Friday, November 27, 2009

It's official - blog is changing back

I'm barely blogging enough for one blog now, let alone two, so I have decided to just blog at the old blog site: Epiphany in Baltimore. I'll mix my teaching stories and reflections with my life stories like I used to, and hopefully get in a better habit of writing more often. For the foreseeable future, bmoreteach is done - Epiphany in Baltimore (a better title, anyway) is re-animated.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Letters of Recommendation

Grades are due sometime soon (strange new system this year, and it seems like they're due sometime between Nov. 5 and Nov. 9, but I'm not quite sure), and I have a ton of grading left to do. I tried to create lessons this week that would allow me to get some of this grading done during class time, but, as usually happens with this, I'm left jumping around and helping kids, even though I was hoping the assignments would be mostly independent. Today, I had a classroom full of students until nearly 5pm, without much of a chance to work, and, after dinner, sat down to plan my lesson for tomorrow. Instead of grading, I'm now working on Letters of Recommendation, because a bunch of my students have early decision applications out or nearly out.

Despite my busy-ness, I actually really enjoy writing Letters of Rec, especially for students I genuinely enjoy. I feel honored to be asked and, after teaching the current seniors for their junior and senior year, I'm being asked a lot. That's okay. Grading can wait until the weekend.

Back to it now.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Halloween in the English Department

Every year, for the last four years, the English department has all dressed up as characters from literature (generally a 9th grade book, since us 9th grade teachers usually direct everyone else). We have a fun time with it, running into classrooms with goofily planned skits, and give the first kid to get all the roles correct a prize. Here are my roles, through the years.

2006: Jem in To Kill a Mockingbird

2007: Cyclops in The Odyssey
2008: Romeo in Romeo and Juliet
2009: The narrator in "The Scarlet Ibis"

So, this year, I play a teenage kid who has internal turmoil because he's embarassed because his brother is handicapped. He ends up running away from his brother during a storm, during which lightning hits his little brother, killing him. That's just a few hours after the whole family had found a displaced scarlet ibis in their front yard, who promptly dies in front of them. Doodle (the little brother) had felt a strange connection to the bird, and buried him. Within a few hours, he himself is dead. The symbolism blares like neon lights, but the story is still deeply affecting - one of the saddest you'll ever read. We'll camp it up though.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Dying Inside Ed

A year or so ago, Inside Ed crackled with energy, focusing primarily on city schools and issues therein.

I rarely check it now, but stopped in last week when they were talking about technology, an issue I'm pretty passionate about. It's infuriating to me that the school system blocks so much material, and that teachers cannot override it. Our students deserve the free and open technology that the WWW offers and that most school districts can access. It's not right that I have to create a blog that students can only see from their home computers with clips from Shakespeare movies.

I made a couple of comments last week, and went back to check it out today. It hasn't been updated in 6 days.

The death of Inside Ed has sadly been pretty rapid. If you're looking for a reason why newspapers are dying, the shutting down of interest sites like Inside Ed is one of the reasons.

May all your fences have gates

Immersed in Fences again with the 9th graders. It's the first thing we've read together in high school and, for many of them, will be their favorite book they read this year.

My 8/9th period has one of the better Troy Maxsons I've ever had. Just a really good reader. Doesn't look like him at all, but has the tone and cadence just right.

My 10th period doesn't have a natural Troy. On Friday, a whip-smart girl played him, and did just fine. She was absent today, so I had a little Latino kid (a good baseball player, too, he tells me - let's hope so) who volunteered play him. Cory was played by a white Jewish kid, adding humor to the "and liking your black ass wasn't part of the deal" that August Wilson never intended. (Troy says this to Cory when Cory - his son - asks Troy if why he "ain't never liked" him.) Today was the day I got to explain all the baseball allusions (Roberto Clemente, Josh Gibson, Jackie Robinson, Sandy Koufax), so it's one of my favorite days of the year.

What a plodding, rainy day, though. Looking forward to the weekend already.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Beginning Fences

I've taught August Wilson's Fences nearly every year of my 9-year career, but I don't think I've ever had as successful an opening lesson as I did today. And, unbelievably, I got the idea from research done in one of those horrible 'Reading in the Content Area' classes last year.

Photos of characters from the internet, predictions, 'reading' images - it got the kids excited and catalyzed some real analysis. They were already excited about reading the text; now they're even moreso.

I gave them a boring homework reading about The Great Migration to temper that a little bit, though. :(

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A very tired Wednesday night

I have not shared that I'm doing National Board Certification this year. The whole thing. It's a lot of work and I've only barely begun.

I'm starting Fences tomorrow. For some reason, I re-invent the wheel every year, and I'm working steadfastly on a unit plan right now. I want to do less reading in class this year, and more writing at home.

Much Ado About Nothing is going well. I think the students are liking it. I'm contemplating a rather major change to the curriculum (the texts have not been submitted to IB yet) that I will decide on in the next week. Basically, I'm concerned about the length of East of Eden for this part of the curriculum, and might switch it into Semester 2. That will throw everything out of whack, and I have to figure out if it's worth it. There have been a lot of interruptions this month, though, and I'm concerned.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Today, in the Mailbox: Two great items

1) 45 tickets to see the Folger Shakespeare Library's production of Much Ado About Nothing. This is very exciting for me, because I chose to teach the play based on being able to see it live in November (I'm thinking about crafting my curriculum every year at least, in part, to what Shakespeare play is being performed in the area). I haven't organized a field trip in many years, and even though it's a fairly small group of older students, doing it completely alone (I'm the only one who teaches the class) is a little nerve-racking. I've put the $810 down for the tickets out of my own bank account, and right there that is scary, but also getting all of these young people down to DC is also scary. I think we're all going to take the MARC train down (at non-peak times and with the group rates, that's pretty cheap), and be able to explore the area a little bit after the play as well.

Getting the tickets today, as well as a pamphlet about the play, renewed my excitement for going to see it. Much Ado is set in modern-day DC, with a multi-ethnic cast, and Caribbean cast, and, most interestingly to me, they've made Borachio into a woman who has designs on Margaret, one of Hero's gentlewomen. In other words, this is Shakespeare with a modern edge, and I think the kids will really enjoy it. To say I'm pumped is an understatement.

2) My certification, which expired in July 2009, was wrangled free from North Avenue bureocracy and has officially been renewed through 2014. I took the (ridiculous, mind-numbing, the-state-should-be-embarassed-to-require-these) through the school year in 2008-2009, and submitted the paperwork in June, and was told upon my return to school that my paperwork was held up by an audit performed by the state on BCPSS' re-certification practices. But the holdup wasn't long and I'm now a possessor of a Standard Professional Certificate II, which is good for five years. Woo-hoo!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Skinny Maxsons

Spent some time planning my Fences unit today during professional development. I started a blog (blocked at school, ridiculously) for youtube clips from plays we are reading in class, and will add this one from Fences to it. Without a film version of this play (Wilson was finicky), and without students being able to access YouTube at school, I'm limited inexposing kids to it and allowing them to read it visually.

These kids from Towson do one of the better scenes I've seen while looking around YouTube. Both are too skinny and young, but otherwise I think it's pretty good.

What happened to the 2009 revival of Fences on Broadway, starring Suzan-Lori Parks (and rumored to be starring Forrest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey)? Google offers no help.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Strange Schedule

It's one of those strange times in the school year when it feels like I'm not teaching at all.

This is particularly true for the Seniors. Last week, I started a new unit on Thursday, knowing that I wouldn't see them on Friday (Senior Inaugeration), Tuesday (big field trip to the National Zoo for nearly all of them), Wednesday (PSAT day), Thursday or Friday (both Inservice). So, by the time I see them next, we'll have been a week and a half into our Much Ado About Nothing unit, with only two days of instruction. It's a bummer that it all seems to bunch up at once, but it does.

Today was a decent day, though. The 9th-11th graders sat for the PSAT from 8:15-11:30, and teachers had inservice about how to increase scores in the afternoon. We have some pretty amazing data that our students are general at the national average for PSAT students taking the test in the 9th grade (compared to other 9th graders), but we drop in the 10th and 11th grade as compared to the counterparts. It's sobering data, but, like most educational data, there are some asterisks involved: First off, a very small percentage of students take the PSAT in the 9th grade around the country; secondly, we looked at the data from the classes of 2009, 2010, and 2011, all of whom are different students.

Still, even with these caveats, the data was still disappointing, so our meeting today was about improving our scores. I'm optimistic that we're working towards this common goal, and we'll see how it goes. For me, it was mostly an opportunity to think about something I feel like I think about all the time in instruction in the 9th and 10th grades: Vocabulary. Our students don't really have any, and that's one reason they score poorly on the PSAT and SAT. I'm a fan of vocabulary workbooks and wish we would invest in them.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Busy Weekend

School is kicking my butt pretty good lately, so I decided to dedicate an entire weekend to grading and planning. I eschewed an invitation to the Michael Moore movie to grade essays last night. Today, in between and after two separate gym trips (also have to get myself healthier, big time), I graded and graded. And started writing a unit test.

This is a rather light week coming up (big Senior field trip on Tuesday, PSAT on Wednesday, Professional Development on Thurs-Fri), and I want to be able to devote these days to planning an excellent Fences unit that will help me knock out a couple of National Board requirements, plus working on things related to the job but that I never seem to get a chance to plan: my NCTE presentation, which is swiftly coming up on November 19th; all the paperwork for my field trip to the Folger, which is coming up on Nov. 12th; and National Board stuff, which will be a big part of this year the more I get into it.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Much Ado About October

I was reminded of my blog today, and do miss writing in bursts longer than Facebook updates.

