Current/Recent Reading List

11 December 2008

Standing Athwart Facebook Yelling "STOP!"

That's me.

I know Facebook went mainstream and ceased being only for the acne crowd lo many moons ago. I know adults my age and older are using it to keep track of old friends, classmates, etc. I know it is used for social networking in an age of dispersion and alienation.

But most of all I know that I don't care. I declare here and now that I will never, never, ever, never have a Facebook page.

This all comes up because the Wyfe is finally making noise about creating her own page so she can keep up with old high school and college buddies. She has been informed, however, that I want no part of it. A partial list of reasons includes:

1. I cannot disassociate Myspace and Facebook from the pernicious effects both have had on many a teenager I have taught.

2. I don't want to be found, or contacted by those who don't already know how to find me (for reasons only the CIA and I know about).

3. It would just be one more damn thing to keep track of.

4. Younger teachers tell me about students trying to "friend" them on their pages all the time.

5. I resent the de facto formation of verbs like "to friend" that have arisen as a result of these sites.

6. Deep down (well, Hell - not so deep down) I have always enjoyed playing the part of the crotchety old man who likes to be contrary, just because.

True, there is irony in the fact that I'm publishing this rant on a blog. But blogs are practically Victorian at this point, and could survive a Burkean analysis of established social traditions, I'm sure. (right? right?)

In any case, I'll have a Facebook page when they register me by tapping my cold, dead fingers on the keyboard.

09 December 2008

Advent Diary #1

Probably like most who hope (very often, in my case, not strongly enough) to live the faith in word and deed, I've never been a terrific keeper of Advent - Lent has always been an easier time of year for me to discipline myself, put off instant gratification, reflect on shortcomings and sins, and learn to wait.

This year I decided to keep all of this in mind more often, and focus more intently during Advent on the fallen world all around us, and within us, before Christmas Day. Frankly, I haven't been doing so well, but I have had many things going on that are serving as very ugly reminders. To wit:

1. Major, major girl conflicts going on in yearbook, which brings with it the exciting baggage of a psycho mom calling me on my cell phone and another mom expressing "disappointment" over my consideration of removing her daughter from the class before taking intermediate steps.

2. Major, major seven year-old conflicts going on with my son's basketball team (luckily he's not one of the problems) between a bully whiner kid and another kid who wants to quit because of him (I'm asst. coach again, natch).

3. A member of my teaching team avoiding the other two members of my teaching team at all turns, with no one knowing why or being brave enough to ask (she's not mad at me, I'm certain, but I think I'm going to have to play detective/mediator at any rate).

So there you go - high school girls and moms, seven year-old boys, and mid-twenties teachers served up in a big, happy Advent pie. Then again, I asked for it this year, didn't I? I trust God has His reasons.

08 December 2008

Acknowledging An Unacknowledged Sabbatical

Here's the thing this year- school begins at 7:10, which means I have to be up at 6:00 and moving quickly. We finish at 2:20, and can leave at 3:15, at which point I head straight to the elementary school and get in line so I can pick up the Boy. We get home, I help with homework, maybe get in a short snooze, then cook for the three of us before Wyfe arrives just after 6:00. Then it's clean the kitchen, maybe get in some exercise, and get the kid to bed. By that point, my blog motivation is hanging by a thread (and none of this even takes into account nights for baseball, and now basketball, both practices and games). So...

Yeah, the blog has been a big desert, as has out of school grading time, putting me way behind on everything. ARRRGHH!

But, I'm going to try and return from my month-long sabbatical somehow or another. I'll try to squeeze in some things as soon as I get home, at least on certain days and see how it goes.

It is true, by the way, that I did run over a deer last week, if you've heard the rumor. Not a reindeer, at least!

14 November 2008

Forgive Me Father, I Have Sinned.

I did the unthinkable, the unmentionable this week: I quit on Shakespeare!

Well, sort of. You see, I've been doing The Tempest with my sophomores the last couple of years, to nice (if not resounding) success. No worries - I'm still doing it this semester. However, earlier this year, when putting together the final reading list for my honors class, I gave the smartie-pantses a vote on one reading. We could invest about $2.00 a piece and buy enough additional copies of Cyrano De Bergerac to do that, or add Othello to the list, with no need for a purchase to be made. The cheap-o's voted Othello, but frankly I was excited about this since it meant being able to do two Shakespeare's in a semester.

Well, I had forgotten that Othello was a much more difficult play, with much more dense and intricate language, and scenes that are long and less easily-digestable. Plus, we are at that point in the semester where kids' motivations are waning, and laziness has settled in like an epidemic. Things were not going well at all with the noble Moor, so after we slugged through Act III, I decided to pull the plug.

If it was just a matter of their laziness, I wouldn't have done it, but I was getting no interest or traction at all, except from about three exceptionally bright girls. A senior honors class would have been able to handle Othello better perhaps, but I'm not going to try it with sophomores again. Given the time left in the semester, and that I want to get in The Tempest and another novel, I made the tactical decision to withdraw from this battle in order to win the war.

And, I warned them, it will be war next week with The Tempest, a play even my standard English classes get through without scrapes. It's just that the honors crew will be responsible for a whole lot more... uh... enrichment activities to do.

Still, there is the guilt of letting ole Willie down, and at least one of the girls who was actually enjoying the play is angry because we quit. Oh, "The expense of spirit in a waste of shame!"

05 November 2008

Craziness Doesn't End At The Finish Line

Well, no the election did not go the way I wanted it to, but I already knew that was going to happen a while ago. And no, I'm not bitter, and certainly have high regard for the historical whopper of electing a black man as president (who also ran a much better campaign, frankly). Mostly, though, I'm just so freakin' relieved it is over with...

Alas, there were landmines to attend to at school today, where I've heard it all in the past few weeks. I knew today would be full of rude euphoria and full of bitter brooding, full of bad sportsmanship on both sides, so to speak. And yes, I suppose I anticipated the Crazy showing up as well. Just to give you a taste:

-Earlier in the day, apparently, 15 students had to be escorted to the principal because they almost got in a post-election fight in their class.

-Some black students were in the hall saying, in defiant tones, "Black people are gonna' be able to do anything we want to now!" On Monday, many of these same students were saying, quite seriously, they wouldn't leave the house the day after the election if Obama won, because they didn't want the "dogs being set on them!"

-I heard from more than one yearbook student how eerie it is when you compare Obama with what you read in Revelations. (I think it's eerie when you compare any human being, including yours truly, with Mrs. Turpin in Flannery O'Connor's Revelation and find so many similarities, but that's a different topic).

-Someone said their Mama remarked that "The morals in this country are really going to go downhill now." (Is there still lower ground to be found?).

