Wednesday, June 24, 2009

In Absentia

So, um, I haven’t been blogging much lately. I’m teaching three classes (two preps) this summer as well as working on some curriculum projects, so I have fodder for ideas, but each time I’ve started an entry, I’ve decided against posting it. See, I’ve been..ahem…a little cranky about my students lately. I decided I wanted to blog about the process of teaching, about solving problems, and the past few weeks, I’ve been swallowing irritation more than inspiration.

It happens. Teachers get cranky. I know how to keep it out of my classroom and my interactions with students, but it is more difficult to keep crankiness from coloring self-reflective writing. While I don’t want to write a complaining blog, I also don’t want to represent myself as a teaching Pollyanna. Therefore, I thought I’d share the titles of my rejected blog postings with everyone, and let readers’ imaginations fill in the blanks. Frankly, anyone who has taught for a while knows how these entries go:

  • Seriously? Seriously? No Book Again?
  • I’m Rubber; They’re Glue: How to Keep Students from Bouncing All the Thinking Back on the Teacher
  • Summer Students: A Breed all Their Own
  • Yes, Virginia, When You Repeat a Class, the Content is the Same

I’ll get over it; certainly, it’s not as if I just met these education problems! Sometimes, thinking about teaching yields the results I need, and sometimes, a cognitive break is in order. To everything there is a season, and frankly, June may be the season for a break whether we stop teaching or not…

co-posted on Between Classes: Living a Balanced Life as a Quality Teacher

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

What I Don't Know for Sure

Recently, I had an experience where a student clearly appeared to have cheated. showed that the student’s essay matched a classmate’s essay by 47%. The classmate and the student in question had been in the same peer review group, and the classmate’s draft contained the material first.

My body reacts to such discoveries. I get hot. I bite the inside of my cheeks. My mind swirls with a mix of emotion: shock, disgust, embarrassment, and anger. My gut wants to lash out at such a student, to explain at length how such a blatant act of stealing violates our writing community and insults me as an instructor. Then the worry and guilt sets in: What kind of class have I created where a student feels such desperation when confused? Why didn’t the student see me as more accessible, whatever the challenges with the assignment might have been?

Over the years, I’ve learned to let these reactions wash over me. I entitle myself to that experience, but I don’t act upon it. When I confront a student about such a situation, I limit myself to reporting events, explaining implications, and opening a discourse. Here’s what I wrote to this particular student:

Student X, your report shows that significant portions of your essay match Student Y’s essay. In your group thread for peer review of Essay One, these passages are original to Y’s draft, not your draft. It appears you lifted chunks of Y’s essay and represented them as your own in this essay.

Please explain.

Ms. K

Whew! It takes lots of restraint to write a relatively inert response like that, but over the years, I’ve learned how little I know in these situations. I’ve drawn conclusions, acted accordingly, and ended up with egg on my own face. By granting students a bit more rope, I can gather more information before committing to a course of action. I do this process because I’ve benefited from it in the past, but this time, I truly thought my narrative for the data was indisputable.

Not for the first time, I was wrong. The student explained what happened, and while the student clearly used bad judgment, the person hadn’t been guilty of all the things I’d imagined. Even though I thought my note asking for an explanation should earn me a nomination for sainthood, the student started by telling me that my note created feelings of “bafflement and humiliation.” I actually think both those reactions are called for, so I’m okay with that, (alright, maybe not "humiliation...") but the student’s response made me very happy that I’d refrained from responding to the paper with the vitriol I’d felt.

So in the end, my accumulating experience teaches me how little I know for sure. Students, with their variable human nature, create new and unique ways of mangling text each semester!

co-posted on Between Classes: Living a Balanced Life as a Quality Teacher

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


'Tis that special time of year when teachers of all shapes, sizes, and ideological persuasions find themselves humming Alice Cooper. Even for those of us who teach summer programs, June, July, and August just feel more relaxed.

Part of my summer recreation is catching up on all the television I miss during the year because it comes on after 9 p.m. I feel secure enough in this education forum to confess that I cannot watch television shows that begin after 9 p.m. I fall asleep right there on the couch. Teaching requires early rising and to compensate, I take to my bed around 9 p.m. So, no, friends with jobs outside of education, I didn’t see Lost or Grey’s Anatomy or House or…or…or…I read the reviews in the paper and then I catch up via Netflix or Hulu during the summer. (Oh, yeah, I don’t have a TiVo either. Truly lame public educator here…)

So as I clicked through Hulu for things I’ve missed, I stumbled upon Glee. I’d seen a little bit about it in the papers, but I’d written it off as a branch of the doesn't-interest-me High School Musical tree. Then this blurb on the Fox website caught my eye: “Will Schuester, a young optimistic teacher, has offered to take on the Herculean task of restoring McKinley's Glee Club to its former glory. Everyone around him thinks he's nuts. He's out to prove them all wrong.” “A young optimistic teacher?” There’s going to be a television show about an optimistic teacher? Now I could write volumes about how teachers (especially English teachers) have been portrayed in television and movies, but suffice it to say that the more favorable portrayals of teachers show us as resilient under trying circumstances. Optimistic? I don’t think I had ever seen the media group “optimistic” with “teacher,” so I gave Glee a whirl.

Please watch it. We deserve an hour like Glee provides at the end of the school year. It fictionalizes high school just enough. It’s like Election without the bitterness, the Best in Show for high school show choirs. It’s affectionate. It’s effervescent. It makes me want to go see a high school choir competition. It reminds me why I pray my son joins band or choir. The series won’t begin until the fall, but I’m already looking forward to catching up on episodes next summer…

co-posted on Between Classes: Living a Balanced Life as a Quality Teacher