We are now roughly six weeks into the school year. Today, with the seniors, we started Much Ado About Nothing. I got the texts in the late afternoon yesterday, and, because I had to go to a play last night, didn't re-read and mark my copy, so I was getting it almost as fresh as the students. I read it last summer, and even performed in it, but I was remembering the situations as they came. I didn't feel as well-prepared as I would have liked, and in a perfect world would have started the text on Friday, but Friday is a half day and Seniors have their Senior Inauguration and won't be attending class.

I think it will be a fun teach and that the students will like it. It got some giggles and laughs in the early Beatrice/Benedict banter. We're going to watch a production of the play on Nov. 12 at the Folger Library in DC.

As for the 9th graders, I'm desperate to start a book, because I really dislike teaching out of a textbook. This is partly because we don't have enough to send home with the students, so it's rough trying to make meaningful home assignments. I like what I'm doing this week, though. Next week is a 2-day week (Monday and Tuesday, then the PSAT on Wednesday and Professional Development on Thurs-Fri). It looks like we'll start August Wilson's Fences on Monday, October 19th. It's one of my favorite teaches and I look forward to putting those textbooks back on the windowsill, forgotten until next year.

Otherwise, it's been an alright year. I'm pretty exhausted, and really need to exercise more and get healthier - that will help. Baseball season being over (for the Tigers) will help. The work is beginning to pile up as it always does in October, though. I'm looking forward to hopefully having some time in my classroom with my stacks and stacks of paperwork during the Prof. Dev days next week.

In other news, my cell phone went off for the first time today. My ring tone is a loud Jay-Z song. Yes, the students were amused. I hope they also recognized the irony that I have a song that declares "This is anti-autotune, death of the ringtone" as my ringtone.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Richard 3 letter

I wonder if you can read between the lines in this email that I'm actually kind of seething about some of my students' performance. I wasn't mad until I was going over the quiz answers today and kids were looking out the window, muttering, etc. Grrrr.

Greetings parents and students of IB English IV:

As the 4th week of class comes to a close, I wanted to provide you with a brief update about the course.

Several of you received emails from me today about your student's success or struggles with the first Richard III quiz. I am very happy with the progress of several students, and disappointed with the progress (and efforts) of others. Most of the assessments so far this year up until now have been baselines, but this quiz was definitely an important harbinger of things to come, so I wanted to let parents know right away about how students did.

The reading pace of Richard III has been fairly rapid, but not rapid enough so that students in a college-level English course should not be able to keep up. I have eliminated the time-consuming practice of text-marking as the students read, because we are focusing on different skills this year, and students are completing dialectical journals instead. In class, I have been shifting between group assignments, dramatic activities (re: "acting it out"), and comparison analysis of different film versions of the play, doing whatever I can to make Shakespeare come alive for the students.

Still, Shakespeare can be tough. Students have to struggle with the language for it to start to make sense for them. The quizzes are miniature replicas of the oral assessments students will complete in January, and thus things like Sparknotes or modernized translated versions of the plays are not helpful. We are reading the Shakespeare for the language, not the story. Thus, attitude is important. Students should know that, as they read, they will encounter difficulty, and that they must go slow, and read and re-read, and use the summaries in our version of the book provides, and make sure they understand before they move on. And then read it again (it's not long; to view this onstage, it would take only 2 hours).

For students who are struggling the most, here are some suggestions:

1) Sit in a quiet place in the house and just read, away from the computer, away from the phone. Use the glossary, have a dictionary nearby to look up any other unfamiliar words, and picture what you are seeing on the page. Read sentence by sentence, not line by line. This will get easier as you go, but you have to put in the work for it to happen.

2) Use the list of characters to create a graphical illustration of all the characters and their relationships, and who kills who, and who is on which side. Try this on your own, so you're making sense of the characters by yourself, and then compare it with what I have on the board when you return next week.

3) Visit the website I just made for the course, ______________, and view some of the film clips from Richard III, and make comments underneath the videos. Watch them with your text in front of you. The comments should reflect thought and analysis of the play and how you thought the actors/directors' choices in the films achieved meaning. I would like some conversations to start there, so will be offering some nominal extra credit for students who participate the most on this site.

4) Attend an extra-credit screening of Looking for Richard (starring Al Pacino) on Monday from 3:30-end or Tuesday from 3:30-end. Or, watch the film from 3:30-end on Monday and come to Coach Class on Tuesday, and we will read through some scenes together.

5) Watch various YouTube clips of Richard III, from various stage productions to the 1996 Ian McKellen movie. This is also a great website:

I do not recommend using a translated, modernized text, mostly because I'm finding that most students who have them rely on the modernized text and nothing else. Every student who did this failed the quiz yesterday. If you see one of those "Shakespeare Made Easy" texts at home, they can be dangerous. Students should only use them sparingly, and as a supplement to the actual text; for example, they could read an act, struggle with it as much as possible and figure out what they understand and what they don't, and then, perhaps, read the modernized text and check for any differences. They could then use the modernized text to mark inside the Folger edition, so that understanding is still there.

Additionally, using online sites like Sparknotes do not help students immerse themselves in the language, and thus are not useful in the course.

Thank you for taking the time to read this note, and please let me know if you have any questions or concerns. Students, enjoy your 3-day weekend, but please work hard if you are struggling.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Blocked sites

It kills me how much stuff is blocked at school.

At the Teaching Shakespeare Institute, we learned about a site called Chinswing (now called that let students post their voice on a website and have virtual conversations. I got the idea that it would be a great way to practice IB commentary stuff, and just wrote a grant to get some microphones and such so I could have my students start doing it.

It's blocked. Damn Bess!


I'm going to submit the paperwork to the system to try to get it unblocked tomorrow. But I'm not optimistic. I think it would have been so cool, too!

Monday, September 7, 2009

President Obama's Address to Schoolchildren

President Obama will be addressing school children on the importance of studying hard and taking responsibility for their own education tomorrow. Of course, it's raised one of the more ridiculous political uprisings in recent memory, and that's saying a lot. Conservatives are upset by the proposed speech, and fear President Obama is trying to "indoctrinate" the youth of America. It's just more of the product of the fear-mongering done by the right about the "scary socialist black militant" that Obama supposedly is. Socialist? He's not even liberal.

Anyhow, as ridiculous as it is, and as hypocritical the right wingers are for protesting when Bush I and Reagan both did the same sort of school address with no vociferous protests by the left, the address is still happening. If I've been disappointed by Obama, it's because of something that I knew he would do - compromise. He's compromising too much on health care, and I was afraid he might 'compromise' on the his school address. Glad he's not.

I think a pro-education message from the President would be a great thing for my students to see; unfortunately, I know of no way that my students could see the address tomorrow. There are 15-20 year old TVs up in the rooms, the product of the long-unused (at least in our school, where it hasn't been shown in at least 10 years) Channel One Teen News. However, few of these televisions still work and they're not hooked up to any cable or anything like that. I could try to show it from the Internet, but am also not sure how exactly this could work; I've never tried to use my (personal) LCD Projector for anything from the internet, and my personal laptop that I use with my LCD has never successful hooked up to the internet. So, this whole question of whether to show the address or not seems moot to me, at least in my city school. And, the thing is, I'm pretty happy with facilities this year; teachers have all been given new computers this year, and they're nice. But that's about it in terms of technology; I know of no way to show this Presidential address to my students (other than crowding around my computer monitor, which I might end up doing because it's my small class).

Frankly, I wonder how other schools might be able to show it. Do most schools have cable pumped into their classrooms? If so, why? If not, how else to show it? I can see how a technology class with easy hookup to the internet and an LCD Projector could do it easily, but that's about it.

So, in other words, it's not much of a controversy to me. I don't really have much of a way to show it, anyway. And I doubt this is the exception for many urban school districts, who are full of kids who might need to hear President Obama's pro-education message the most.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

First week thoughts on 'Slumdog Millionaire' and more

One of my colleagues got the idea that we should show Slumdog Millionaire to kick off the year with the 9th graders, because it introduces our course theme of "Coming of Age in an Unjust Society" and focuses on the international issues that our course and school emphasize.

I had my trepidations because (a) I don't like to show full films in my classroom because it simply takes too long, rather I like to show scenes (particularly from Shakespeare) and do some comparison and analysis; (b) I don't like the academic tone that showing a film brings with it, especially to start out the year. However, if it helps emphasize the course theme and teach the students about something from a different culture, then it would work. I'm having them do a lot of analysis of it while they watch it, and hopefully they're not viewing it just as entertainment.

They are, pretty much, enthralled with the film, which we're going to end up spending about 2.5 class periods on. I hope it's worth it. Next week starts our short story unit, and I'm really trying to go a little slower this year with the literary devices and make sure they're learning how to read, not just throwing a bunch of stuff at them.

My 9th grade classes - three of them - are about 30 each. Not too terrible. My senior classes, on the other hand, are the smallest classes I've taught in my career; both are in the low 20s. I'm thoroughly enjoying our study of the IB Oral Commentary so far. I have 43 students and hope to achieve 100% passing for the course at its end, and it will be a challenge with a couple of them. And, I hope I push a few of the brighter students all the way up to a 7, a perfect score. We start Richard III next week and I'm looking forward to it.

Otherwise, I'm just dealing with getting my body and schedule back to the rigors of teaching. Sleep and exercise are precious commodities this time of year. I am commuting on my bike to school about half the time, but find I'm having errands to run after school sometimes that supercede biking. I'm getting used to it, though. Definitely enjoy it, especially the ride home.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

"Helping Hands"

Read this article about my good friend, Kate Hooks, a Baltimore City teacher with MS.

