Tag Archives: slice of life

Sunday Grading

red pen photo
Photo by faungg’s photos

I spent most of the early afternoon grading today. I am a bit mad at myself for forgetting my notes about my AP students’ poetry presentations at school. I would have liked to have graded those presentations as well. Perhaps it’s for the best, as one group still needs to present tomorrow, and it’s probably better to put in all those grades at the same time, though I’m not usually picky about that. I am really glad to be caught up otherwise because our mid-semester comments are due on Tuesday. I can usually write these comments fairly quickly because I leave comments on just about every assignment in the grade book as I go, so checking progress is not hard for me. We have an open grade book, and students and their parents and advisors can see the comments I leave on assignments as well as updates like mid-semester comments, so I think the communication is pretty clear. At any rate, I have never heard otherwise, and I was actually told by at least one parent that my comments were clear.

Over time, evaluation has become one of those things I can do fairly quickly and still point right to the heart of how and what the student is doing with an assignment. It is like anything else, I suppose. It takes practice. Would you believe, though, that I grow more and more frustrated by the fact that grades even exist? I was actually reading this article this morning (and tweeted it out). If grades are not really considered by graduate schools and employers (unless they are so low as to provoke alarm), then what are we doing here?

I allow my students to revise their work. I think it’s more important that they learn instead of that I am a hard-ass about a grade. I evolved into this belief. For one thing, my previous principal didn’t give me the kind of license to hold it, but for another, I had been conditioned to think grades were the only way to show what we’ve learned. Going back to school and getting my master’s really opened my eyes. I found that I, too, started to care more that I earned A’s than that I learned. In the end, I found the whole process of earning that degree frustrating, and I can’t say I feel like I learned a whole lot in that program. In some instances, I did, but overall, it was a waste of money that makes me angry all over again each month when I pay my student loan bill and wonder if I’ll ever pay it off. Did it open some doors? I guess you could say that it did, but I really wish I could also say that it was a valuable experience in the same way that my undergrad experience was. There was no emphasis on grades in my English education program. We did earn them, but the emphasis was on the learning, and that’s how I felt. B’s didn’t bother me. A’s were not all I was after trying to do in those classes. My motivation to learn was so much more intrinsic because I valued what I was learning. I was invested. I saw how it would fit with my chosen career. I can’t say that about most of my master’s classes.

So as I sat here grading my students’ work, I thought all these thoughts and felt all these feelings. I do want my students to see value in the work they do for my class. I want them to view it as more than a grade and be intrinsically motivated to learn. Grades stand in the way. I wonder if I am brave enough just not to assign grades. My school still gives grades, so it would be problematic. My students seem to appreciate the fact that they can revise writing, however. I am hoping they at least know that they don’t need to be satisfied with a grade. The learning is their own, and it decisions about what to do about their learning, when, and how should be in their own hands, too.

Slice of LifeSlice of Life is a daily writing challenge during the month of March hosted by Two Writing Teachers. Visit their blog for more information about the challenge and for advice and ideas about how to participate.

Harry Potter and Me

harry potter photo
Photo by halle stoutzenberger

The Freeform Channel, formerly known as ABC Family, is running a Harry Potter movie marathon today. I had already been thinking a little bit about Harry Potter for some reason when I woke up. When I logged into Facebook, the newish feature that allows you to look back on posts made on the same day in previous years informed me that two years ago today,  I posted a link to an article written by a writer who suggested that if J. K. Rowling really cared about writing, she should stop doing it and make way for others who couldn’t compete with her. The author of the article also suggested that adults shouldn’t read Harry Potter because it doesn’t “stimulate their minds.” It still makes me roll my eyes. First of all, I disagree entirely that it doesn’t stimulate my mind to read Harry Potter. Setting that argument aside, however, stimulating your mind isn’t the only reason to read. Sometimes you just love a book.

