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.