9th grade matchmaker

The 9th grader stayed a moment after class, and looked at me, and shyly asked if he could talk to me after class. I agreed, of course, and when it looked like he was embarrassed by what he had to ask, I brought him over behind my desk and waited for what I was sure was another sob story about summer reading.

But no.

"Um, you know that girl who was sitting across from me? The light-skinned one? Well, um, today we kept looking at each other, and then looking away. Over and over again. You know what I'm sayin'? And, um, I was wondering if there was any way you could... um... help me out?"

Taken aback, I didn't know how to respond. Then he asked me for a seat change.

No, actually. I'm not going to play 9th Grade Matchmaker. But it still made me smile and I said maybe someday they'd be in the same group together for a group work assignment. And that, you know, he could talk to her after class sometime.

He agreed, grabbed his pass, and rushed out. Yup, I still like teaching 9th graders. They're still scared to death and quiet and ask for directions and do completely off-the-wall stuff like described above.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Day 1 of Year 9

The first day of school is both the most exciting day of the year and the most boring day of the year. It's so cool to meet all the new students and see how your classes are going to shape up, but so boring to go over the same rules and have a day that is almost completely teacher-centered.

It's also a pretty exhausting day. I've seen more people today than I have in many months, and that can be tough on the senses that have been dulled by the relaxation and relative solitude of summer. Also, in grad school, I remember a professor telling us that teachers make, on average, 10,000 decisions a day. "Should I do something about that, or let it go?," etc. So, my brain hurts a tad.

Still, it was a great day, a day that lived up to my expectations, and I'm ready to take on tomorrow.

I'll not see 10pm tonight, though. The butterflies in my stomach kept me awake off and on last night, so I'm going to try to get a full 7-8 hours tonight.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Happy First Day of School!

This marks the first day of school of my 9th year of teaching.

It should be an exciting, challenging year. I'm teaching the highest-level Seniors (IB English IV), who are taking a series of high-stakes assessments throughout the year. I'm also teaching a large load of 9th graders, a significant chunk of the largest 9th grade class in recent history at our school. I'm also doing National Board certification. And becoming a bike commuter.

Let's hope I can add blogging to the list. I do enjoy it and probably should try to write more...

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


I love it when my former students email me about their summer reading:

I have just gotten my book yesterday and i have already finished one. I am almost done the second book. I have finished reading "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian". That book was very good and funny. Now I'm reading "Kindred", which is very captivating and interesting. I just can not put the book down.

Summer Bridge starts August 7th, but I don't go back officially until the 24th. Kids start back up on the 31st.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

A current draft for IB English IV

(All works were chosen from IB's rather restrictive List for Parts II and III of the curriculum.)

1st semester:

Notes of a Native Son (James Baldwin)

Richard III (Shakespeare)

Much Ado About Nothing (Shakespeare)

East of Eden (Steinbeck)

2nd semester: [Theme: Class Rebellion]

The White Tiger (Aravind Adiga)

Native Son (Wright)

Song of Solomon (Morrison)

Oryx and Crake (Atwood)

Only two women, and very U.S.-centric, which might be issues. I feel a little like my hands are tied by a rather restrictive list (which is only about 20% women). The non-fiction and the Atwood are the two that are most wobbly right now. I'm required to do a non-fiction, and I really like James Baldwin, but that gives me three African-American authors in the curriculum, which might be overkill. I've ordered a few others from the non-out-of-print authors on the really disappointing list (Jung Chang's Wild Swans, which would be perfect if it weren't nearly 600 pages; Michael Ondaatje's Running in the Family, which might ultimately work; I have a Wole Soyinka book here as well).

And, as for the Atwood, I liked the Atwood book quite a bit, but its connection to the theme of the second semester is wobbly. I like that it's not about race, but there's little rebellion in it, unlike the other three works. I'm reading Andre Brink's A Dry White Season, a South African novel, right now. It's alright. It's a possibility, but that gives me another male author and I just couldn't do a semester with just one woman. Earlier suggestions for God of Small Things would work, except for a technicality that you're only allowed to have one country represented by the book from which you pull your WL text, which for me will be The White Tiger, another novel out of India.

Also, the two Shakespeares (instead of a poetry collection, as we did a poetry collection Junior year) was inspired by a probable field trip to the Folger to see Much Ado this November. I love the idea of studying a Shakespeare with scholarly kids and then being able to go see it live.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Ponderings on Oryx and Crake, and fitting it into my curriculum

I finished Oryx and Crake (Atwood) today, and am thinking pretty serious about using it.

First off, I really liked it. While it wasn't my favorite book I've ever read (it started out pretty slowly and the character of Oryx remained too much of a mystery to me), it was still riveting at times. I got to the point where I couldn't put it down. I was reading it at stoplights. I'm generally a sucker for apocalypse stories, and this didn't disappoint. It's my favorite Atwood I've read and I liked it a lot.

With The White Tiger (Adiga) and Native Son (Wright), I'm cultivating a curriculum that is centered around the battle between the classes. Native Son filters the anger through American racism, and features a character who is so beaten down by this disparity that he commits a couple of horrible crimes. The White Tiger does something similar, creating an angry narrator who eventually (spoiler coming, though he states it in the first few pages) kills his boss as a manifestation of this unfairness of the caste system.

Oryx and Crake isn't as clearly about this theme as the other two texts are. Atwood's novel is more of a warning about the dangers of science, of bioengineering run amok, of humans trying to play God. But the society she depicts is one of massive separation, of gated communities vs. the common folk. And, in her world, capitalism has run amok; we see depictions of legal child pornography, videotaped executions and suicides, commoditized gene splicing in order to improve appearance, etc. Eventually, the "haves", or at least one member of them, uses the "have-nots" (called Plebes in the book) for his own crazy experiments.

While the other two texts depict the anger coming from that other side, this one doesn't. We don't meet any of the Plebes. And Atwood's central message, as aforementioned, doesn't seem to be about the worrisome effects of this economic gap, of this caste system, but rather on the bioethical side of things.

Still, I think I can squeeze it, that the theme is running through all of the texts enough.

Other factors: Atwood is a female author and is Canadian, so that is helpful for my goals. It's looking like my course will be (1st semester) Shakespeare, Baldwin [nf], Morrison [fic], and Hughes [poetry, because we read Plath this year] and (2nd semester) Wright, Adiga, ______, ______. In other words, I have to get some women in there; even if I fill these last two novel slots with women, as I'm planning to do, there will only be 3 out of 8. (I'm not 100% sure on those 1st semester texts just yet, particularly the poetry and non-fiction; Shakespeare is required.)

Also, the novel is rather long - 374 pages. The White Tiger is 276 pages, and Native Son is 430 pages. All are pretty long. Oryx and Crake and The White Tiger are both accessible modern page turners. Native Son is for the first 300 pages, but then becomes a bit of a slog in the last 100 pages or so. These books will be read in Feb-May to seniors who will graduate the first week of June and need plenty of time to prepare for the IB assessments at the end of the year; I bet they pretty much need to be done by the start of May (need to double-check on this). In other words, I need to make sure I don't go too crazy with novel lengths. That's a factor.

(The list I have to work from is right here.)

Additionally, I'm noticing that two of the novels I'm considering are very modern (Adiga and Atwood), and that could be a factor. I love modern literature, but I want them to be prepared for something less modern as well, especially as it might appear on the IB tests. This is a factor that I must consider.

The course is a 2 year course, so some of these things could have been factored in already. Last year, we read Allende, Puig, Kundera, Shakespeare, Plath, Shelley, and Murakami. Shelley's the only 19th century author. Wonder if I should worry about getting another in there?

Just thinking out loud here. Next up is July's People (Gordimer). It's only 150 pages or so and I'm already about a quarter into it - should have it done by tomorrow. Then God of Small Things (Roy). Then, perhaps, House of Mirth.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Onto Oryx and Crake

I finished Native Son. Love the first 80% of the novel - gripping, intense, thought-provoking. It died a bit at the end during the trial. But I'm almost certainly going ahead with the Native Son / The White Tiger curriclum.

Now it's onto Oryx & Crake by Margaret Atwood. It might fit into the whole angry resistance to oppression / haves vs. have-nots theme that I'm drafting for next year with the above texts. I've wanted to read this book for a few years, so I'm happy even if it doesn't work for the course. But if it does, that would be cool - a female 'world' author and a high-interest (hopefully) science fiction text.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Carver, not Chandler

Part III of the IB English Higher Level course - which we complete during the second semester of Senior year - is a Genre study. I must choose four texts, all linked by genre and theme, from a list; however, one of the texts may be a 'World Literature' text not on a list, that also links with genre and theme with the other three texts.

I was excited that the author of The Big Sleep as on the list. Raymond Carver, or so I thought. I was all ready to teach the book, which I think the students would have really enjoyed - a private eye story written in the 1930s, dripping in noir and about the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles. I loved the book when I read it a few weeks ago and thought the kids would, too. I was even thinking about what theme I could use to link it together with other texts, and was thinking about the corrupting force of money, which I could also link with Morrison's Song of Solomon.

But The Big Sleep is by Raymond Chandler, not Raymond Carver. I had them confused. I just found out last night.

However, I'm still interested in this idea of the gap between the poor and the rich, and exploring that idea through literature. I'm reading The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga right now, and it's this angry, railing text by a lower-class Indian kid written in the form of seven letters to the Prime Minister of China. It's fresh, funny, and a page turner, and I think the students would be into it. That would by my 'World Lit' text, as it's not on the list but comes from another country.

That book has been described as another Native Son, so I'm going to read that one next. A former student has told me it's a life changer, and the 10th grade teacher was very successful in teaching it this year, so I'm thinking about that one, too. From the descriptions, it seems that's a book about the gap between the haves and the have-nots, too, filtered through American racism. And, like The White Tiger, the protagonist is a charismatic murdered driven to the deeds by society - at least a bit. Or so it seems. (I haven't read it yet.)