Be careful out there folks. Human nature is still alive and well.

24 October 2008

Three Terrific Things About Today

1. I seamlessly moved from giving instructions to my honors class about a writing assignment, to blistering, Marine style, an impertinent little bratty girl who got up out of her seat for the second time in the middle of my lecture, to moving back into lecture mode, all while barely drawing a breath or missing a beat. Outstanding!

2. Early voting! I voted today, and it was the most pleasurable presidential-year voting experience I've had since those great absentee-ballot days of my college years. Serioulsy - no lines, no annoying people, in and out in 10 minutes. There is nothing romantic about actual election day at the polls. Since we have an optional workday, I'll now be spending Nov. 4th in leisure, with the Boy. As for the t.v.? When it's on that day, it'll be limited to cartoons or sports stations (at least until around bed time).

3. With our seven-year olds down by a run, in a blowing rain storm, against a hyper-competitive rival team whose coaches always send their kids for extra bases even when it goes beyond the bounds of sportsmanship, I sent the tying runner home from third base under potentially dubious circumstances. The next hitter struck out for out three, and then the game was called due to rain, so we secured a non-loss, at least. Those guys really wanted to beat us, too, so our head coach and I shared a nice chuckle after the game.

Don't look at me that way... they totally deserved it. I swear.

22 October 2008

The Old Standby

In the midst of English departmental strife, misbehaving kids, sordid tales about things the adults in the school building do (both in and out of school), and that upcoming voting-related event which shall henceforward remain nameless in this space, it lifts my spirits a little to know that tonight begins yet another World Series, which is the huge sporting event I always look most forward to. The older I get, the more sentimental I get about baseball, moreso than any other sport.

Ah, yes, at least there will always be The World Series to count on... except for, uh, that one year back in the 90's, but never mind that.

21 October 2008

Carpooling: A Cautionary Tale

So, at the end of last year three English teachers and a science teacher decided that in 08/09 they would meet up at a central location in Raleigh and drive together for the 20-some miles it takes to get to school from there, for all the usual reasons of saving money and going green(er). The cinching criteria that the science teacher met, since the other three had already planned this, was that she could speak in similarly glowing terms of their preferred presidential candidate, thus ensuring their ability to speak openly and freely about the topic that sooooo commands most of their attention outside of school, namely politics, politics, politics. But, I happen to know, they are also pretty fair shots when it comes to trashing others, complaining about their personal lives, and deciding to stop for drinks, occasionally, on the way home.

Well, I share a first block planning period and a planning lounge with the other sophomore English teachers, including the youngest of the carpooling foursome, and we have been pretty good friends since last year, when we were both newbies at our current school. She is quite mature for her age, but she is just 24-25, and lately around her I've been reminded just how impressionable an age that still can be. You see, at first it seemed the carpooling was going swimmingly, but after a few weeks we noticed her coming in grumpier and grumpier, swearing more than usual. Soon she was prone to mini-rants (personal or political) every other day, some of which included harsh trashing of other school employees (notably, the science teacher mentioned above). She would also volunteer what others on the car rides were saying, and intentionally or not, painting not-so flattering portraits of them (two of them are my age, by the way, and I have been present for savage rants of theirs before as well).

A couple of weeks ago my young friend blurted out that she realized she had become quite cynical and negative, and wondered aloud if it was because of all the time she spent with her largely cynical and negative carpool buddies (Ding! Ding! Ding!). Last Thursday she came in looking sunken, had a rough day at work, and on the ride home had to hear about how one of the other riders was called onto the carpet by the principal for a lost temper at some meeting earlier in the week. On Friday, my friend was not at school, and the other teachers said she was taking a "mental health" day. Then, on Monday, upon her return, she told us she was no longer carpooling, and instead would live with the higher gas costs.

I will venture a guess that she will seem much happier within a week or two.

12 October 2008

Wonders of the eZine

It is a rare occasion, indeed, when I can tout my groundbreaking work (ha!) in using technology for the classroom. However, over the summer with the Writing Project, I learned about how to set up a private class "eZine" at Writing Matters, and so decided to give it a whirl with my honors class. I'm certain that more advanced teachers having been doing this sort of thing for years, but this was a bit of a plunge for me.

What you do is set everyone up with a password (so you can track deviant behavior), and then allow them to post a variety of academic, creative, rhetorical, or informal writings, which all others in the class can then post comments about. Of course, once I set it up, explained the rules, and displayed it for them, I didn't get the instant, "Oh, Mr. P this is the most wonderful, inspirational, rad, awesome idea ever! We're all going to post ten writings and comments tonight!!" reaction I was looking for, so I had to rely on one of my ingenious motivational techniques to get them going. Namely, I told them to post something, or get a "0".

Well, it worked, and the eZine really has taken off. There are something like 60 or 70 pieces of writing now up, and a plethora of comments. Fortunately, these have all stayed within bounds, and have been positive. I was hoping for a little more in the way of communal constructive criticism, but perhaps that will come as they get more comfortable sharing their writing and participating in give-and-take commentary.

In any case, I am so pleased with the results. Each week a few new things pop up there without prompting from me, and the kids seem to be into it. Now, the next frontier is to try it out with my standard English class, where many a reluctant writer presides. Still, I want to see how it goes with them, if I don't murder them for their fifth-grade mentalities beforehand...

26 September 2008

Those Given To Us

Well, they include those we work with, and we all know those folks impact our lives in a multitude of ways.

My immediate co-workers (English teacher subset) are eminently talented teachers, and eminently intelligent; most are truly fun to know, and blessings to their students. The majority of them (or at least the vocal majority), are also quite different from me in two key areas: politically, and religiously. Their politics, as one might expect, are mostly quite liberal; their religious beliefs are hard to categorize without deeper conversation, but suffice it say they display either a contempt for, or at least an ambivalence toward, religious institutions and church attendance.

If I had my way, it would never occur to anyone to bring these areas up in the workplace; and yet (especially as election fever has been rising over the last year) in my time at School #2 I've been stuck in the middle of countless English teacher break room/lunch break/after-the-bell-hanging-out gatherings that have, seemingly spontaneously, broken out into political/religious harangue sessions (today at lunch was the latest example). The language always seems to turn bitter and salty, and the certitude more, well, certain. And I have been the lone one in the room who might disagree with them. Last March, when I finally admitted I was refusing an offered cookie because chocolate was one of the things I gave up during Lent, the room suddenly turned into a funeral parlor. I don't conflate religion with politics, but imagine if I had added a positive comment about the surge in Iraq while I was at it.