It was almost as if the universe was giving me a little nudge for today’s Slice of Life. You see, I’m pretty much a ginormous Harry Potter fan, if you didn’t know that about me. It was a thing at my previous teaching job in Georgia, and the kids seemed to enjoy it. I haven’t publicized it as much in my current teaching position. There are a few reasons why, I guess, but none of them are that I’m embarrassed. I find those books to be a deep well that I can return to time again, like old friends.

I first encountered the books at a time in my life when I wasn’t very happy. I was having trouble finding a job, for one thing. I had recently had a baby and was struggling financially for the first time in my adult life. I picked up the first book in either August or September of 2001. I rapidly read through the other three books that were published at that time: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. The first movie had not yet been released (but would be later that fall). After I tore through those books, it would be almost two years before I could read Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, but the movies served to fill the void a bit. I do like the movies, though not nearly as much as the books.

Some time after the release of The Order of the Phoenix, I started reading the books to my oldest daughter, Sarah. Sarah is now 22 and in college, but at this time, she was still in elementary school. We only had one car, and we had an awful commute–over 40 minutes one way. I felt like we spent barely any time at home, and as a result, the place we slept never really felt like home to me. After school let out, it was our routine to pick up Sarah’s younger brother and sister from daycare and get something to eat. We then drove to wait for my husband’s shift at cable broadcast facility to end. It was too impractical to drive home and have to drive back out to pick him up. The time and gas we would eat up wouldn’t make it worth it. Sometimes when I think back on the crazy couple of years we spent living this life, I can’t believe we did it. I have never had such a long commute since, and it’s my goal in life never to have another one like it again.

While we sat in the car in the parking lot underneath a streetlamp, Sarah and I would read. We read all five of the books in this way. I remember before the scene when the Death Eaters come at the newly regenerated Lord Voldemort’s call that I warned Sarah it was scary and made sure she felt ready for it. She was.

Even though this was a hard time, I almost felt like those books got Sarah and I through. It was something we shared. It was something we did together. I miss those times. Those books gave us something to hang on to when times were a bit hard for us. I might as well come out and share that I had some issues with depression, and these books somehow made it better, just for a little while. How can I not be grateful for that?

Sarah’s sister Maggie and I have also read the books together. My favorite thing about Harry Potter has been sharing it with my family. My father and mother eventually became fans, and we went together to the midnight releases for the last three books. It was something we shared. It brought us together. And how can I not be grateful for that?

Over time, I did think a lot about what the books had to say about education, and I pondered the merits (or lack) of Severus Snape (who actually is my favorite character). I named my cat Bellatrix. I joined Pottermore and was relieved when I was sorted into Ravenclaw. I was even interviewed about Professor Lupin on an Irish radio show. I wish they’d called me again to discuss Professor Umbridge when the fifth movie was released. I have a lot to say about her.

I tend to re-read the books at least every other year. At some point, every time I read the series, I am right back under that streetlight in the dark, sitting in the front seat of the car with Sarah, reading until her stepfather’s shift ends and we can slog home late in the evening to the place where we slept at night.

Slice of LifeSlice of Life is a daily writing challenge during the month of March hosted by Two Writing Teachers. Visit their blog for more information about the challenge and for advice and ideas about how to participate.

My Rock Stars: An Exhibit by Hassan Hajjaj

Students Looking at Hajjij Exhibit

Today I accompanied Worcester Academy students and two of their teachers to the Worcester Arts Museum to see My Rock Stars, an experimental exhibit by Moroccan-born UK artist Hassan Hajjaj. The students are in our Postmodernism and the American Myth and 21st Century Identity: Race and Ethnicity courses offered by our English department.

Exhibit Information

The exhibit is completely immersive—everything from the wallpaper to the seating placed in various places around the exhibit. I have never seen anything quite like it. Photographs of Hajjaj’s subjects hang on the walls. Each photograph has a background with different patterned fabrics, and the colors are bright and beautiful.

Marques Toliver

Part of the exhibit is a video installation in which each of Hajjaj’s subjects perform a music piece while the other subjects appear to watch and enjoy the performances.

Video Exhibit

The exhibit even included an opportunity for students to color designs using ultra-bright colored pencils.