So, if I'm doing this theme (We could call it "The Repercussions of the Gap Between the Rich and the Poor"), I have to find two more texts. Preferably by women, although I could put more women in the other section of the course if it's impossible. I'm pretty disappointed by the IB list, which hasn't been updated in over ten years and is pretty sparse on women.

However, here is the list from which I can choose. Anything jumping out at you as being about the Rich/Poor gap? I'm thinking about Atwood's Oryx and Crake (which I haven't read, but the description seems to fit... I'll read it next). A lot of the authors I'm unfamiliar with, and many have are pretty much unavailable (Bessie Head, for example, all her books are out of print... I find this is the case with many.)

I try to give the kids a wide experience, so I'm trying to do less Americans. However, I wouldn't mind doing something they'd love, or doing something that is from a culture that they're not that familiar with (for example, I'd love it if one of Louise Erdrich's novels fits, though I don't think they do...).

I'm teaching Morrison's Song of Solomon, and could squeeze it into this theme, but prefer to put that in the other part of the course. The other part of the course is one-from-each-genre: a Shakespeare, a novel, a non-fiction text, and a poetry collection. I have lots of ideas there, but the list is more limited than the one I present below.

Anyhow, I'd love any recommendations of any texts from any of these authors that you might think fit this rich/poor theme. Both The White Tiger and Native Son are also very angry in tone, so that's another possible connection I could make between texts.

Africa: Ama Ata Aidoo, Cyprian Ekwensi, Bessie Head, Chenjerai Hove, Kojo Laing, Dominic Mulaisho, Charles Mungoshi, Isidore Okpewho, Ben Okri, Chinua Achebe, Ayi Kwei Armah, Andrew Brink, Buchi Emecheta, Nadine Gordimer, Ngugi wa Thiong'o.

Asia: Amitav Ghosh, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Arundhati Roy, Vikram Seth, Mulk Raj Anand, Anita Desai, R.K. Narayan, Salman Rushdie.

Caribbean: George Lamming, Richard Lovelace, V.S. Naipaul, Ama Brodber, David Dabydeen, Caryl Phillips, Jean Rhys.

Europe: Auste, Bronte (both), Conrad, Defoe, Dickens, Eliot, Fielding, Forster, Hardy, Joyce, Lawrence, William Trevor, Woolf, Kingsley Amis, Iain Banks, Julian Barnes, A.S. Byatt, Angela Carter, Roddy Doyle, Margaret Drabble, Graham Green, Ishiguro Kazuo, Kipling, Lessing, Murdoch, Orwell, V.S. Pritchett, Evelyn Waugh.

North America: Atwood, Auster, Bellow, Davies, Faulkner, Findley, Fitzgerald, Hawthorne, Hemingway, James, Margaret Laurence, Anne Michaels, Morrison, Munro, Poe, Steinbeck, Twain, Wharton, Wright, Carver, Cisneros, Chopin, Erdrich, Hurston, Kinkaid, Alistair Macleod, Melville, Rohinton Mistry, Flanner O'Connor, Carol Sheilds, Silko, Twain, Alice Walker, James Welch, Eudora Welty.

Oceania: Janet Frame, David Malouf, Christina Stead, Patrick White, Tim Winton, Peter Carey, Janette Hospial, Henry Lawson, Katherine Mansfield, Olga Masters, Randolph Stow, Albert Wendt.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

East of Eden and a college tryout

I'm still not finished with East of Eden, but I'm still enjoying it. I want to finish it, because there is other reading I have to do, but have been busier than I'd like to be lately, and it hit a snag. I'm determined to finish it before Sunday finished. I've got less than 200 pages. Still not sure if I'm going to add it to the curriculum.

Next up: The White Tiger by Aravind Adinga. It seems to fit my Money = Corruption theme I'm toying around with, and might be the fresh world voice I'm looking for, in the vein of Haruki Murakami.


Today, I drove one of my baseball players (who just graduated, so he's no longer a student) down to Virginia State University for a tryout on their baseball team. I rented a car (wasn't sure if my old car would make it, and didn't want to risk a breakdown with someone's future in the balance), and we left at the crack of dawn, drove the 3.5 hours, and made it almost an hour early. Beautiful campus, which we drove through briefly before getting loose.

The tryouts were quick and well-organized, and my student did well. It was eye-opening, too; I struggle with what to do with my better players, and now, after seeing him alongside other players, I see what his weaknesses are, and am reminded about his strengths. Great arm, a bit slow on the exchange in the field. On the mound, he doesn't use his lower body enough. Told him that for years. He'll correct himself for a pitch or two, and revert. Hitting, though, when he's on, he's on. Luckily, today was a good day. Out of 17 tryouts, he was in the best 5, I'm pretty sure. I think he'll get an offer.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Into East of Eden

Really, really into East of Eden. Is it a teachable novel? Absolutely. Not sure if I will have room for it in my World Literature curriculum, as I have already 100% decided on one novel (Song of Solomon) and 90% on another (The Big Sleep, and two American novels in a World Literature class are already probably enough. But, we shall see. I love the book.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Planning next year's curriculum

I'm going to try to get back into the habit of writing regularly, now that the school year has ended.

This summer is a big one for me. I'm teaching a new course next year - IB 4, the class with our highest-level seniors - and have the freedom to construct the curriculum myself. The list from which I have to choose is fairly strict, but I have complete flexibility within it.

A colleague is heading off to the Steinbeck Summer Institute this summer - the same sort of thing I did with Shakespeare and the Folger Library last summer. She and I will share those same Seniors, but she teaches them in a non-English class, so I'm considering choosing a Steinbeck novel and letting her do her thing with it in her class and me do my thing with it in my class. I've always been a Steinbeck fan (read Grapes of Wrath as a 9th grader, and, even though I'm sure I didn't understand much of it, I remember loving it; and I love Of Mice and Men), but have never read East of Eden, her favorite novel. I'm currently engrossed in it. It might be too long to teach, but maybe not; it's a page turner and since I'm also teaching Song of Solomon next year, I think kids might be intrigued by figuring out all the Biblical Allusions.

We'll see. I've got a lot of reading to do this summer, and I'm looking forward to it, and hopefully I'll be blogging about it.

Friday, June 5, 2009

A break of the monotony

The final exam for the Juniors is a 15-minute Oral Presentation on an aspect of a piece of literature. It's an IB assessment and students are scored based on knowledge of text, analysis of text and its literary devices, organization, and language. Beyond that, though, they can present any way they care to - an interview with the author, a monologue from a character, an analysis of a motif, etc.

It's a good assessment, but they take forever. Instead of being set in one time period for the final, we spread them all around the week in groups of 8. Listening to 5 straight hours of 17-year olds talking about literature is both my favorite thing and least favorite thing in the world. As an English teacher, I love doing it; however, you can probablyimagine that many of them are bad and, regardless of quality, it's just hard to listen to so many for so long.

Thus, it's been a long week. Students are supposed to hand me an outline that I can follow while I listen, though, and one kid did something to lighten the mood. Before he began, I asked him to pass me his outline. It was three sheets long, and I noticed there appeared to be a photograph in the middle, that I figured must have been given to me on accident. I went to pass it back, when I realized... it was Kevin James' face smiling back at me. I burst out laughing. He got me.

Five more today, and then I'm done. Then I can get to some real grading.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Missing InsideEd.

R.I.P. Inside Ed

I miss InsideEd, too. How will the education conversation in Baltimore City continue? Who will step up to the plate? And how?

What a wasted opportunity, so far, for The Sun.

Gatekeeper facts

I'm not much one for Gatekeeper literature. I mean, I guess I think everyone should read The Odyssey. Some Shakespeare. "Sonny's Blues." Frankenstein is kind of a must-read for me, as is A Lesson Before Dying. But I would have a hard time making a list without feeling pretty judgmental about it. There are just too many great books in the world, and too many variables about what a student will connect with. I think a big part of it is the teacher making the text work for the student, so I think teachers should have a lot of freedom with the texts they choose (though not the transferable skills).

However, despite my non-love for gatekeeper literature, there are two things that I have come up in my years of teaching that I think every educated person should know. These two things are facts from books I teach year after year, and I love the moment when the kids say, "Really? I always thought...". They are as follows:

1) Knowing that "Wherefore art thou Romeo?" does not mean "Where are you, Romeo?", but, rather, is asking, as I like to translate, why he gotta be named Romeo?

2) Knowing that Frankenstein is not the name of the monster, but, rather, the name of the doctor. The fact that the creature does not have a name is actually a pretty important part of the novel.

I'm being only half-serious here, but I do tell my students that knowing these two things is a sign that you're educated. And, again in just half-seriousness, if the kid leaves my classroom and didn't get these two things, it makes me sad.

#1 was on the final exam. Out of about 60 kids who took the final today, 6 kids missed that question. However, I was happy to note that of those 6 kids, 5 rarely come or never listen to me or do any work. So, that means that coming to school and listening to me actually does something. I don't know what happened to that 6th kid. She's just kind of flaky.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Down the hatch

Another school year down the hatch, at least with regular classes. And not a moment too soon... today, I actually screamed curse words at a colleague. Really. That is not me, although I was really mad, for good reason. The heat didn't help. Even though it was quite palatable outside, the temperature reached 92 in my classroom, where I have a thermometer, and even hotter in non-windowed areas.