Hard to say this without sounding like a braggart, but it's funny that in the department I'm probably the most scholarly, the most egg-headed, and the most seriously read of them all. Not a feather in my cap; it's just the way I roll, and my particular experience. But I'm also the most likely to hang out with, in fact to be one of, the petty bourgeouise who mows his yard, helps coach baseball, and doesn't cringe when someone says grace before a meal. Others who don't share my politics or religious beliefs do the same, but I find these folks much more like me than like my colleagues.

The everlasting question is, what to do in these awkward work situations, which, if I had my way, would never arise in the first place? To this point, I've basically remained silent. I feel neither the energy/interest to engage in political office debates, nor feel I possess the skill for them (the Wyfe might serve as a wonderful stand-in for me in such matters). It seems I am much less inclined to view my fellow man in political terms than they are, anyway.

Still, part of me believes I'm a wimp, pure and simple

I suppose I would be more comfortable with religious conversations, but I'm not one to bring these up, and don't feel my colleagues would engage in good faith anyway. To them, it seems, non-lapsed Christians fit all the worst caricatures of dumb redneck gay-haters.

Mostly, I wonder at their contempt and bitterness. I don't think they are idiots or rubes, and try to see their religious hang-ups, in particular, through compassionate eyes. Not everyone like them says what they do, or behaves as they do, so I try to resist engaging in caricaturing them the way they do to others. But they sure don't make it easy.

O.k., enough whining, Schoolboy.

21 September 2008

Want to Know What My Friday Morning Was Like?

We've been working on five-line poems in the past week: two nouns joined by a conjunction, prepositional phrase, subject and verb, and participial phrase - all meant to evoke more than explain. See what you can sleuth from this self-portrait (not as bad as it sounds, I promise!):

Neglected zipper,

and a morning beard untended,

upon his shirt red marker stains,

teacher of writing lost in words,

composing himself into a mug shot.

15 September 2008

Informal Poll For You

To attend a potential 20th year high school reunion, or not to attend a potential 20th year high school reunion? That is the question.

Pretty sure I already know my answer, but I would love some input and brief explanations for your answers.

12 September 2008

Irritation Station

That sums up my mood today, which is a shame since I haven't posted in so long (grading papers every night - hellllllp!), and things have mostly been off to a great start. But the past week was a trial, and when I finally sat down to post an update on Tuesday, we figured out our DSL modem had crapped out on us. Just got the new one today, and all appears well with the internets. But, withdrawal was an issue.

Update #1 - The Guest Speakers
As you may have seen in my comments, we were all prepared for an intervention with Ms. New Teacher over our uneasy feelings regarding her boyfriend and his brother coming to speak to the kids. But the evening before that happened, it turns out, another intervention occured: she and some of the other women English teachers had a blowout over the way she's been dressing (too provocatively), and she left school distraught. Fortunately - oh, most fortunately - I wasn't there. The next day, sensing a need to mend fences, no one had the heart to try and pull the "guest speaker rug" out from under her (there is a rather clever pun in that last phrase,I must say, if you can guess the country the guest speakers' parents are from). However, we did let her know some of our concerns, and we all felt a little better about it going in, albeit begrudgingly. Well, turns out the guys were really rather good. Their father was an enemy of the extremist regime which took over their country, and the family had to flee because of a hit out on him. They both praised America and Americans, and said we were loved among the populace in said country and its neighbors. They both said they wholeheartedly support both wars of the post-911 era. And, they both denounced the religious extremists who they believe warp their religion.

Now, if this had been a session of Meet the Press, there were probably many things they could have been grilled on, by me or others, as to the history of their religion and how it relates to current happenings. But at least there was no dissembling on their parts when it came to the topic of terrorism - they didn't even go for the "its partly due to decisions of the American government" line. And, considering the story they told of their family's terrifying flight, I think there is good reason to believe their sincerity.

Update #2 The Classes
Through the first two weeks I was absolutely in love with my classes. Then, as usual, they got comfortable and began showing themselves in the glory that is the full human being. Still love them, but this is when love becomes more the verb and less the sentiment.

I will say that among the kids in my honors class are a large number of first rate writers - best I've ever seen, and their personal narratives have been unbelievably good. On many occasions the writing has not only been outstanding, but has exhibited courage that makes me envious. My favorite piece is by a girl who recounted her experience of having a growth removed from her spine at age 5. The growth was so aggressive that the doctor's couldn't get it out in time to save her from partial paralysis, but she rehabilitated and rehabilitated, and finally was able to walk again. Today she is a normal teen whose right leg drags a bit, but who is also a first-rate violinist in a youth orchestra and probably the smartest person in a smart class. A beautiful story, beautifully written, by a beautiful young soul.

Update #3 The Soap Operas
Nasty political comments from English teachers who walk lock-step in the manner you might expect, nasty comments about the armed forces, catty comments about fellow carpoolers, yearbook kids with simmering feuds, mumbled misgivings about new teachers, mumbled misgivings about old, inflexible teachers, reluctance to share resources, grumpiness about our starting time (7:10 am!), hurtful gossip, dissimulations, grouchiness about graduation projects, snapping at secretaries, slamming doors, crying.

One month of work, and I've seen, or heard all of it. Such is the warp and woof of the school day. O.k., so that's not the whole picture, but I told you what kind of mood I'm in today...

God grant us grace.

26 August 2008

Best Quote Ever

From one of my honors students, in answer to a student info. sheet I give out at the beginning of the year:

Q: What are your strengths in English? What would you like to improve upon?

A: I'm good at reading and writing; grammar is a great weariness.

Yes, grammar is a great weariness, young lad. As are a number of other things...

In (not so) unrelated news, one of our new first year folks, fresh out of college, is basically sweet, and will probably be a very good teacher. However, she has to be taken in small doses at this point - way too much energy without enough direction. So, for the past eight days or so she has shared, every day, the fact that she currently dates a young man whose family is originally from a country we currently have troops in. And, this young man is devoted to a religion that, let's just say, has a controversial standing in post-911 America. Not only this, but because 10th grade in NC is devoted to World Lit., she has booked said boyfriend and his brother to come speak to 10th grade English classes next Wednesday and inform the kiddos all about said religion, pending approval from the principal.

Now, first of all, I'm not at a place in my unit plans where this is convenient yet (we'll read Persepolis later on), but to be a team player my classes will attend if the approval comes through. I would rather spend the time getting across the fundamental reading and writing practices in my classes that it takes a couple of weeks to establish. Second, I get the sneaking suspicion that there is a "let's educate the hick kids" mentality here. Third, even if these guys are absolute princes who have the best intentions of "bridging misunderstandings" (as I'm sure they are), what makes them expert enough to give such a talk, and how willing will they be to face questions about why many fellow Americans legitimately feel uneasy about their religion? Fourth, is this really, perhaps, just an outgrowth of overexuberant puppy love and a desire to show off Mr. Boyfriend (don't think they've been dating long)? Fifth, can someone get me Mark Steyn on the phone, and see if he can make the talk?