Students Coloring

After students had an opportunity to explore the exhibit, their teachers, Dave Baillie and Cindy Sabik, gathered the group together to talk about what they saw.

Students Discuss Exhibit

National Geographic Proof has a great article about the exhibit. In the article, Dr. Linda Komaroff, Curator and Department Head of the Art of the Middle East Department at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, says, “if music videos existed in 15th century Morocco, this is what it would look like.”

I think my favorite performance in the video was violinist Marques Toliver, who performed his song “Charter Magic.” The video below is not the same performance in the video, but it is the same song.

I also really liked Nigerian musician Helen Parker-Jayne Isibor (who performs as the Venus Bushfires), who plays the Hang, an instrument I had never seen before. Here is the song she plays in the video exhibit (this is not the same video as the one in the exhibit):

I wound up going to this exhibit because Cindy, my friend and colleague, had a conflict and was not going to be able to transport the students to the museum, and not all the students would fit in one vehicle. I was initially going to spend the entire day planning curriculum with ninth grade English and history teachers. Our departments are working toward a collaborative humanities model, and as the English department chair, I’ve been collaborating with the teachers and overseeing the development of the curriculum. I ducked out of our planning session at about 10:00 and returned around 12:30 to find they had made quite a lot of progress. I wasn’t sure I wanted to have such a busy day, but I am glad I didn’t miss the Hajjaj exhibit before it closes on March 6.

I’ve lived in Worcester for almost four years now, but this was my first trip to the Worcester Art Museum, too. We didn’t have a lot of time to look around the museum because we were on a tight schedule, but this exhibit was definitely worth the trip and the minor inconveniences of transporting a group of students. All of the color brightened my day.

Students Enjoying the Hajjaj Exhibit

Slice of LifeSlice of Life is a daily writing challenge during the month of March hosted by Two Writing Teachers. Visit their blog for more information about the challenge and for advice and ideas about how to participate.

I Voted

Steve and Dana Voted
My husband and I leaving the polls

On this date in 1692, Tituba, a slave owned by Reverend Samuel Parris in Salem, Massachusetts, broke down and confessed to bewitching several children who were suffering from mysterious ailments. She was one of the first three women accused of witchcraft in Salem, and by the end of 1692, the other two women would be dead and Tituba would be languishing in a jail cell until some unrecorded person paid her jail fees and took her away from Salem, after which she disappears from the historical record.

My students are currently reading Arthur Miller’s fictionalized account of the Salem witch trials, The Crucible. Though this drama is frequently taught in schools, it’s not exactly my favorite play. It’s a little heavy-handed, and Miller’s frequent interruptions early in the text don’t allow readers to form their own opinions of the characters (those passages could all be in a historical note at the end, I think). However, students do tend to respond to the play for a lot of reasons, one of which is that witch hunts are very much a part of our society even today.

It is a fascinating time in our nation’s history. Certainly we would like to think that we have evolved beyond accusing our neighbors of being witches. How preposterous! As we study the play, I ask my students to engage in an online scavenger hunt to learn more about the historical trials and about similar events in history. I asked my students what they found interesting, and invariably one of them mentions the fact that the witch trials were so similar to other events in history in which entire groups of people were cast under suspicion, sometimes tried and convicted, and sometimes even murdered—the Red Scare, the Holocaust, the Japanese Internment Camps.

I voted today because our country is in danger of engaging in another witch hunt. We have a presidential candidate who suggests that we prevent Muslims from entering the country until “until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” And I think of my students sitting in my classroom. Some of them are Muslim. I think of Ahmed, who sat in my classroom last year. One of the gentlest, humblest, most unassuming people I have ever known, Ahmed was briefly jailed in Djibouti when he traveled there to get his visa to attend school in America because of a case of mistaken identity—he is Somali, and when police officers heard his accent as he spoke with his friend, they arrested him because another Somalian was suspected of engineering a car bombing in the city that day. Ahmed is one of the hardest-working, most earnest, kindest students I’ve ever taught. But because he is Muslim, there are people in our country who would prefer at best that he not enter the country and at worst that he didn’t exist. And they don’t even know him.