Final exams start Monday. I have to revise mine and then get in extra early on Monday morning to run mine off. Time kind of got away from me a bit. There will be a stampede on Monday morning, probably, so I'm going to have to get there real early.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Perspolis Final Project

Persepolis Final Project

Phew! You are almost done for the school year! Just a little bit more until you can enjoy a couple of months of relaxation during your summer vacation… make sure you work hard in these last two weeks so you have earned your break and so you can go into that summer with your head held high!

You have two more at-home assignments this year: your Persepolis Project and your Final Exam Review sheet. You’ll get your review sheet next week, and it will be due on Thursday. Your final project will be due on Friday (no later). You must turn it in (hard copy only) with the MYP Rubric attached.

Options for Persepolis Project
1. Being Marjane Satrapi: Write your own graphic novel!
This is the one that I hope a lot of you are brave enough to do! Marjane Satrapi wrote a graphic novel about her childhood. It is humorous, dramatic, and imaginative, and divided into short 8-10 page chapters (with titles). Your job is to write your own graphic novel chapter about your own childhood. You may imitate Satrapi’s style or create your own. Artistic talent does not count, but I do not want stick figures. Caption quality does count. You will include a title for your chapter, and use elements of the graphic novel that we have studied. Lastly, you must include a brief ‘Statement of Intent’ that explains the choices you made while creating your graphic novel – use graphic novel vocabulary.

2. Rewriting Persepolis: Create a non-graphic novel out of a graphic novel
For this assignment, you will take a chapter of Persepolis and re-write it in ‘regular’, non-graphic prose. Remember, you cannot just write what everyone says, but also describe everything in the pictures. It might take several pages to capture all the meaning! Afterwards, write a few paragraphs about what you noticed while re-writing Persepolis – what were the advantages and disadvantages of writing it out versus viewing the pictures as well as the words?

3. Rewriting a novel as a graphic novel
Choose a short section of something else we have read this year (summer reading books, Mockingbird, Romeo and Juliet, Odyssey, Fences, “Marigolds”, Lesson Before Dying, “The Scarlet Ibis”, etc.) and re-write it in graphic novel form. Afterwards, write a few paragraphs that analyzes how the meaning changes when you write it in a different form.

4. Persepolis graphic analysis
Choose five pages of Persepolis from which to analyze all the choices Satrapi makes in those pages. Using graphic novel vocabulary, analyze each of the panels within your chosen pages for the meanings and themes that Satrapi is attempting to express. This project should 3 pages (typed) of analysis, with copies of the pages you analyze attached and text-marked.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

HSAs and Summer Reading

I don't know why or how I do it every year, but I actually expect my students to come to class after taking the HSA, and they never do, yet I'm always surprised. 6 today in 1st period, 5 in 2nd period. I'm probably one of the only teachers who required attendance, and that didn't get me very far, apparently. Bummer. I had a great lesson planned.

Weird, weird week. There are no more regular days this year. HSA week all week, then a 4-day week next week because of Memorial Day, and then finals. This year is gone in the snap of fingers.

I'm really thinking about summer reading assignments right now.

Current choices (for advanced rising seniors):

What is the What by Dave Eggers


Going to Meet the Man by James Baldwin (the collection of short stories including "Sonny's Blues," my favorite short story of all time)

Here are the justifications:

* I want authors that cannot be taught in the course otherwise. Neither Eggers or Baldwin are on the IB list for fiction.

* Eggers' novel is really good, and it's an accessible, moving world literature story. The course is a world literature course so that helps. I don't really like summer reading too much, but the Eggers book is one I think the kids will like. That's important to me.

* Baldwin's stories are ripe for passage analysis, my primary goal for this unit. Additionally, I (currently) plan on teaching Baldwin non-fiction during the year (he's on the list for non-fiction, and I think the students would be very much into him), so I think reading some of his fiction will be an interesting setup for that. Additionally, everyone should read "Sonny's Blues" sometime before they die. Wow.

The drawbacks are that both are U.S. authors, and my course is already fairly heavy with U.S. authors. I haven't decided for sure what I'm going to teach, but I have 8 texts to choose from a complicated and rather restrictive list that IB provides. I have to center the texts around a theme, and they have to be from certain genres, and certain authors within those genres. I've decided on some of the works (Richard III will be my Shakespeare, almost certainly, and I really want to bring Song of Solomon back, and I believe Baldwin will be my non-fiction - really want to do some Steinbeck, too, because the teacher that shares the students is going to a Shakespeare Institute this summer), but need to figure out how they all work together and need to do a lot of reading this summer. I think the Eggers and Baldwin texts are adaptable to whichever way I decide to go with the curriculum (not that summer reading needs to relate that much, anyway).

I'm certain there will be plenty of posts about curriculum planning in the upcoming weeks. I have all summer, luckily, but need to figure out a summer reading assignment ASAP. Obviously.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Taking Mom to Senior Prom

My mom was in from out of state for the last five days, her first visit in a few years and first solo visit since my big eye surgeries about six years ago. We had a great time, setting up my house and such, but one of the highlights was taking her to Senior Prom on Saturday at Ravens Stadium. I didn't really want to disrupt my tradition of stopping by Senior Prom to see the students for the last time before graduation, and mentioned it to my mom on a lark; she seemed excited, so the plan was made: we would go to prom.

We only stayed for about an hour, but we were able to see most of the students. This is the first year ever that I taught a class three years in a row - as 9th graders, 10th graders, and 11th graders. They weren't the same students, necessarily, although two students ended up students in my class three years in a row, just an amazing fact to me. If they're screwed up in writing and reading, there's no one to blame but me. Truth be told, I'm only close with one of those students, but seeing her last night was a joy; she is so grown up, and on her way to McDaniel College. The decision was a hard one for her. She requested extensions from both, and just made the final decision on the last possible day last Friday. I think she's nervous (the school is small, white, and isolated, a complete reversal of Baltimore) but excited, and I think she made the right choice.

Prom was fun, the hour or so we stayed. I gave a lot of hugs, ate some crabcakes, saw my baseball players, talked to kids about colleges, and was surprised a little by the musical selections (I know it's a big hit right now, but is "Blame It On the Alcohol" really an appropriate selecton?). And then we were off, me and my prom date, my mom. She had fun, too.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Education Reporter Sara Neufeld Leaves The Sun

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention something that anyone in the world of Baltimore City education already knows: Baltimore Sun Education Beat Writer Sara Neufeld is volunteering to be laid off, in a show of solidarity with colleagues losing their jobs. Besides being a quality reporter, she is the driving force behind InsideEd, the Baltimore Sun education blog, which has built in size and influence in the last two years to become one of the heartbeats of the BCPSS community.

I once read that Ms. Neufeld - who I have never met, but feel like I know from her writing over the years, and one phone conversation - was inspired by Jonathan Kozol, the legendary author and education equality activist. Indeed, her work here in Baltimore has helped to showcase the challenges in urban public eduation, as well as its successes, thrills, and heartfelt moments. Her impact on the City Schools has been strong, and her use of her position as a check-and-balance on the disparity, injustice, and occasional lunacy of the BCPSS - plus, never hesitating to its biggest cheerleader and supporter when warranted - is exactly what one should hope for from a journalist.

Just look at the thread of comments below her blog entry announcing her leaving: With Heavy Heart, Volunteering to Go. David Simon is among the commenters, plus many teachers around the city and area.

Neufeld's 3-Part Series on Dr. Andres Alonso is Pulitzer-type stuff. Really an amazing read about an enigmatic and dynamic man.

We'll really miss her here in Baltimore. She leaves huge shoes to fill, and I wish her nothing but the best in her future pursuits (and hope she stays in the field and writes some great books).

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The background in my mouth

The young man has not done a great job of planning for the future, nor much guidance for it. But he's a nice kid, and a hell of a baseball player, and we're doing our best to get him into a college baseball program somewhere. He had his last day of classes in high school today and hasn't applied to college yet.

I got off the phone with the coach, who was immediately calling him. I sent a text-message as quickly as I could, one last word of advice: "Coach calling u now. Be professional and go somewhere quiet b/c it's always so loud in the background whenever I talk 2 u."

The kid called me about 15 minutes later. We talked him up good enough that they're giving him a special tryout. He talked quite a bit more, but, of course, it was loud in the background, and I couldn't hear him very well. I said "yes" and "I'm proud of you" and "Are you excited?" and stuff like that, and looked forward to talking to him in person so I could hear more about what he was talking about. I generally hate talking on the phone to begin with, and, with the background noise, it was especially unpleasant, despite the good news. I made a lot of agreeing, happy replies to the noise, and soon our conversation was over.

The next day, though, I heard what I apparently agreed to: I'm driving him down to Virginia State University next month to have him try out for their baseball team.

Hmmm. It's pretty cool I guess. It will be an odd weekend. But pretty exciting, no?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Persepolis and The Children's Bookstore

I'm in the midst of teaching Persepolis with my 9th graders again, and I couldn't be happier. The books were a gift from The Children's Bookstore here in Baltimore; as part of their Educational Foundation program, which donates class sets of books to teachers and students (once a year per teacher), they granted our school around 350 copies of the text, one for every 9th grader. In other words, if you are looking for a great charity to support that directly puts books in the hands of Baltimore City students, then this is one I can vouch for. This is the second year in a row that they have supported me in the teaching of this book. A big public "thank you" to everyone involved over at The Children's Bookstore Educational Foundation!

Anyhow, as with last year, my students are really enjoying the book. Many came in the day after I had passed it out, proud of themselves for having went home and completed the entire book in one night. It's so neat to hear them analyze books using new terms, but fitting those terms into our standard "author's technique and effect" conversations about literature. I started off the unit by using much of this excellent lesson, which links to a fairly extensive list of graphic novels terms that we have been using. Never a comic book reader, I have learned a lot in the teaching of this novel, easily as much as my students have.