18 August 2008

New School Year Preview (Part 2) - You Know You're Old When...

... you look out among the sea of faces at your first big faculty meeting of the year, and notice a young new teacher who... OH MY GOD! SHE WAS MY EDITOR FOR THE FIRST EVER YEARBOOK CLASS I TAUGHT IN '03/'04, AT MY FORMER SCHOOL! SHE WON MY OUTSTANDING STUDENT AWARD FOR THAT CLASS!

It's true - This morning I looked over at where the business/marketing teachers were sitting, and I saw Suzie (not her real name, obviously), and didn't trust my eyes, so flipped through the faculty list in my new handbook. Sure enough, that's her. So as soon as the principal was finished talking, I rushed over to her, hugged her, and spent the rest of the day basking in the glow of getting to work with a former student. She seemed tickled and pleased about it as well. Last I had seen of her, she had no inclination towards teaching, but changed her mind between her sophomore and junior years of college. This is her first year in teaching, and her first real job!


Can you tell I'm excited? It was a great day all around actually, and I can't say that about every "first day back" I've ever had. For one thing, miracle of miracles, we were given half of the day to work in our rooms - trust me, that's quite a bit for Day 1. More later in the week.

15 August 2008

New School Year Preview (Part 1) - Why My Kids Will Hate Me

Yes, first workday is Monday. Sigh.

Well, might as well jump in the mud and get going from the start, which is what my kids are going to have to do. Partially because I'm brainwashed from my Writing Project experience of the summer, and partly because I was veering this way by the end of last semester anyway, I can proudly declare why my students will hate me this year:

They are going to write their asses off, more than ever! First, I'm incorporating a modified writer's workshop into my classes, where we will spend at least two days a week on nothing but writing and conferencing, and by the end of each quarter the students will be responsible for having finished several pieces of writing in a variety of forms. Many of the deadlines will be open-ended up to the report card deadline, which means self-discipline will be a premium quality. Those who wait until the last minute to do things (and we all know there will be several) will hear me say, "Ooops, too bad. I had plenty of time to help you the last eight weeks, but precious little now. Looks bad for you."

Also, continuing what I started to do last semester, I'm making all tests written tests, in one way or another. As I tell the kids, "Written tests, once I've told you what's expected on them, actually give you a better chance to show what you've learned. You are actually more in control of your grade than ever before." This not only forces the kids to think more, and in a higher-level fashion, but I am happy to reward effort, and I don't have to worry about cheating or guessing. And believe it or not, written tests are actually not that hard to grade when a rubric has been set up ahead of time.

So, we will write, write, write, and as much as possible, I will write alongside the little urchins in an act of solidarity against their outrageously unfair teacher.

Sound schizophrenic enough?

07 August 2008

I'm Late on This, But Can't Help Pointing It Out...

Rarely will you see me frequenting a Starbucks. Wyfe, on the other hand, is much more of an enthusiast, though to her credit, she just likes the coffee, and rolls her eyes at Starbucks pretensions.
Well, we always stop at the Starbucks drive-thru at the beginning of long interstate trips back home after visiting either my parents or hers. I always dread it when I'm the one in the driver's seat, because I have to repeat the nine or ten ridiculous words it takes to communicate Wyfe's order. As for me, I just ask for a medium coffee, which I guess ends up translating as, irritatingly, a regular "Grande".

Well, now I know I have at least one fellow traveler. This is from a while ago, the June issue of The New Criterion, but can't be passed up. From the wonderful, and curmudgeonly, media critic James Bowman:

On my occasional visits to Starbucks, the ubiquitous coffee merchants, I try to refuse to use the private language the company has thoughtfully provided for the convenience of its patrons. Sometimes I forget and ask for Tall, Grande, or Venti, but usually I ask, defiantly but with some embarrassment, for small, medium, or large, because I resent being forced into a greater intimacy than I desire with the Starbucks corporate culture. I want to be a customer, not a member of the Starbucks Club who validates his membership along with his entry on the premises by speaking the Starbucks idiolect. Doubtless the marketing department in Seattle has tested it to a fare-thee-well and found that most people are not like me; most people are happy to use the special, European-sounding jargon—the Stargot, as we might call it—because it flatters them into the belief that, along with their coffee, they have purchased at a very reasonable price admission to an exclusive circle of coffee-drinkers who are socially a cut or two above those who drink from the caffeine-springs of Dunkin’ Donuts or Ma’s Diner, where they use ordinary English.
Back on the other coast but with considerably less subtlety, The Washington Post has long been engaged in a similar exercise... [there is a] never-ending radio advertising campaign for the Post which ends with that newspaper’s supremely irritating slogan: “If you don’t get it, you don’t get it.” Was there ever such a crass appeal to intellectual snobbery by an organ purporting to be an arbiter of public tastes and morals?...

... Naturally, no one wants to be outside the circle of those who “get it”—a formulation once applied mainly to jokes but now used to indicate a political group-identity which defines itself in part by stressing the stupidity of those who do not share it. To be among those who “get it” is not only to hold a certain set of views that make one reliably progressive but also, by holding it, to be a member of the progressive club—which, like the Starbucks Club, is decidedly up-market socially.

The "Stargot", indeed!

03 August 2008

The Good Tears Were Sad Tears

With all the fun I've been making of the women-folk lately, especially in conjunction with the Writing Project experience, let me give you a small vignette about one day when I didn't mind the tears at all:

As mentioned previously, we were split into peer writing groups of four, and within these groups we read and gave each other feedback about our pieces, both online, and in person. In my group there was one lady in her fifties, one in her mid-thirties, and one in her mid-twenties.

The latter of these is a fifth grade teacher, and to observe her personality - bright, friendly, wholesome, and oh-so-maternal - is immediately to know that elementary education fits her well. Other clues about her cropped up each day during the first week of our institute: she baked breakfast goodies for us twice, she fussed over her hair and clothes when others wanted to take pictures, her necklaces and bracelets always matched her pants, and when she gave her presentation, she wore heels and a fairly formal black dress. She even told us that she and a few friends had started a cooking club together. If I had to pick one person I know who could go back in time and survive, probably thrive, as a stereotypical 1950's-style housewife, it would be her. Her first writing, a childhood memoir, was about the aw-shucks vacations her family always took at a cabin by the lake (yes, they even toasted marshmallows), while all her other friends went to Disney, or Cancun, or Hilton Head. I wondered aloud if she felt a jealous tension over what her friends got to do compared to her, and in total seriousness she said, "Nah." All of this made me privately giggle a bit - which is probably patronizing - but I meant no harm. She was obviously a wonderful person, but a bit of a throwback, and without much life experience yet.

