Thursday, November 29, 2007

Tongue in Cheek

Today is a day I love The Onion!

Check this out.

Should They Walk?

In Wenatchee, a town with a single high school of 2,100 students, the school board will decide whether or not seniors may walk during the graduation ceremony if they have not passed the WASL, the state's test required for a diploma.

In the state of Washington students must complete and pass the required courses, complete a culminating project, and pass the three sections of the state test (the WASL). If a student does not complete all three of these requirements, a diploma will not be earned.

I think the school board should first decide the purpose of the graduation ceremony. Is it simply an all-inclusive ceremonial function for all seniors, or is the ceremony a recognition of accomplishment involving only those receiving a diploma?

The potential difficulty I see arising is if students may walk during the ceremony without having completing all three requirements, which ones should be waived for ceremony participation? Is the state test the one to be set aside for participation? If so, why not the other two?

Currently, 100 seniors (about 20-25% of the senior class) would not be allowed to walk. This could be embarrassing for the students and the school. I guess we'll see how serious individual schools and districts are about holding students entirely accountable for their successes and failures.

I hope the Wenatchee school board decides to allow all to participate or only those meeting the graduation requirements.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Lacking Cultural Literacy?

The other day in class I had The Monkees' "I'm a Believer" playing on the stereo, and one of the students asked me "Who screwed up the song?"

At first I was going to laugh, but then I noticed the question was sincere. I realized he was referring to the new Smashmouth version from the film Shrek.

I felt very, very old.

P.S. I heard a rap song using the beat from "Stand By Me," which is almost as bad as another artist I heard using The Archies' "Sugar, Sugar." Ugh!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Thesis Papers

At my school we typically teach the standard, 5-paragraph thesis paper. We use the inverted triangle to begin, include quotations in each supporting paragraph, and conclude with the opposite of the introduction--pedestrian, yes, but effective for beginning writers.

I have, as of late, experimented with other types of essay and am now curious what others do.

What do you teach in your school when teaching the thesis paper?

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Relationships are the Key

According to kids interviewed in an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, the keys for creating successful students are mostly cheap and obvious.

The students listed these items as the keys to their successes:

- a quiet environment,
- fewer distractions,
- smaller classes,
- encouragement from teachers,
- help from teachers, and
- the ability to make up missed work.

All of these ideas from the students reveal a need to establish, maintain, and deepen relationships with students--to know what students need and to know them.

This article adds credence to my fervent belief in relationship building in the classroom. I feel it's the most important aspect of teaching and is the primary reason for just about all of my successes in the classroom.

My students say much the same thing. My district said the same thing too, but only after numerous conferences, study groups, and trainings.

I guess we should have just asked the kids.

Simple Majority

According to Washington State newspapers, including the Seattle PI, the simple majority vote looks to be a success. Woo-hoo!


I love tangents in class. Yes, you heard me correctly: I love tangents in class.

Sometimes I learn more about my students in these situations than in any other, and sometimes we all learn a bit more about life than we could have done during the normal lesson.

Today while discussing the scene in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn where some townspeople exhume a body, students began asking unusual questions.

"How bad would the body be when they dig it up?"

"Is it true that the hair and nails grow when you die?" (I enjoy watching the kids' faces when myths are debunked.)

"What is left when a body is cremated?"

"How much is left after cremation?"

"Where did cremation start?"

(Oddly enough and maybe eerily enough, I just watched a program about cremation a few weeks ago on The History Channel, so I could answer many of these questions.)

This led to a discussion about why people choose burial over cremation and vice versa. Also, we discussed how (sub)urban myths begin and what a few are. Finally, we discussed how the exhumation scene could become a part of a CSI episode and how the frauds (the king and duke as the Wilks brothers) could be exposed today and how they could succeed in conning a family. All this in the final 30 minutes of class!

What a great day! The kids were engaged, they asked questions, they bounced ideas back and forth, and we all learned about one another. While we may have strayed from my intended discussion items, the kids thought critically, explored deeply, and decided to research the topic some more.