So far, we're only about five chapters into the story, but today we had an excellent little Socratic Seminar about chapter 3, and the students really did a good job of grappling with Satrapi's techniques and what effects they brought about. Tonight, students are choosing one panel in each of the next three chapters to write a paragraph of analysis about any three panels, using the vocabulary and technique/effect language. That will be a springboard for tomorrow's discussion.

********** Below is my proposal to The Children's Bookstore, which I think is pretty good but I can't quite believe I used the phrase "common humanity that links us all" twice in it... a bit cheesy************

January 29, 2008

The Children’s Bookstore Educational Foundation

737 Deepdene Rd.

Baltimore, MD 21210

To whom it may concern:

Last year, The Children’s Bookstore generously provided a copy of Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis to each of my students. The experience was an enchanting one for my students and me. We learned about the culture of Iran, and about the troubling experience of coming of age in a society as repressive as that one. We learned about the structure of graphic novels, and analyzed how authors use pictures and words to tell a story. Most importantly, we learned about the common humanity that links us all, and saw how growing up in an unjust world has common threads across cultures. Students found the graphic novel style fresh and engaging, and the story captivating.

The unit was so successful that we are expanding it to all the ninth grade classes and, as chair of the ninth grade team, I am requesting Persepolis I for all ninth graders at ______________.

The following details the unit, goals, and projected activities and projects of the unit, which we are planning on teaching in April of 2008.

Teaching Unit: Coming of Age in the Middle-east: Examining the Graphic Novel

Curriculum Goals:

Throughout the course, students have examined coming-of-age stories from around the world, including the 1930s Alabama (To Kill a Mockingbird), 1500s Verona (Romeo and Juliet), 1950s Pittsburgh (Fences), 1980s Chicago (House on Mango Street), and ancient Greece (Telamachus' story in The Odyssey). Students have studied how injustice affects the growing up process, and how our response to injustice helps define how successful our coming of age is. This examination of these characters from different cultures, ethnicities, eras, genders, and perspectives will help students develop empathy and navigate their own coming of age in an unjust society. Persepolis details this same theme, in war-torn Iran in the early 1980s. We will use the text as a springboard for cultural connections, in order to examine the common humanity that unites us all.

Currently available texts and resources: None. Students are required to provide all of their own materials for English class.

Related activities and projects:

The study of the graphic novel as a relevant literary genre, including guest speaker experts in the genre
* Researching history and politics of middle-east and how it affects the people living within the area
* Examine universal themes and connections between cultures
* As a way of exploring effects of genre: Re-writing a section of a previously-studied novel as a graphic novel; writing portion of Satrapi’s graphic novel as prose
* Presentation on setting of Iran, including guest speakers from the country

Thank you so much for considering my proposal.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Ring Dilemma

A couple of months ago, one of my players asked me to hold his class ring during practice. Players often do that; it's usually not rings, but sometimes it's cell phones, or keys, or something else. I put it in my bag and didn't think anything else of it.

The player didn't ask for his ring back after practice. And I forgot about it. A few weeks later, the kid failed off the team. I don't even have a failing-off conversation with him, as he just left his uniform with another player and I don't often run into him. I like the kid, but I'm not particularly close with him, and I kept him on the team hoping that I'd be able to get through to him somehow; as for baseball abilities, he'd picked up his first baseball glove at 17.

About a week ago, he came up to me in the hallway and said, "Hey, _______, you still have my ring?"

I didn't remember anything differently, so I said, "Yeah, I guess so. It's gotta still be in my bag."

Well, you guessed it, the ring isn't in my bag. I don't remember giving it back to him, and I don't think he's taking me for a ride. But the ring is $450.

My first instinct was, "Dang, I guess I've got to pay for that whole thing." Then, I got another opinion from a colleague and another player, who both said that no way I was responsibile, that kids assume risks by giving me things, and that I only agreed to hold onto it for practice, not for weeks afterwards. He forgot to ask for it back, so it's his fault more than anyone else's.

Tonight, the young man's mother called me. She's cordial, but it's very clear she wants me to pay for the ring, the whole thing.

As for me, I'm no longer sure. One issue is certainly ability to pay. I have three more paychecks before the summer, and not quite enough money to make it through the summer as it is (putting a downpayment on my house was the priority with my summer money, though I'm hoping to amend my taxes and get the tax credit soon). Paying for the ring would take quite a bit of saving, and I just couldn't do it before the summer.

I do feel guilty about it and want to do the right thing. I just don't want to be taken for a ride in the process. I think I'm going to talk with my principal about it tomorrow.

I'm still holding onto shreds of hope that it will turn up as I unpack things. I did just move, after all.


[I am kind of curious, especially now that it's over with, about whether you all think I would have had to pay all $425 to replace it. Legally Required vs. Ethically required?)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Rain, rain, go away

I have not been blogging much lately. It's been hard. Baseball season has been keeping me plenty busy, as well as frustrated because of all the rain, and busy-ness and frustration are not catalysts for writing.

However, after a couple of weeks of complete exhaustion in the classroom, I'm starting to feel my mojo again, and that makes me more excited to share stories and such. My 9th graders are working on an A Lesson Before Dying essay, and it's going well. My 11th graders are finishing up essays over The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and beginning Frankenstein.

But the rain... the rain... it has rained out so many games this season that we didn't meet the 14-game minimum to be seeded for playoffs. The MPSSAA offered no flexibility in its seeding for playoffs, which I think is just wrong; the city teams were screwed over because we just don't have the staffs and facilities that county schools have to fix up fields. Thus, we're playing a pretty tough opponent in the opening round of playoffs, not to mention a number of games were canceled with no makeup, including the game with our big rival.

It's tough to keep the kids (and their coach) focused, but I'm going to do my best tomorrow, with our last practice before the playoffs, which start on Friday. I'm trying to ignore the loud storm outside my window right now. This has been an absolutely unbelievable spring.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Paul Blart: Mall Cop

It happened for the first time. I got called Paul Blart* today by a student. It was in a joking, gently teasing way, but it was still a good reminder to get myself back to the gym. I tore my calf muscle (just degree 1 or 2, according to the doctor, so not a big deal) a couple of weeks ago and was on crutches for three days - teaching on crutches sure isn't very fun, makes me feel very lazy - but today it feels healed, or at least well enough to exercise. I even hit some softballs today at the batting cages, where our baseball team went for practice to escape the heat.

* The rumors I intentionally spread last year that I was Kevin James' cousin - to the point where I showed my students the name "Kevin" on my cell phone, telling them it was him - probably didn't help matters much. But I get the Kevin James/King of Queens ("only not as fat", uh thanks) comment so much from kids that I had to do something with it.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Only in Baltimore

We finished our game this afternoon, at Sloman's Field off of Windsor Mill Road, and the fifteen of us (all uniformed baseball players) were waiting around for the bus to return when a guy from the neighborhood approached and mumbled something to us. I didn't hear him, and asked him to say it again. He said that he wanted to get something out of our way. He shooed a kid away from a park bench, got on his knees, and dug lifted up a clump of grass that was sitting on top of some wood chips. Underneath, he removed a bag filled with a few grams of heroin, set the grass clump back, and walked away.

Yes, the man was hiding his narcotics on a children's playground.

The kids barely batted an eye and went back to wrestling, joking, and killing time. We all kind of did.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

National Day of Service - with one of my students

One of my students planted trees with Barack Obama today! He was actually paired up with the President - just the two of them.

He's one of these students here, standing right next to Michelle. According to his chat with me on Facebook just now, he got a hug from her, and he got to keep Obama's work gloves as a keepsake. Pretty amazing.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Internet access limited...

Hi all!

I have absolutely no unblocked internet access these days unless I go to a public library, hence the lack of updates!

But I've moved into the new house, and I'm still coaching and teaching! Life is good!

I hope to be around shortly sometime in the near future!

Monday, March 30, 2009

The lake at second base

It's been good weather for ducks lately, but not baseball.

Thursday, it rained, so we had our practice in the weight room. None of the fields take rain well, so games on Friday were canceled. Then, it rained over the weekend, and the games were canceled for today. Even though the weather was fine on both Friday and Monday, we couldn't play. Bummer.

Friday's was more of a bummer, because we were set to dismiss at 2:15, and I didn't learn until about 1:45 that the game was canceled. The game was to be played across the city, on the west side, and Baltimore City had told their Athletic Director in the morning that it would bring some dirt to the field to fill in the puddles so we could play. They never did. No game. So, BCPSS paid for the bus fees (it was too late to cancel), officiating fees (ditto), but there was no game. [This penny-smart, dollar-dumb finances occurred earlier this season, when, at a visiting diamond, the city drew a chalk batting box, but no foul lines, because of budget constraints. The chalk for the foul lines is what put them over-budget, apparently - not sending out a whole crew to do the least important part of a major game preparation task.]

Today, the game was canceled first thing in the morning, as there is a lake at second base and there was no way it would dry by the afternoon. We still practiced, dodging puddles, and it was actually probably our best practice all year.

Baseball season is going well. It is more work than I remember, probably because I'm also buying a house this month (hopefully moving in within the week). But we haven't lost yet and the kids show flashes of really coming together. This losing out on a couple games is a real bummer, but today felt good.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Kids making me laugh

Today, after struggling to gain the attention of excitable juniors after they received their quiz scores, I had almost complete silence, and was ready to talk some Murakami. Then, I heard it, that noise that you hope is just someone moving a chair but you feel in your gut is more. Everyone heard it. Everyone thought the fart came from the goofy kid with the long unkempt hair. But no, it came from the fashionista girl sitting next to him. How did we know? She started laughing and excused herself. She didn't stop laughing. It became a belly laugh. At first, I tried to stay stern. But the laugh became contagious, and I soon caught it, and then the kids started pointing at me, and pointing out my laugh, and soon the entire class was laughing. At a fart. That sort of thing doesn't happen too often, especially with Juniors. I just couldn't help it. Those last 5 minutes of class? Not much learning going on then. Mostly laughing. I did manage to talk a little bit about the book. A little bit.