Or so I thought. The next writing assignment was a personal narrative, in which we were to explore a formative event in our lives. We read these in our peer groups, and we were even being recorded as part of a study on peer writing feeback. My young friend waited until last to read hers, and I sensed a different confidence about her this time, like she knew she had something good. From the first couple of paragraphs, it was obvious I was right. Her writing was funny this time, all about her hair: the travails she had as a young girl when her mother wouldn't let her wear it long, and then the absolute self-esteem she had, once she was allowed long hair, from her teen years to the present. Even once she was married and gainfully employed, she occasionally had nightmares that her hair had been all cut off. These were mere dreams, though, and life seemed to be sailing along.

As she read, I knew some turn of fate was coming, but never suspected it would be too bad - perhaps just a mild admonition life brought along to remind her that looks aren't everything. When the turn came, though, we were all unprepared for the gravity and immediacy of it. She read of how, merely a few months ago, she miscarried a baby, and her beloved grandmother died, back to back. She reached this point in the paper so suddenly that I could almost hear my own internal "thud". Concurrently, all the confidence in her voice fell off, and she began sobbing. This was obviously awkward, and one of the other group members offered to read for her, while I dug in my pocket for a tissue to offer. She took the tissue, but wanted to keep reading, and she did, though with difficulty. Turns out, on the day her baby would have been due, she scheduled a hair cut, wanting to take inches off, wanting to feel like she could make a fresh start. When it was over, her feelings of brokeness, alas, had gone nowhere, and she finally had to squarely face herself and her grief.

It was a stunning story, and a stunning effort to finish reading it, all the while fighting back tears. We all eventually tried to offer a few pointers here and there about how to improve the piece, but frankly it needed no improvement - not then, anyway. The best I could tell her, in the end, was, "That was an awesome piece of writing, but I'm so sorry."

Two days later, when it came time to pick one member of the peer group to read to everyone, we told her she was the pick, and crossed our fingers. She read with absolute composure, but absolute conviction, her voice not breaking until the final sentence.

In the face of her bravery, who cares what I was thinking, really, but I'll tell you anyway. What I felt was absolute pride in my young friend, who I know now, better than I did before, will some day be a perfect mom.

30 July 2008

How I Know I'm A Tough Guy

So, in what situation would I consider myself tougher, grittier, and more battle-tested than a stout, 27 year-old high school wrestling coach (and former state champion wrestler) who appears in excellent shape?

Why, when negotiating the world of women, naturally (Wyfe would totally agree, I'm confident). You see, this young fellow and I were the only two men in the Writing Project class this summer, surrounded and outnumbered by a ratio of 7-1. The women ranged in age from mid-20's to mid-60's, and they really were a fun group to work with. However, you know in a situation where over the course of three weeks everyone was asked to write and share childhood memories and personal narratives what was probably coming; you also know that when it's time to say goodbye and head off in different directions after bonding for three weeks that emotions will be outporing.

One activity we had to complete was to "spy" on someone over the course of the three weeks, careful not to reveal who they were, and then produce an appreciative piece of writing (I wrote a light-hearted sonnet, for instance) about them based on what we learned and observed. The last thing we did on Friday was share these and reveal who we were "spying" on. My man-creeps almost got the better of me when we were told to form ourselves into a "sharing circle" for the occasion, but I managed not to complain. Then the festivities began and, oh my, did the tears flow. After only the second presentation the lady sitting to my right spontaneously burst into sobs, and I actually wanted to turn and admonish her with a stern, "Oh, stop it!" Instead, I accepted my place in the universal order and fulfilled my given duty by sighing heavily, and then walking across the room and getting the Kleenex box for her. From then on I amused myself (and others) by being irascible tissue guy, walking the box around wherever it was needed. As for my poor young compadre, who is not married or dating seriously, he seemed shell-shocked, a wrestling coach out of water. Just follow my lead, kid - I'll see you through this.

I did suggest, for the sake of next year's two or three beleaguered male participants, that they at least relocate the "sharing circle" to a sports bar.

29 July 2008

Digging Out

Well, the Writing Project summer institute is over, and I feel like I just went through another school year all within the span of three weeks. Seriously - as we reached the end of the line last week, I had that same vibe I get when we enter the last week of the school year: satisfaction, relief, and fatigue all at once. Now I've got three weeks to recover, and organize the tremendous amount of information I received at the institute, before I report to duty. Well, realistically, let's make that a week to recover and organize, and then two weeks to get ready before reporting to duty.

After persevering through it all, though, I can now proudly call myself a Fellow of the National Writing Project.

So, was it all worth it, and what was a typical day like at the institute? Here is my attempt at digestable answers to those burning questions, with a couple of follow-up posts coming soon:

Was it worth it? Absolutely. On a purely selfish level, I was able to work on my own writing, receive great feedback on it from others, and get encouragement to write more for potential publication. We'll see where all that goes, but it's nice to have the enthusiasm. On a professional level, the institute provided a high level of useful training and knowledge, which anyone who has to attend professional development of any kind can appreciate. Not every minute or every presentation was completely outstanding, but most of what we did was at least useful, and at most convinced me to make life-altering changes in the classroom. In addition, there was a tremendous sense of community built up between all of the participants, and I can now count several new, genuine friendships as a result. More on both of these latter points soon.

What was a typical day like? Well, first it was nice that our instructors and fellow participants were all fairly laid back, but not frivolous with time. Most mornings started with a short writing activity or idea, and then the days were filled with a combination of the following: presentations by participants, writing peer group meetings for feedback/criticism on our own work, demonstrations of writing activities, short lectures on academic research about writing, reading our work aloud, developing lesson plans or writing assignments for our students, and learning all about Web 2.0 (I hate that pretentious phrase) and what it might offer writing teachers (wikis, class blogs, class eZines, digital storytelling, Delicious, aggregators, etc.). Most of the web stuff was new to me, and I can't say I'll use much of it, but will use some.

Yes, we had homework, too, which is a real pain in the ass when you also have to get your child to and from evening swim lessons, and do stuff like, you know, eat. But it was mostly writing, and I'm fairly pleased with the final products. Without the deadlines, I would never have written as much as I did.

In the next couple of posts I'll go into some detail on a few of the things I've learned, what I've decided to change in the classroom, and how much crying I had to put up with (you can guess, I'm sure).

21 July 2008

Days 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8....


Sorry folks - I'm out of commission until this darned thing is over with (Friday, Thank God!). Be back with you then and can let you know of my writing adventures. Take care!

