Skip navigation

Category Archives: teaching

Thank God I have friends who can tell me the truth.

Today I sat down with one of my more disruptive students during lunch to discuss his behavior in my class. Without even much prodding, he readily admitted that his behavior and antics were not creating a calm environment. He even stated those things without me having to do much prompting. His behavior changed completely the next period – he rose his hand, participated actively, and was alive in class.

If it weren’t for my faithful friend who proofread my letter to my students, then I would have used the same guilt-inducing, somewhat mean-spirited tactics that my own mother used on me. My friend gently reminded me what “works” with students (hint: it’s not your hurt feelings) and that the ultimate goal of discipline and “pep” talk is an objective standard of fairness, not vindication or even relationship repair. You don’t have control over whether a student wants to build a relationship with you or not, but you do have a right to judge whether an action or a word abides by the social contract.

Rereading my letter today, I now realize how much of my mother is speaking through me. My mother loved me dearly, but she had very little control over her tongue. She often used sharp words and called me “weak” or “scared” especially when I failed at something. She judged people quickly and even dared to state their insecurities without reservation. They were sometimes very unkind judgments. In my letter, I resorted to similar words thinking that could cow my students into submission as my own mother did. I did not stop to think about how that made me feel when my mother spit such venom, and failed to extend that empathy to my own students under such vindictive scrutiny. It is true then, that we become our parents without our even knowing it. I have used the same guilt inducing, venomous talk that my mother often used when she was upset with us or with others.

She still loved us, however. And from the same mouth came both curses and blessings.

To provide some context for this post, this past week I have been reeling from and feeding off of my own anger because my students have been driving me to the edge.I’ve stayed late at school giving imaginary, expletive-laden, Jim Harbaugh-like pep talks. I’ve screamed at the top of my lungs, cowing my students into fear and trembling.┬áIn reality, only one particular class, my 5th period, have created a hostile and unsafe environment for students and for me. The students in the rest of my periods are angels. I mean, really, they’ve done everything I’ve asked and more. That’s probably because I teach mostly ELLs from different countries, and they haven’t yet assimilated the whininess and general apathy of American teenage culture.

Anyways, going to bed. Glad I had some time to write.

Advertisements

I read this New York Times article the other day about how our education system does not help students write better. They lack “voice”, or they can’t even string together a sentence. Goldstein notes that “…the Snapchat generation may produce more writing than any group of teenagers before it, writing copious text messages and social media posts, but when it comes to the formal writing expected at school and work, they struggle with the mechanics of simple sentences” (Goldstein). It may be true that social media has exacerbated an already ongoing problem (the article states writing has been a problem at Harvard is late 1800s), but mobile technologies are wiring our brains to consume less text and more pictures, resulting in truncated speech.

It is a real pain in the ass when I have to read hundreds of student papers that are written in some accidental stream-of-consciousness. Capitalization, fragments, run-ons, and all sorts of careless writing horrors litter the page, but the research reminds us it’s “about the message” and not necessarily the form. Okay, I can understand that. Except I can’t even understand the message when the form has transformed into something unrecognizable.

Enough complaining. This article was instructive and I hope I can apply it somehow into my teaching. Oh yes, the reason why I started writing in the first place. The article reveals that teachers are also to blame because, not only do they not know the mechanicals of English themselves or possess the correct pedagogies and strategies, but also they do not know how to write. The article quotes Dr. Troia who states that teachers are great readers but poor writers. The answer, according to the article, isn’t simply to double down on grammar instruction and sentence construction. Studies reveal that such instruction in the abstract yields poor results.

The article, thankfully, ends with a few pro tips. ”

“First, children need to learn how to transcribe both by hand and through typing on a computer.”

Students in this generation type on the phone, a medium which lends itself to shorthand. Therefore, students hand-written or typed products are often awkward and incomprehensible. The medium matters.

“At every level, students benefit from clear feedback on their writing, and from seeing and trying to imitate what successful writing looks like, the so-called text models. Some of the touchy-feel stuff matters, too. Students with higher confidence in their writing ability perform better.”

This advice scares me the most. I need to provide clear feedback and opportunities for revision for my students. They need to learn how to imitate good writing that exhibits both clarity and feeling. I just don’t know if I have the energy and will power to provide commentary for all my students all the time. Especially since I am teaching three preps (different classes) this year. No one but a teacher could truly understand the death sentence in a 3 prep assignment for the school year.

Anyways. My takeaway is that I need to write more to sharpen my own writing. Got to commit to it like a fat kid on a diet program. Or an athlete in a muscle gaining program. Or something like that.