Posted in Collaborative learning, ELA, English, Literature, Writing assignments

Chapter 37: Texting with Antigone

About 11 years ago, I worked with a young teacher at an interest-based digital-media magnet school who was struggling to get her sophomores to write. At the time, I oversaw part of the magnet program, and I nudged her to think in terms of our school’s theme.

To that end, I asked her one question: “Do the kids text?”

Of course they did, she said. All the time. It was driving her nuts; we were supposed to confiscate their phones if they used them in class, and for a while, that seemed to be all we did all day.
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Posted in Kinesthetic, Learning styles, Math, STEM, Tactile

Chapter 36: Positive or negative?

When I taught math in Tulsa, one concept my freshmen really struggled to understand was the difference between positive and negative integers. They simply could not get their heads around the idea that -5 was not the same thing as 5, and I despaired of ever making them understand it.

We added and subtracted. We graphed inequalities on number lines made from yardsticks and chalkboard paint. I constructed a walkable number line and had them wander back and forth to solve problems. We wrangled with those integers every day, in every way I could dream up, to no avail: Some kids caught on, but some still would get to the end of a lesson and say, “Isn’t minus three the same thing as three?” until I was ready to pull my hair out.

I decided the lesson would be more memorable if they were emotionally invested in it, so I brought in a bag of Starbursts and started handing them out, a few at a time, with instructions to wait until the end of class to eat them.

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Posted in Evaluations, Getting over myself, Growth, Professionalism

Chapter 34: Weighed in the Balance

Last week, I spent an entire blog entry singing the praises of my boss and telling y’all how much I trust her.

I wasn’t lying. I do trust her. I enjoy her visits to my classroom. I have a good time with her. But there are moments when I really don’t want to see her, and Thursday morning was one of them.

Thursday morning was my semiannual observation.

Intellectually, I know my boss isn’t going to torch me on an evaluation. That’s not how she operates. She sees me doing cool stuff with the kids several times a week and consistently praises my lessons. But I had a bad experience with an evaluation my first year teaching, and 22 years later, it still bothers me.
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Posted in Advice for rookies, Background, Office politics, Professionalism

Chapter 30: Professional Relationships

This is my boss. She and I get along well. Part of that has to do with her: She understands what I’m trying to do, honors most of my requests, and doesn’t lose her mind if we disagree occasionally. Part of it has to do with me: I understand what she’s trying to do, honor most of her requests, and don’t lose my mind if we disagree occasionally.

This balance is simple, but it requires some effort. Some people won’t talk to administrators unless they’re in trouble. That’s a recipe for disaster. I’m not saying y’all need to be BFFs, but if you chat with your building administrator regularly, you’ll understand each other better when conflicts arise.

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Posted in ELA, English, Literature, Shakespeare, Success

Chapter 29: Come, Ye Spirits

Confession time: Lady Macbeth was one of the reasons I became an English teacher.

My senior year, I was sure I hated Shakespeare. After all, we’d readĀ Romeo and Juliet my freshman year and Julius Caesar my sophomore year, and I’d hated both.

At the time, I was a hopeless Andrew Lloyd Webber fangirl. I had fallen in love with Evita over the summer. And my teacher knew it.

By the time she got done describing Lady Macbeth, I was the ruthless Scottish queen’s biggest fan. I spent hours at the local city library, reading Contemporary Literary Criticism. I cut class to spend afternoons poring over back issues of Shakespeare Quarterly at SIU’s Morris Library. (I swear I am not making that up.) I drew elaborate pen-and-ink illustrations of my favorite scenes from the play. And, of course, I memorized the speech from Act I, Scene 5, in which Lady Macbeth invokes the spirits, reciting it before scholar-bowl tournaments to hype myself up and daydreaming about teaching it to a roomful of bright-eyed seniors.

This morning — 26 years, 900 miles, and an English degree later — a bright-eyed senior taught me something about that speech.

A girl had just read the first lines of Act II, Scene 2 — “That which hath made them drunk hath made me bold./What hath quenched them hath given me fire” — when a boy raised his hand.

“Do you think that could be the spirits she was talking about the other day?” he asked.

My jaw dropped.

Shakespeare LOVEDĀ puns. He played with words constantly. We talk about that a lot in class. And yet, somehow, neither my teacher, nor my British lit professors, nor my Shakespeare professor, nor I, nor any of the umpteen critics whose work I read in Shakespeare Quarterly stopped to consider that if you were a mean drunk — as Lady Macbeth implies she is — the “spirits that tend on mortal thoughts” might be more liquid than ethereal.

I don’t know whether that was Shakespeare’s intent. But it makes sense, and it’s certainly given me food for thought as I revisit an old favorite with kids who are seeing it through fresh eyes.

Emily