08 July 2008

The Writer's Project - Day 1

I won't have time to go into extensive detail (besides, I'm already tired of writing, which doesn't bode well), but each day I'll try to give you some highlights. From today:

* Someone in my peer group (a sweet soul, really) cried when she read her draft of a childhood memory, which involved the death of her dog. Awkward? You know, not really. After all this time (see multiple previous posts of mine over the last couple of years about working with women and yearbook girls),I've come to expect it.

* I wrote about the shameful time a friend and I threw mudballs into our neighbor's kitchen, and put his sister's bra in a glass of tea, while he and his family were visiting relatives on a Sunday afternoon. Hey, I was less than 10 years old, and my neighbor was bullying us, if you're looking for mitigating circumstances.

* No one has made themselves annoying so far by trying to dominate all proceedings, but there is at least one candidate showing potential.

* Our "gathering time" (i.e., time to show up for class) is listed as 8-9. That is what I call a laid-back approach.

* My hand still cramps up after writing for a long time, just like in the old days before these keyboard thingies.

*The lady I'm going to do a presentation with in a couple of weeks is very unsure of herself. Not sure how that will play out.

*Writing is actually, like, fun sometimes. Who knew?

01 July 2008

Murray's "Educational Romanticism"

I'm way behind on this (for all I know it's been making internet rounds for weeks), but back in May The New Criterion published an issue dedicated solely to education. While most of the articles involved the sad decline of the humanities in our colleges and universities, there was one lively article on K-12 public schools, entitled "The Age of Educational Romanticism" (sorry, it's a subscriber only article), from none other than Charles Murray. Frankly, I don't know enough about Murray's past arguments (The Bell Curve, et. al.) to comment on them in-depth, though if no less a personage than Shelby Steele has some criticisms, I'm willing to believe that Murray has at least not careful enough in stating his case from time to time. I'm not for genetic essentialism (though I am for recognizing reality, and I've yet to be able to run the 100m dash in under ten seconds!), and in my experience neither race nor sex factors in to who is highly intellectual and who isn't.

However, I've seen Murray interviewed often enough to say I agree with one of his basic premises, which is that our country's education establishment puts too much effort into trying to make everyone a college-bound academic all-star when we know full well only a certain percentage of the population has the ability and/or desire to be that. I would never say this means we shouldn't do our best with all the students we teach, or that those who aren't academic all-stars can't learn at all. But no public school teacher will honestly tell you all his or her kids, no matter their learning styles, will learn equally well.

In this latest article, Murray declares that both those on the left and the right are guilty of a romanticism that is out of touch with educational realities:

In public discourse, the leading symptom of educational romanticism is silence on the role of intellectual limits even when the topic screams for their discussion. Try to think of the last time you encountered a news story that mentioned low intellectual ability as the reason why some students do not perform at grade level. I doubt if you can. Whether analyzed by the news media, school superintendents, or politicians, the problems facing low-performing students are always that they have come from disadvantaged backgrounds, or have gone to bad schools, or grown up in peer cultures that do not value educational achievement. The problem is never that they just aren’t smart enough.

Murray points out that while those factors may affect attitude or application, study after study shows that one's intellectual ability is more or less fixed in place before a child even enters school, regardless of race, sex, or background. He says no programs or strategies make much of a dent in this circumstance:

...There are no examples of intensive in-school programs that permanently raise intellectual ability during the K-12 years (minor and temporary practice effects are the most that have been demonstrated). No one disputes the empirical predictiveness of tests of intellectual ability—IQ tests—for large groups...

...If a classroom of first-graders is given a full-scale IQ test that requires no literacy and no mathematics, the correlation of those scores with scores on reading and math tests at age seventeen is going to be high. Such correlations will be equally high whether the class consists of rich children or poor, black or white, male or female. They will be high no matter how hard the teachers have worked. Scores on tests of reading and math track with intellectual ability, no matter what.

Now, Murray points out that a really, really bad and violent school - or a really, really bad home life - might end up affecting these scores, but that in even a below-average school with below-average funding (like my former school), the intelligent child will almost always show the same aptitude throughout his or her school years. He or she may get lazy, or may get in trouble, and may fail classes left and right, but the innate intellectual ability does not change:

The normally bad school maintains a reasonably orderly learning environment and offers a standard range of courses taught with standard textbooks. Most of the teachers aren’t terrible; they’re just mediocre. Those raw materials give students most of the education they are going to absorb regardless of where they go to school. Excellent schools with excellent teachers will augment their learning, and are a better experience for children in many other ways as well. But an excellent school’s effects on mean test scores for the student body as a whole will not be dramatic. Readers who attended normally bad K-12 schools and then went to selective colleges are likely to understand why: Your classmates who had gone to Phillips Exeter had taken much better courses than your school offered, and you may have envied their good luck, but you had read a lot on your own, you weren’t that far behind, and you caught up quickly.

The problem, as Murray sees it, is that we squander billions of dollars in efforts to make all kids highly intelligent, though this is something nature alone has control of. When they still aren't all highly intelligent after our money and efforts, we in the education business dishonor the less intellectual by deciding that, by God, we've just got to make them like we are (or like we think we are)!. The rationale behind the No Child Left Behind Act (which, Murray points out, "a Republican president of the United States, surrounded by approving legislators from both parties [emphasis mine, b/c Bush always gets all the blame in education circles], signed into law") is that if we just re-double our efforts and make our schools tow the line a little more, all children will suddenly have that high IQ that Antoine and Susie have. So, we pay particular attention these days to the lowest performing students, thinking if they just get even more time and attention and scrutiny, they will be Antoine and Susie. But they aren't, and though they might now score a little higher than they would without this attention, they are not on their way to Harvard. AND, guess what? There's nothing wrong with that.

But wait, people say, what about the good old days when students performed at so much higher levels, and could grasp so much more academic material?:

Wrong. American schools have never been able to teach everyone how to read, write, and do arithmetic. The myth that they could has arisen because schools a hundred years ago did not have to educate the least able. When the twentieth century began, about a quarter of all adults had not reached fifth grade and half had not reached eighth grade. The relationship between school dropout and intellectual ability was not perfect, but it was strong. Today’s elementary and middle schools are dealing with 99 percent of all children in the eligible age groups. Let today’s schools not report the test results for the children that schools in 1900 did not have to teach, and NAEP scores would go through the roof.

Again, I would never say we shouldn't be teaching 99% of the population - everyone can learn and improve to some degree - but I must say his point rings true in my exerience.

If, in the past, lower performing students were totally ignored, that was wrong; but then again, principals shouldn't hire teachers who ignore whole blocks of students - that's not our job description. On the other hand, how can we draw a realistic line when it comes to the allocation of our resources, maintain realistic goals, and also do justice to our smartest kids?

