Sunday, January 29, 2006

Turning My Lessons on Myself

I forced my Honors students this week to consider what is most important them, and what they would do to achieve it. I'm glad that some of them found it useful, but it left me feeling like a hypocrite. How can I preach to them to follow their morals when I largely ignore what's important to me? In the words of one of my own students, I find myself too often in "an ocean of doubt." When I came to Arapahoe, I left behind my dedication to a certain population of students. I think I've been trying to erase everything that reminds me of Manhattan.

I've decided to try to reconnect to those kids--the ones I still I think about almost everyday--by volunteering. This weekend I explored several tutoring opportunities involving at-risk kids and hope to get started soon. Some of the organizations are looking not only for adults, but for mentors who are teenagers themselves. I have some students who would be outstanding in this, but I don't know the details of how I could possibly get them involved (this is assuming that they would even be interested). If anyone has any suggestions, they would be greatly appreciated.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Goals (finally!)

Many of my blog entries revolve around my teaching goals, but I thought I'd narrow my focus and delineate my most important reflections (as per Karl's request).

1. Goal: Emphasize that the course revolves around students, not around the teacher or the literature.
Action plan: Continue activities where students create questions and activities--let their interests drive class discussion; refrain from giving out "right answers" or even personal opinions unless asked. Be the facilitator.

2. Goal: Keep class new; maintain a class routine that's comfortable but not predictable.
Action plan: Use the blog when needed, but don't exhaust it. Vary class structure between whole class discussion, small groups, partner work, and individual work. Use different media--art, music, film, dramatic activities, etc.

3. Goal: Prepare students to be innovative and adaptable so that they can partake in the competitive global economy. The world is flat, baby.
Action plan: Give each student a copy of Friedman's book. Seriously though, I don't know how to do this. Hopefully 21C class today will help.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Losing Pieces of Myself

Like many teachers I know, I received a copy of Frank McCourt's Teacher Man for Christmas. McCourt describes his experiences as a teacher in the Manhattan public school system, and some lines are painful because they make direct contact with my own experiences and insecurities. I thought I'd share one passage that made me blush out of amusement, embarrassment, and confusion:

"In the high school classroom you are a drill sergeant, a rabbi, a shoulder to cry on, a disciplinarian, a singer, a low-level scholar, a clerk, a referee, a clown, a dress-code enforcer, a conductor, an apologist, a philosopher, a collaborator, a tap dancer, a politician, a therapist, a fool, a traffic cop, a priest, a mother-father-brother-sister-uncle-aunt, a bookkeeper, a critic, a psychologist, the last straw.

"In the teachers' cafeteria veterans warned me, Son, tell 'em nothing about yourself. They're kids, goddam it. You're the teacher. You have a right to privacy. You know the game, don't you? The little buggers are diabolical. They are not, repeat not, your natural friends. They can smell it when you're going to teach a real lesson on grammar or something, and they'll head you off at the pass, baby. Watch 'em. Those kids have been at this for years, eleven or twelve, and they have teachers all figured out. They'll know if you're even thinking about grammar or spelling, and they'll raise their little hands and put on that interested expression and ask you what games you played as a kid or who do you like for the goddam World Series. Oh, yeah. And you'll fall for it. Next thing is you're spilling your guts and they go home not knowing one end of a sentence from the other, but telling the moms and dads about your life. Not that they care. They'll get by, but where does that leave you? You can never get back the bits and pieces of your life that stick in their little heads. Your life, man. It's all you have. Tell 'em nothing."

Monday, January 16, 2006

Something Good

I was a bit apprehensive about weighting my grades and setting up new categories halfway through the year, but I'm beginning to gain some footing. I set up my categories as follows:
Critical Writing (30%)
Critical Reading (30%)
Listening and Speaking (20%)
Work Habits (10%)
Vocabulary and Grammar (10%)
As I'm starting to enter grades, these categories align with my goals much better than my former ones did, and they remind me of the larger importance of each of my assignments. I don't know if my students really understand this system yet (I tried to explain it on the first day, but I got the feeling that those who nodded in agreement did so only because they knew that was what I wanted them to do). I'm also discovering that far too many of my assignments, especially for my regular English 10 class, fall under the "Work Habits" category, and too few fall under "Critical Reading." Interestingly, when I asked my classes on the first day of class this year to write down their expectations of me, of the class, and of themselves, the majority of them wished to work more on improving their critical reading skills. Nobody wanted to work on getting their books covered faster. Fascinating. My big question right now is how to keep track of assignments that come in late. I know that our gradebook can mark assignments late, but I'm wondering how exactly I factor this in on a regular basis.
I would also like to note that posting assignments on the web still leaves a bad taste in my mouth, but the weighted system is perhaps the lesser of two evils.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Digital Storytelling

While planning creative writing units for my classes, I came across several teacher webpages that sing praises of digital storytelling. This seems like a powerful and engaging way to narrate, and I'm wondering what resources we have at Arapahoe to accomodate this type of project (iMovie?). Food for thought, especially if your name is Karl Fisch.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Happy New Year!

I realize this has nothing to do with constructivism, but I miss them so much! This long distance relationship is killing me, but I'll be back in Denver on Wednesday. Ah! They're so cute!