People have always probably feared “the other” and what they don’t understand in life. The danger in holding fast to that mindset, however, is that we not only miss out on some amazing people but also that we do great harm. I voted because I do not want a man who doesn’t even know my students, who can’t understand how wonderful and amazing they are, and who scares me to death to become president. If I had Donald Trump in front of me, I might just make him read The Crucible. Sadly, I think he’d miss the point.

I don’t typically write about politics, but I vote. I teach students about the ways in which our literature is both a window and a mirror, and I encourage them to vote, too. One of the reasons I teach is that I think my students can change the world, and I want them to be armed with the understanding, knowledge, and insight they need to do it. I don’t want them to go into the polls ignorant about who and what they are voting for.

Slice of LifeSlice of Life is a daily writing challenge during the month of March hosted by Two Writing Teachers. Visit their blog for more information about the challenge and for advice and ideas about how to participate.

Slice of Life March Challenge

blog photo

During the month of March, I will be participating in the Slice of Life Challenge. If you have been reading for a little while, you may have noticed that I try to participate in the Tuesday Slice of Life Challenge, which involves writing a post on Tuesdays. The March Challenge kicks it up a notch. Instead of writing on Tuesdays only, the goal is to write every day. I am not sure if I’m up to this, but I want to give it a try and see what happens. In any case, I am not going to beat myself up or pressure myself. Life happens sometimes. However, the goal is to try to post each day. I’ll see you tomorrow for the first post.

Slice of LifeSlice of Life is a daily writing challenge during the month of March hosted by Two Writing Teachers. Visit their blog for more information about the challenge and for advice and ideas about how to participate.

Slice of Life #23: He Said

reading photo
Photo by katerha

This week’s Slice of Life is in the form of a poem.

At the beginning of the year, he said,
I never read for fun
unless it is a sports article
or something on Twitter.
A lot of times the books we have to read
are very boring and it’s like
torture to read it for me,
but if the school or a teacher assigns
an interesting book
(they never do)
then I don’t mind reading.

The first book he chose
Wasn’t grabbing him, and I told him
to pick a new one.
He said, I can do that?
He picked Into the Wild
and it was good.

Today he was reading a
Derek Jeter biography before
class even started.
He didn’t put it down, even
while I was giving a book talk.
He said,
maybe not out loud
(but loud enough),
I like reading
now that I have figured out what
I like to read.

Slice of LifeSlice of Life is a weekly writing challenge hosted by Two Writing Teachers. Visit their blog for more information about the challenge and for advice and ideas about how to participate.

Slice of Life #22: Hello to my Students

hello photo
Photo by Franck Mahon

During a discussion with students today over Robin Bates’s wonderful blog Better Living Through Beowulf, and its potential for ideas for their papers, a student asked me, “Don’t you have a blog?” I said, “Yes, I do,” and the students were curious. I told them where they could find it.

In the early days of the edublogosphere, educators often blogged under pseudonyms or were discouraged from blogging at all. Many feared retribution over what they might post, and at that stage, blogging was considered a bit edgy. I have been blogging here for ten years now (eleven in June), and I can’t think of anything I would write here that I would be nervous about administrators, work colleagues, students, or parents reading. In fact, I invite it. I want the people I work with, the students I teach, and their parents to know I think a great deal about teaching, and blogging is a big part of that reflective practice. Blogging about my teaching has made such an immeasurable difference in my teaching career that it’s hard to say what kind of teacher I would be if I hadn’t started blogging. It was through encouragement on this blog that I tried just about every initiative in teaching, and each of the initiatives that has worked has made my practice that much better. In fact, I am not completely sure that I would still be teaching if not for the support and reflection this blog has offered me. When I began teaching at a school where that support and reflection was built into the expectations and culture (in comparison with other places I’ve worked), I admit I slacked off on posting, but I have yet to find any ongoing PD that has been as beneficial to me as blogging about what I am doing in the classroom.