And it was a fun day. I had to cancel practice on the field because of rain, so the baseball team worked out in the weight room. I found out I can bench 225. But, even better, a group of my players decided to jump rope towards the end. Eventually, it became a game of double dutch. Seeing a bunch of baseball players trying and mostly failing to double dutch jump rope in the basement, over and over again, getting smacked in the head with the big plastic jump ropes, laughing and hooting and hollering, and sometimes getting it right... it was just a really fun time. And, I got home before dark for the first time since the season started.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Grant's wind-up bird mask

I hate it when I have a dumb entry that stays up there a few days. I'm not able to do much more than weekly updates lately, it seems. My days end late with dropping off young people around the city after practice, and I return home after 8pm and deal with the lesson for the next day. Sometimes, I surf over to CraigsList and look at couches for sale, but that's pretty much the extent of my recreation. In short, I'm really tired and looking forward to spring break.

However, things are good. The baseball team has begun 3-0 (2-0 regular, plus a scrimmage). Occasionally I have doubts about keeping a big team, but, on other days, it seems the right thing; today, for example, no outfielders showed up. One kid had to pick up his brother; a couple of kids had coach class and then didn't show up afterwards; another kid didn't give me an explanation; two are mending injuries. It was bizarre that all this only afflicted the outfielders, because the infield was two or three deep at every position.

With the 9th graders, we are at around Chapter 6 of A Lesson Before Dying, and the kids are loving it. It's really a great teach and a nearly perfect book for the 9th grade. Even To Kill a Mockingbird is a little tough for a few students (it's long, there are about 50 characters), but ALBD is accessible enough even for my 4th- and 5th-grade reading level students, but deep and resonating enough for my advanced students. It helps that I really, really love the book.

There's a moment in Chapter 6 when Grant has to decide "whether to act like the teacher that I was or like the n***** I was supposed to be" (Gaines 47). He is about to ask Sam Guidry, the sherriff, permission to visit with Jefferson, the death row inmate. Grant has already demeaned himself by entering the house through the back door, and is already humiliated by the white men making him wait for two-and-a-half hours. He can either act like the ignorant person they want him - as a black man - to be, and get what he wants, or act intelligent, and risk not getting what he wants. One method is an insult to him; one method is an insult to them. We read the passage together today, as Grant decides to use correct subject/verb agreement, as he decides to honestly answer how long he has been waiting, instead of smiling and saying "not long."

Kids got it, and today we're reading the Dunbar poem "We Wear the Mask" and will compare it to that passage, and discuss just how much of a mask Grant is willing to wear.

As for the IB Juniors, we are reading The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. I'm loving it and I saw two Facebook updates from kids in the class saying how much they're liking it, too. They'd better. It's a 600-page beast (the longest novel, by 200 pages, that I've ever taught) and they'll be miserable otherwise for a long time.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Spitting in a trash can

One of the things that I've tried to deal with in my years teaching in Baltimore is the Baltimorean trait of spitting in trash cans. Honestly, I don't know if it's Baltimorean or not. I'd never noticed a single soul doing it in all my years, though, until I became a teacher in Baltimore. It could be a Black thing, I suppose. It could be an urban thing, I suppose. I could be an economic thing. I don't know. All I know is that often, I have a student walk across my classroom, and spit into a trashcan. It really grosses me out. It even grosses me out when the student just excuses herself and goes into the hallway to do it. In all my years of life, I have never felt the need to spit in that way. Apparently, it's phlegm or something that they're spitting, and they swear they won't get any better unless they spit out anything that comes up. Still, I can't even connect with this.

I got into a little discussion with a student the other day about it. "When you are a business executive in a middle of a meeting, will you walk to the other side of the room and spit into a trashcan?," I asked her.

She swore that this would be okay, as long as she wasn't obvious about it. Because people, she says, know that you can't get healthy if you're sick if you don't spit out your phlegm constantly.

I told her it was a Baltimorean thing. I told her in all my 31 years of life, I'd never felt the need to spit in that fashion. I told her that it's undignified and unladylike and that she should hear it now before she goes off into the world. I have a very pleasant relationship with this student, and she smiled and told me I was wrong, that it was very normal and accepted. I told her she would be better off taking a tissue and blowing her nose and coughing into it, if she couldn't fully excuse herself. She again said I was crazy.

Is it a race thing? My African-American colleague swears that it is not. She is horrified by this behavior, and equates it with behavior off the street, the kind of behavior that keeps African-Americans down. I do not know. I just know it really grosses me out. Ewww!

Monday, March 16, 2009

This was a day when I wish my bed was already made

1. For all my faults as a coach, and I'm sure I have several, no one can say I don't care a great deal about these players. My email is full from teachers about them all (I've sifted through 50 emails in the last day, about so-and-so with electronics and so-and-so with a 59%). My phone is full of text-messages to and from players, reminding them about doing homework and about where we're meeting. My Facebook is filled with former and current players, writing about schedules and practices. It's consuming to me. I still struggle with the best ways to create a baseball practice that utilizes able assistant coaches and keeps all players engaged at all times, and the last week or so, the practice plans have been sparse as my exhaustion from home buying and teaching and coaching combined has reached a tipping point. But these kids still grab a hold of me and they consume me during the spring. I really do love it.

2. I was asked to attend a field trip today, and we went out to a Great Kids Farm at Bragg Nature Center, a sustainable project for food growing. We planted a bunch of seeds and created a garden. Really cool stuff, just two teachers and 16 kids. They're going to be planting some sustainable gardens on our campus, and this was an introduction. Seems really, really cool, and it got me excited. Best comment of the day was from a kid who was surprised that onions grew in the ground, and not on a tree like apples. When other kids snickered, he said, "Well, geez, I never said I was a scientist or nothin'!". It was also really fun to see these kids feed the goats.

3. Schedule all screwed up and I didn't sleep last night but an hour or so. Going to bed now.

Thursday, March 12, 2009


1. One of the small joys of coaching is the nicknames the kids give each other. I had a kid a few years back who was memorably clever in his nickname-giving. Everyone had one - Mumbles, Darkness, Mufasa, etc. This year, there's one I'm not really sure what to do with. Kid's name is Booby. Some on the team don't even know his real name. Everyone calls him Booby. It obviously pre-survives baseball. I am not going to be using it.

2. There is no budging from the mother about letting her son play baseball for his last season in high school. I am not sure what to do. Tears today. I'm going to try to write her a letter. I just don't understand how someone could be that mean.

3. It was very, very cold today, and it's going to be colder tomorrow. Not good baseball weather.

4. Today my planning period involved running up to Bradford Bank and signing my mortgage papers. I left at 10:05 (the end of 2nd period) and didn't get back until 11:40 (the beginning of 6th period). I was five minutes late coming back, and had to call in for an emergency 5-minute sub for the latter.

5. I'll be honest: I'm kind of bored to tears by my poetry unit right now with my 9th graders. Thankfully it's only 5 poems and 5 days long. We're moving onto A Lesson Before Dying next week. Woo-hoo! One of my favorite novels and one of my favorite books to teach.

6. I'm also pretty excited about teaching The Wind Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami for the first time. We're also beginning that next week.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Box Set Activity

One of my favorite activities I completed during the Teaching Shakespeare Institute was Michael Tolaydo's "Box Set" activity. During this activity, students create a stage set - in a box - of a scene from a Shakespearean play. Students are encouraged to play around with setting and context; I remember our group did the wedding scene in The Taming of the Shrew in a 1950s prim and proper American town. There has to be a reason for the setting (I honestly don't remember ours from the summer).

Then, each group member has a task. One person is on movements, and will document five movements during the scene (blocking) and discuss how the movements convey meaning. Ditto with person two, who must discuss the staging. Person three does costumes. Person four does lighting and music. And person five does props.

Students got Monday to work on it, then an unexpected extra day yesterday when I called in sick. They had a lot of freedom. Now, this can be great, full of epiphanies and creativity, but it can also bring with it some groan-worthy moments. I had some of both today during the presentations. I'm pretty sure that the group who set 1.1 with dinosaurs and 2.2 in a Fetish Club (ugh) both understood their scene pretty well, even with the groans.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Coaching drama

Baseball coaching continues to be a focal point of my existence right now. I say it never takes a backseat to providing quality instruction, but today it was kind of hard to argue that it didn't; I took my first sick day of the year, yet still went in to at least supervise baseball practice. I felt pretty sick, but the food poisoning I seem to have come down with overnight was gone. I was up nearly the whole night with major G.I. trouble, and it had passed out of my system by morning. Still, without any sleep. I could barely function to call in sick because of it. I felt much better, just a little icky, by the afternoon, so decided to keep practice on. We only have a week to get ready for the season at this point; first game is the 26th.

Coaching dominates my thoughts and a lot of my energy during this time of year. One player cursed out a coach, pretty severely, on Friday. I didn't realize how bad it was until the coach told me. After a lot of reflecting about it, as well as talking to the other coach, I decided to suspend the player for a month. I wrote the letter to him and talked with him briefly. I met with the father briefly. Tomorrow, the mother has requested a meeting. I wish nothing but the best for this kid, and hope I made the right decision.

