his/her teaching. I am fairly reflective already, but I realized this will really make me think about my lessons and my efficacy as a teacher. Another strong feature is it aids the user in maintaining balance between all the roles in his/her life.
Nice bonuses include reproducible handouts, which are also available on the website that accompanies the daybook. It is also spiral bound, so it lies flat, and it has three holes punched in it so that it may be kept in a notebook. There is much more space for weekly plans than in any school or district-purchased planning books I have owned. It is simply packed with tips for organization.
Perhaps the strongest recommendation I can give it is that the daybook’s author, Jim Burke, uses it himself. He has a great website with lots of handouts; his collection of handouts on note-taking techniques is especially valuable.
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