Even though I have improved my teaching practice over time, and this blog reflects that improvement (I find in reading older posts that my positions have shifted quite a lot in some areas), I am proud that my colleagues read my blog (and sometimes leave comments) and if my students were to find it interesting that I reflect on ways I can be a better teacher out here, then they are welcome to visit. (And hello!)

Slice of LifeSlice of Life is a weekly writing challenge hosted by Two Writing Teachers. Visit their blog for more information about the challenge and for advice and ideas about how to participate.

Slice of Life #2: Thank You Gifts

Slice of LifeI had a few meetings today, but my Thursday is looking like a long string of meetings, so I’m really glad I got my grades and comments finished today. In part, I needed to wind up some business with my final paper. Things did not go as well with that last assignment as I wanted, and I will not be doing it again next year. I have a plan: I want to use our school’s Portrait of a Learner—the description of what we want our students to be and do in the world—as a touchpoint for a portfolio. I want students to select the work that demonstrates the ways in which they feel they have met the goals in Portrait of a Learner and also our five core values of Honor, Respect, Community, Personal Growth, and Challenge. Then I want to sit down with each student and his or her portfolio while they talk to me about their learning. It will be a year-long project. I am already excited. I ran it by one of my history teacher friends, and he likes it, too.

On another note, I received a wonderful gift from a student whom I taught last year.

Dana in Traditional Vietnamese Hat

She left it on my desk with a note saying it is a “traditional Vietnamese hat.” She is from Vietnam and is studying here in America. She started out in our English language learner classes, and this year, she was in AP English. She used to sit with me when I had my desk in the library and just do her work and prep for the SAT while I did my work. We sat near each other and just worked. We didn’t always talk, but sometimes we did, and we had really interesting conversations about her home country and about her studies. She has a gift for spinning a story. She picked it up in SAT prep. She would write an essay about how she wanted to pursue her passion for cooking and how she had to help her parents accept her dreams. I said, “I didn’t know you wanted to cook!” She would reply, “I don’t. I just thought it would make a good topic for the essay.” She had a real knack for it. She also gave me a beautiful silk scarf. Her mother is coming to see her graduate on Friday, and my student wants to introduce us.

Working with students is such a blessing. They don’t always thank you, and sometimes it’s hard when you know something you did didn’t work out so well (my final assignment), but in the end, it’s rewarding to be appreciated, and most of the time, the kids are all right.

Slice of Life #1: Misery Loves Solitude

Slice of LifeI admit that my blog has been on the quiet side going on a couple of years now. I used to post much more regularly. I recently asked friends on Facebook about education memes, and though I had seen friends participate in the Slice of Life Challenge, I admit I wasn’t really sure what it was. I am rather hoping that trying for some kind of regular writing habit will help me break out of this rut.

Something people might not know about me is that I’m pretty sensitive. I tend to read between the lines and try to figure out what people mean when they are talking to me. I know a lot of the time that people mean exactly what they say, but I don’t always take it that way. I made myself upset today reading between the lines and trying to figure out what someone I was talking to really meant. I really chewed on my feelings for a few hours, too. I was in the midst of grading final exams and final projects, and I put on some sad indie music. I didn’t have a cry over it or anything, but I really wallowed in misery of my own creation. Sometimes I do that, you know? And sometimes I can put myself into a right tizzy over trying to interpret a situation instead of just asking. A lot of times, when I just ask, I discover my perception is just wrong.

I have some theories as to why I’m like this. I think it’s deeply rooted in childhood and all the inherent difficulties in interpreting situations that goes along with being young. For whatever reason, that insecurity really stuck with me. I envy people who are secure. I wonder where it comes from. I don’t know if a lot of people are like this, but I can dismiss 100 kind comments for one slightly critical one. I try to recognize it when it happens and fight it by remembering the kind comments.

So that is my slice of life for Tuesday, May 26, 2015. I spent a few hours feeling insecure. I talked to my husband about it, and surprisingly I felt a lot better. And now when think about it, I am really mad at myself for spending so many hours being miserable today. I should be happy. I had the best year teaching I think I have ever had. I feel good about it. Thanks Jackie and Glenda for convincing me to try Slice of Life.