26 June 2008

Top 12 Things Actually Overheard On the Yearbook Camp Trip to the Beach

Here's a fun game. See if you can guess which of these was said by students, by Wyfe, by the Boy, and by me. Fortunately, none of them were spoken by a policeman or a hotel authority.

(By the way, here's more can't miss reading on this epic foray to Atlantic Beach, NC from Wyfe herself ).

Anyway, on to the list:

12. She couldn't find her survey form because it was under her pile of dirty bras and t-shirts.

11. If you actually try to dine-and-dash, I'll hunt you down, kill you with a blunt instrument, and bury you in a shallow grave.

10. Look, this one's not my fault; the freakin' Google Map directions say "TURN RIGHT". See that - "TURN RIGHT!"

9. Really? You're from Korea? So do you speak, like, Korean?

8. Last I saw, she was sprawled out on the floor in the hallway talking on her iPhone.

7. Mr. P, will you figure out who's room you can move me into? I'm not comfortable being in there with those two girls; they're in that cheerleader clique.

6. Are you o.k., Mr. P.? I've never seen you look so tired.


4. NO! I don't want any teenagers to sit in the back seat with me! They might have on their bikinis and stuff! Yuck!

3. But they told me on the phone their average meal price was $12.00.

2. Well, I haven't actually asked my mom if that's o.k., but I know she would say "yes".

And... (drumroll, please)

1. Mr. P., why do you have such a scowl on your face?

22 June 2008

Off Again

This time it's the yearbook workshop trip to the beach for two days. Among our merry band will be Wyfe and child, 14 teenagers, and a couple of other adult chaperones (thankfully). Should prove to be fodder, I hope, for some amusing tales, and nothing more than that (he prays!). Talk at you when we return.

20 June 2008

The Boston Marathon, Vacation Style

Well, at least we felt like we'd run the marathon by the time we got home Tuesday morning.

Yes, that's the Tuesday morning following the Monday night we were supposed to return. That night we boarded our plane only to be promptly informed that due to east coast storms we were to be delayed at least an hour. After that hour passed, we heard some relatively optimistic mumblings from the captain, and began rolling down the runway. Eventually we were in the on-deck circle, when we were informed that a storm was right over Boston, and that if we couldn't take off within the next 20 minutes we would have to return to the gate because the first officer's mandatory quittin' time (FAA rules) was upon us. So, we returned to the airport, while Wyfe and I tried to console our sobbing six year-old, and after another hour or so we were informed that more storms had popped up, and the flight was canceled. After about 6 hours of sleep in the hotel they put us up at, we were back on board early the following morning, and I'm happy to say made it back fine. But patience, individual and collective, was sorely tried.

The time in Boston itself was much fun - we just missed out on the basketball celebration, which was probably fortuitous, though I sort of wanted to see the pandemonium from the safety of our hotel room. Speaking of the hotel, we were right on the harbor, across the street from Quincy Market, and adjacent to North End, with it's 90 Italian restaurants. In other words, a great location, which explains the cost (we were only paying one night's worth out of our pockets, since this was a work-related trip for Wyfe). The aforementioned six year-old adjusted quite nicely, and was content to do a lot of walking and exploring, though we threw a horse ride, an aquarium visit, and a children's museum foray into the mix.

Back to the North End for a minute. I'm an absolute nut for Italian food (any region, frankly), so we ate there for dinner both nights. Wyfe and I were there for a brief visit nine years ago, and just picked a restaurant from a hat and tried it - it was great, but we couldn't remember the name of it all these years later. Well, after walking around Saturday we passed what looked like the same place, and determined it had to be. So, on Sunday we ate there (the Piccola Venezia), and left the place so stuffed we could barely breathe. I checked with the waiter, and sure enough they were there and in business back then, and he could very well have been our waiter, since he worked there too. It was great fun, and the food was both tremendous in taste and quantity. The heaping helping of eggplant rollatini with linguini and sauce would explain the smile below:

It was my third time in Boston, and there are still whole sections of the city I've never seen. The only other major, major cities I've been to are London, Philly, Atlanta, and D.C. (which is borderline on the major scale). I love Boston, but will admit I find Philly a little more hometownish for some reason, though I grasp Boston's geography more easily.

In all cases, though, I'm afraid the stereotypical country boy comes out in me after a while. Them cities is nice places to visit and all, but I shore wouldn't want to live there, as they say (and you know who they are)! It's great fun to be able to walk a short ways to get anything you need, but a couple of days pass, and I begin to tire of buildings and bridges and large bodies of water always looming before, above, or around me. Some of the very facets of the city that seem most attractive at first - the hum of cars and crowds, the constant events, the buzz of busy-ness and things always in the process of becoming - are also what eventually repulse me or leave me feeling just a tad lonely, even in the midst of so many people. There, my friends, you have the inherent tension of many an American novel. But I'll leave that to the professionals!

13 June 2008

Don't Blink

That is the title of the ubiquitous Kenny Chesney song being heard at many, many graduations, class awards programs, senior breakfasts, baccalaureate services, etc. this year. It's really hokey and cliched and full of too many drums and hard-edged guitar riffs to qualify as real country music, or really as even a good song. And yet, I heard it three times yesterday in the course of graduation goings-on, and tears welled up every time. My God, what will I be like the day my own son graduates? Probably a total mess.

Anyway, zee school year, it eez finished, and the family is headed to Boston tomorrow for a quick little vacation trip. Upon my return, I will write a mostly comprehensive reflection on the 07/08 days of yore, but until then how about a little quiz?

Let's set this up by proposing that at a school filled with teachers who hold multiple degrees, and filled with a sizable population of well-to-do students, the level of crazy and bizarre behaviors or happenings would not be expected to reach the levels I experienced in my old poorer, rural school district which the Wyfe used to declare was cursed. Now that we've accepted that proposal, here's the quiz:

Which of the following happened over the last 15-20 school days at my humble place of occupation:

A) A teacher became the center of everyone's attention because of amassing evidence that she's been carrying on with a 16 year-old sophomore (a jerk, too, who I taught this year). Administrators began asking other teachers for official affidavits regarding the matter.

B) A screaming match between certain English teachers over the direction of the senior project over the next few years.

C) A bad teacher, who is pregnant, accidentally checked a "resignation" box on a form, instead of "leave-of-absence", and no one told her (purposely) about the mistake until it was too late.

D) A young teacher discovered e-mails and phone calls from her husband to another woman and learned that he was indeed cheating on her. She filed for legal separation immediately.

E) A student and his mom laughed together as I told them over the phone that he wouldn't pass English and would have to go to summer school. "Oh, I know!" they both said.