I wish I had inspired them myself, but I'll take true and honest curiosity any day.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Loving My Students

My classes were awesome this week!

American Literature: These kids have jumped right into The Crucible and explored the play wholeheartedly. They're asking the right questions and seem genuinely enthused to start each day. I think the groups I created are finally creating the collaboration I wanted to see.

College in the High School: They love The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn! It's the first time they have actively pursued the themes and nuances of the readings this year. One of kids said he really enjoyed the sonnet they wrote as well (from the perspective of a character in The Crucible), which prompted most of the kids to agree. I need to create more of these creative writing literary analysis writings.

Mythology: I have successfully turned them into the "myth geeks" I warned them they would become. At least ten kids in each class have explained how they identified mythological references in TV shows, movies, comics, and so on. I love it!

Sophomore Honors: We just finished a unit on The Chosen and Night, and the students explored both in Socratic circles for three days, and I never had to intervene. They continued the conversation with respect, introspection, curiosity, and thoughtfulness. I am so proud of them!


This week the leadership team drove me to leave the school at exactly 3:15. Normally I don't get frustrated enough to feel like I had to escape the windowless confines of the school, but this time I'd had it and needed a release.

First, we had a documented case of MRSA. A student in the school had it, but no one was notified until after the fact. We were notified this Wednesday. Initially I was told the admin team first knew on Monday. Then I found out a district office official discussed the issue with them on Friday. Yesterday I learned the Athletic Office knew last Monday.

No one let the staff know of this situation until 9 days after the case was at least suspected. For a week everyone was at risk! One teacher asked the Boss Lady (at a staff meeting Wednesday when we were first notified) why she didn't trust us enough to inform us of a possible contagion in our midst. I thought "why not care enough to let us protect ourselves?"

Secondly, we have a decision-making body in our school consisting of parents, students, teachers, other staff members, and the Boss Lady. For some unknown reason the Boss Lady and her lackey (who got voted in as co-facilitator because the team's teachers wouldn't step up to help lead the group) decided to stop recording who votes what way.

This is our only means of holding our voted-upon leaders accountable! How do we know if our wishes as a constituency are being promoted if we can't see how our leaders vote? The response: we (the royal "we") decided to stop doing it. This means a practice which has existed for over a decade was stopped without a group vote, discussion, or consideration of why it was there.

Thirdly, we no longer receive the meeting agendas and meeting minutes in our e-mail. While this may sound like a small issue when the information is available on a website, it follows the series of actions attempting to hide information and skew information. By making the information less readily accessible, fewer people will see it and hold the decision-makers responsible.

Overall, the leaders in the building continue to want to hide information of paramount importance and desire to decrease accountability for themselves. Grrr!

Sunday, November 4, 2007


If you haven't seen Chalk, you need to leave the house right now and get it. And watch it. And laugh. And shake your head. And laugh some more. I laughed so hard I cried.

I'm not sure if I laughed so hard because the move was that funny or if I could relate so much to some of the teachers and their plights. Plus, I recognized some of the characters teaching in the classroom next to me or sitting in the third row of my class.

If you're a teacher, you'll get it and love it. In some ways, the cover says it all.

Other movies I enjoy as a teacher:

Stand and Deliver

And for a real stretch: Idiocracy


I find it interesting--not necessarily effective--that a teacher refuses to administer the state-mandated standardized test. Other than gaining a bit of notoriety and calling attention to something already not popular, I'm not sure what the teacher hopes to accomplish. While I do not believe the state tests are a good idea, I can't say a protest of this sort will accomplish much.

Granted, I don't know what the Wisconsin state test covers, but I do know I can get over 90% of my kids to pass it without much additional workload or adjustment to my classroom curriculum. Really all I do is wordsmith my questions to match the test's language and ensure the students answer in a particular style.

I firmly believe the age of standardized testing will pass within 4-5 years when just about every school in my state is labeled as failing. The public will be outraged and will pressure the government to make changes if someone does not intervene between now and then.

Time will tell.