The latest drama involves a kid who is a senior and one of my team captains. His mom does not want him to play, a fact that I learned tonight. She called me, saying that she doesn't even want to go to his graduation, that he's very disrespectful and this is the last thing she can do to him before she puts him out of the house. She seems determined, and it seems the only reason she wants to do it is because it's the last thing she can do to him. Of course, I'm only hearing the kid's perspective, but his version of the fight sounds pretty bad. She tells him she'll be glad when he's out on the street with the other losers, and he tells her that it's baseball season and hopefully he'll get recruited, and she grabs his phone, gets my number, and says, "Not if I have anything to say about it, you'll be going nowhere."

He'll be 18 in a month. He really has a pretty good shot at playing college football or baseball. He's also a hard worker and a leader on the team. His last text message was, "I really need help coach." I really have no idea what options I have or how I'm going to go about helping this situation. First step is talking with my Athletic Director tomorrow.

I'm considering writing a letter to the mom (she was obviously very angry when she called, not a good time to negotiate), stating how proud I am of the young man, and how I think letting him play baseball for the rest of the year will be a good thing for all involved. He was my student as a 9th grader, and a total goofball. As a sophomore, I could tell there was a great leader there, about the emerge if all the goofiness would melt away. Then, sadly, as a Junior, he was ineligible because of grades. Since then, he has pulled 70s and 80s and 90s, and has received several college acceptances. You should see the letter of recommendation I wrote for him the other day; he really is a success story, at least on the school and athletics side of things.

Wish me luck. Or, more importantly, him.

Sunday, March 8, 2009


I love mnemonic devices in teaching. I think it's cool that I still remember Kingdom-Phylum-Class-Order-Family-Genus-Species because of Ms. Leavitt's "Kings Play Chess on Funny Glass Stairs" acronym in the 9th grade. Ditto "Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally" and others. Creating my own mnemonic devices was a major way I was a successful student, not only in high school, but also in my pre-Medicine years as a Chemistry major, with lots of memorization.

Being an English teacher, I still incorporate lots of mnemonic devices. We remember the five methods of Indirect Characterization with the acronym, "P.A.A.S.O" (Private Thoughts, Appearance, Action, Speech, Other Characters' thoughts), as in "Que Paaso?," which I gleefully shout out early in the year when we come across some distinctive characterization. We remember types of imagery with V.G.O.A.T (Visual-Gustatory-Olfactory-Auditory-Tactile), and, when students are writing a personal essay short on details that appeal to the senses, I'll ask them where their V-Goat is.

For Poetry Analysis, I've never really found an aconym I like. Pre-AP and AP showcase this one called DIDLS, which is mostly an acronym to find tone (Diction-Imagery-Details-Language-Structure/Style). I don't like it because the important part of just understanding the poem on a literal level is lost. I've used TPCASTT before, too, but it's a bit simplistic to me. The "C" just doesn't cover enough. For several years in a row, I've tried to create an acronym that sort of combines these two acronyms into one.

It is ridiculous and unwieldly, but I like it. PIDDSAT. (Paraphrase-Imagery-Diction-Devices-Sounds-Attitude-Theme). The students suggested I call it "SIP DDAT," which I might do someday, but it puts it out of the order I like. I've only used it for about four days, but it's working well. Still unwieldly, but it's just the jumping off point. We'll see how it goes. If it doesn't work, it's just back to the drawing board again.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

First week of the season

"Can I take about 20 minutes of your time today during your 11th period?"

I had to say no. I just don't have it right now.

I remember how providing quality lessons and coaching is. I have no free time. This is okay. I expect it and I thrive. But, this year, I'm also buying a house. And doing National Board Certification. It's a lot on my plate.

I'm always amazed every year at colleagues who scoff when I say that I have to write my plan for practice. After all, I don't write out lesson plans very meticulously. They're 48 minutes, and I know what I'm going to do. I write my objectives on the board and jot down what I'm doing in my lesson plan book. That's it. But, for practice, I've got these 6 kids doing this at this time, and these other 6 kids doing this other thing at that time, and I know exactly who is going to be everywhere at every time. In fact, this year, so far, I haven't planned as meticulously, at least during tryouts, because our fields have been so poor (full of snow and mud), and the results have shown. I've seen some of my least favorite things I ever can see during baseball practice: standing around. Luckily it doesn't happen until after 5, usually, but I'd like to get better at that. I will, once I get to know this team better.

It's only four days into the season, though, and I think I might have the deepest team I've ever had. I posted that as my Facebook update tonight, then thought better of it; it's too early to feel that cocky. One former player was offended, reminding me about 2007, but it was something different there - that team had a bunch of superstars (four went on to play college baseball), which this team doesn't, I don't think. But this team has so much depth, so many solid players all around.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Full schedule

I wake up at 5 a.m. Sometimes I hit snooze. I get to the gym between 5:50 a.m. and 6:10 a.m. I exercise - half weights, half cardio - until 7:30 a.m. I shower, change, and am in to the school by around 7:55 a.m. I rush to my classroom, and print out the handouts and lesson plans that I wrote the previous night. I print them out, and copy them off, and hopefully I'm ready to go in my classroom by the time the 8:10 a.m. warning bell rings. I teach for two periods. During the next period, my planning period, I'm usually trying to do something about this house buying process I'm in. Today, I had to run to Bel-Air/Edison Neighborhood Association and sign some papers about my mortgage. Tomorrow, I'll be printing out an appendum to my contract, signing it, and then scanning the contract and creating a .jpg of it, then sending it to my real estate agent. Then, I try to create my lesson plan for my Juniors. I try to grade papers. I try to eat lunch. Then I teach three periods in a row. My second planning period is next, and I use that to scope out the areas around the school and figure out what we're doing for practice. I write out a meticulous plan for practice. Or, sometimes I'm pulled out for a meeting and have to write "TBA" for the 4:15-5:45 chunk of practice. And we finish practice at around 6 p.m. Changing takes a half hour. I drive four kids home every night. I get home at around 8 p.m. Then I plan my lessons for the next day and fall asleep by 10 p.m.

Okay, so the above schedule has only happened two days so far. It just feels like it's been weeks.

Seriously, though, thank god for baseball practice. Getting out there yelling in the sunshine is the best thing in the world.

Bedtime. It's 9:07.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

March is coming in like a lion...

Tomorrow is the 2nd day of baseball season, something I look forward to throughout the winter. This winter was very mild, but, unfortunately, it's looking like we'll be getting our first real snow storm tonight. I'm expecting a snow day. Since I haven't written a lesson plan yet, I'm apparently even counting on it. (I will get the stuff ready for tomorrow, though, just in case...)

Since practice tomorrow will be pretty rough if we have school (there's no room inside the building, so we're either on the tennis courts, on sidewalks, or in the weight room, and there's not a whole lot I can do for tryouts in that situation), I'm rooting for a snow day, despite the fact that the season is starting and I want to get back out there with them. If we do get one, I'm still going to go into the school, and grade like crazy. I'm really behind, and progress reports are due this week sometime. I'm hoping at least someone is in the building.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Wishing former student well

I taught this young man as a 9th grader and a 10th grader. A memorable pain in the rear end, but generally friendly and funny. He was the sort of kid who all through the 9th grade, when he was a rambunctious goofball, I imagined what he would be like the next year, in someone else's class, so I could sort of make of that other teacher for having to put up with him. Then, I got my class lists the next year, and there he appeared again. The joke was on me. He was certainly one of the most memorable classroom disruptors I've ever taught.

He's a very good basketball player, one of the 25 best from the Class of 2010 (not sure if that's nationally or statewide), and has apparently signed with the University of Tennessee to play. There are quite a bit of interviews around the internets about him, and this is one of them. (I feel okay posting it, because he's been to two different schools since he left mine, and none of the articles seem to be mentioning his 9th/10th grade school.)

Anyhow, the funniest thing appeared in one of the interviews:

Capitol Hoops - If you had to choose a career other than basketball what could you see yourself doing a couple years from now?

Will - I would like to become a teacher , education is very important and is something that we all need in life.

Capitol Hoops - What subject would you teach?

Will - Lol , English.

If Will is ever an English teacher, I wish him a few 'Will's in the class in front of him. LOL indeed.

I do wish him the best in any case. It would be kind of cool to see this kid on national television, playing college ball. I will remember that he broke my chair, that he used to love to sing "I'm in Love With a Stripper" during class, and that, on occasion, I got him to sit still and read and write.

First day of tryouts

If I'm springing for dinner for my team captains at Red Robin, it must be baseball season. I cannot believe these boys' voracious appetite. All with bacon double cheeseburgers, bottomless fries, and bottomless sweet lemonade drinks. I just couldn't hang. But, wow, do I ever love Red Robin.

I always feel like I've been let into a secret world when I do this sort of thing, taking out four teenagers for a bite to eat. My favorite exchange was this:

J: "Yo, you ask Ms. _____ what I got on my quiz on Friday?"

Me: "No, but I know _____ (other team captain) got a 100% on it."

J: "Dag, I hate quizzes like that, with characters' names. All dem names are so long and confusing and all look alike. But that book's aight, though." [Note: It's Achebe's Things Fall Apart.

Me: "Oh, so you like it? Good."

J: "No, no, no, I don't like it, I just said it was aight. It's a book, so I don't like it."

So, yeah, today was the first day of tryouts. Because March 1 falls on a Sunday this year, we were allowed to open up the season today. I have about 30 kids trying out for about 20 spots. I have been keeping smaller and smaller teams throughout the years, but I don't think I can this year. Too many good kids, and I just can't imagine myself cutting some of them. My new outlook is that I think it's much worse for me to cut them than it is for them to hear it. Kids can shake stuff like that off. Right?

Regardless, we have a good team, very deep, and it's going to be a good year.