Today is Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Rembrance Day. Never forget. The teenagers walking through this memorial in Boston are Jewish. Some of them lost family members in the Holocaust or are the descendants of survivors. I love the kids in these photos; it is a fact that had they lived during the Holocaust instead of today, they might have been the victims of atrocities beyond our comprehension. We will never know the scope of our loss, how empty our lives are because of the loss of 11 million people in the Holocaust, including 6 million Jews.
Since I work at a Jewish school, our Spring Break is timed with Passover. We have two weeks off this year. I think it is because a lot of our students go out of town to observe Passover. I am definitely not complaining. I need the time to re-energize. It is so nice to have the luxury of time to waste. I have actually even been playing video games!
I do have to grade some papers — it seems like English teachers never get out of that one, do they? — and one of my co-workers pointed out that I created a sense of enslavement for myself when this holiday is about freedom from slavery. At any rate, my Writing Seminar’s research paper first drafts must be graded before we go back so they can get started on the final drafts.
I also want to finish my reading project: Understanding by Design Professional Development Workbook. In my personal blog, I often review books I read. The fact that I don’t have
many any book reviews here indicates to me that I should probably be doing more professional reading. When I finish my professional books, I’ll review them here.
On the other hand, it is Spring Break. And a huge part of me wants to waste it playing video games.
This is something that should be abundantly clear, but in case it isn’t, I want to make it clear. If you want to make a comment, even one in which you criticize my line of thinking, that’s fine, but you will stand behind your words with a real e-mail address or your comment will not appear. I am sharing my thoughts here with my real name, and I can be contacted through a real address that is accessible on this site. If you are too cowardly to say what you have to say in the fear that I might disagree and let you know that, I would suggest you not bother commenting.
I got a comment from a person known to me only as Erik H., and he called me a bad teacher, insinuating that changing the way I assess and test is completely within my control. My thinking is that this person does not work in conditions in which there is sometimes a prescribed curriculum that requires some subjects to be taught in certain ways. I have no trouble being challenged to think about my practices, but I will not be heckled by cowards who will not stand behind their criticism.
Well, as predicted, when I handed back final drafts of the research paper, there were some unhappy campers. As I explained in a previous post, students at my school are very focused on grades. There is a feeling of entitlement to A’s and B’s. It is frustrating because my personal philosophy has always run much closer to that of Tony Winger (“Grading to Communicate,” Educational Leadership, November 2005). In practice, however, I have not always been supported (not true of my current position) in using grades to indicate areas of strength and weakness. It makes me queasy to slap good grades on assignments that did not meet criteria, especially when students had rubrics in advance. I think sometimes students have unrealistic notions of their ability, and moving into a higher level class is sometimes a mistake. Sometimes, we need to be in a class at a level designed to meet our needs. Instead, students and parents are so focused on getting into College X that they challenge teachers who grade to communicate. This is very real stumbling block, and it’s one of the reasons teaching the research paper is so difficult for me.
I did have a moment this week that was one of those moments that all teachers really long for. It’s one of those moments when a student says he/she really learned something. And they kind of thank you for it.
A student I had last year told me the other day that he felt as if everything he wrote up until the final draft of his research paper last year was, to use his word, “crap.” He had earned a C on his first draft, and it was a real wake-up call. The impression he left me with was that he has been putting much more effort into his writing since then, and even though it hurt him at the time to earn that grade, he learned from it. In other words, that grade communicated something to him that is much more valuable, I think, that earning a meaningless A or B. He is going to be a better writer for it. And I happen to know he’s doing well in his English class this year. I think, in his way, he was trying to thank me for helping him see how his writing could improve.