F) A middle-aged Spanish teacher and a poorly dressed biology teacher almost got into fisticuffs prior to graduation ceremonies when the latter heard the former complain loudly about how undignified her attire was for the occasion. A sherriff's deputy posted at their station had to keep the uh, ladies, separated until they cooled down.

G) One of Mr. P's yearbook and English students, 16 years-old, had to have open heart surgery today because her bone structure was going to lead to her sternum crushing her heart (she is petite and in good health otherwise, by the way).

H) An allegedly roid-using senior stormed off the field at graduation practice because the principal had the nerve to pull him aside and speak to him about the Blue Tooth in his ear and the pimp strut he was doing across the stage.

I) All of the above.

I won't patronize you by actually telling you the correct answer. So much for my Wyfe's theory, though I suspect her next one will involve pointing out that I'm the common denominator. Sigh.

07 June 2008

One... Week...To....Go...

losing consciousness... must reach Bat Utility Belt...

Oh, hi. Yes, I'm still kicking around, though I'm doing so with much guilt over the lack of blogging. Just gotta tell you folks, the last couple of months (school, weekend workshops, t-ball and softball) have left me drained of, well, most everything, including time and motivation for blogging. I don't even know where to begin, but I want to get back into a more regular groove now that blessed summer is almost here. Actually, along the east coast it seems to already be more than here, what with the 100 degree heat and all. That, plus the gas prices, make me wonder just how much I should be excited about summer break, but I'll choose to ignore the ominous warnings for now.

Here is a quick update. Last Sunday afternoon I went down and saw the Baccalaureate service for the senior class at my old school, which was well worth it. Everyone was so welcoming and so, well, the same! In some cases, I guess, a few months don't make a huge difference

Thursday night should be my last official day of the school year, with graduation ceremonies that night. It appears we will not be in for any major cool-down by then, so cross your fingers that we won't have a phalanx of ambulances set up to ferry heat stroke victims to the hospital.

After that, my son and I will be tagging along with Wyfe to Boston next Saturday - she has a conference on Monday. Our hotel location, right on the "Hah-buh", can't be beat, and expect us to spend lots of time (especially meal time) among the rows of Italian restaurants on the north end. Too bad the Red Sox are out of town, but we will also be hitting the famous aquarium and some of the Freedom Trail.

In the meantime, I'll try to get back into writing mode with a few odds and ends. Hope I still have some readers out there!

26 May 2008

Publications Hell

Let's begin with a quick round-up of the publication for which I bear responsibility, that darned yearbook I've been whining about all year. Of all the times of the year I thought I wouldn't struggle with, the spring would have been my choice. But our books came in about 10 days ago, and suffice to say I was not at all prepared for what distributing 900 yearbooks would be like. Literally, I could have (and if it was a regular business, would have) spent the entirety of each day last week on nothing but yearbook matters. I could easily have sold thirty more, as well, if there had been any left.

What killed me was, in the midst of trying to prepare and teach academic classes, being bombarded by phone calls, kids at the door, parent e-mails, teachers and teacher's aides regarding YEARBOOKS! YA GOT ANY YEARBOOKS LEFT? ONE OF MY KIDS ALREADY HAS A BOOK, BUT CAN I BUY ONE EACH FOR MY OTHER 5 KIDS? I KNOW I PAID FOR A BOOK, BUT I'M NOT ON THE LIST (yeah, right)! MY FORMER NEIGHBOR ORDERED A YEARBOOK BUT SHE MOVED TO DENMARK - CAN I SEND IT TO HER?


I also had to call a "come to Jesus meeting" with the staff because of bad feelings brewing between class members over who was yelling at whom, and who was bossing whom during book distribution, and who will be bossing whom next year, and the editors for next already have a big head and are going to treat us like slaves, and blah, blah, blah. My message to everyone was real simple: they don't pay me nearly enough to deal with constantly unhappy people who are at each other's throats all year; get it out in the open now and work it out, and tell me when you're done (and happy again). So, they did, and I emerged from the room to declare "peace in our time." And yes, that analogy is apt because I'm sure the length of my success will be about the same as old Mr. Chamberlain's (we are talking about teenage girls, after all).


I will nonetheless take my publication issues, warts and all, over what happened to the newspaper advisor last week. Now, she has been doing this for a long time, and is VERY SERIOUS about journalism, and very prickly about complaints regarding her paper. Having said that, she has been really nice to me, and in my opinion the paper has generally seemed o.k. - not too controversial or too insipid, decent enough if not extrememly well-written. However...

Somehow one of her kids decided, in a teacher profile piece printed in the last edition, to include both pro and CON opinions of a civics teacher, as related by some of her students. These were quoted, verbatim, from a survey form. And, some of the quotes were of this variety: "She's too boring, gives us pointless homework, and is more interested in being a coach than a teacher." OH... MY...!

Well, the teacher hit the roof and was so upset she had to go home for the day, an immediate apology is now being printed in what is supposed to the final senior-dedicated edition of the year, parents of the quoted kids are outraged, and the rest of us are scratching our heads and wondering how in the heck-fire those quotes ever saw the light of day, how they got past the editors, and especially how they got by the advisor and/or the principal if he saw it. What - teacher defamation in the name of balanced reporting? I think the advisor gets to keep the job, and since that paper is her baby, I hope so. But like I said, oh my.

Yeah, I'll take MY publication issues anyday.

18 May 2008

Careful Where You Step

Around these parts, you know summer is just around the corner when you spot visitors like this fellow in your backyard (he/she was about 4 ft. long):

In case you're worried, we just let him go on his merry way.

12 May 2008

A Summer of Torturous Prose

Well, I'm in the middle of a five games in six nights t-ball stretch (seriously, is this the major leagues?), so that explains the stony silence of the blog lately. This is, however, the last week of spring season, which is fortunate for the health of the adults in the house.

Just a little something to preview what my summer at the writer's project institute will be like. You see, when you throw together a group of highly intelligent people who love to read, who teach reading and writing, and who therefore secretly, or otherwise, harbor pretensions of making a best-seller list one day, you can pretty much assume the worst. In a situation like this, where these people will be doing a lot of writing for others to read, one can readily anticipate encounters with the "trying too hard" syndrome.

Whatever it says about me, I am absolutely resolved to avoid purple prose and forced metaphors throughout this process, even at the cost of being boring. However, as you check out the following three excerpts (all from different people) culled from a message thread on our group's website, you tell me if others share my attitude. The topic, btw, is what it means to be in the "writing state of mind":

"When I do experience the "writing frame of mind" while I am at my computer or when I have pen in hand, it is like steping into a wave and allowing the cool, calm watering words to seep onto the page. It is a comforting feeling, an excitement that I am rediscovering. I am allowing myself to write without the 'full outline.' I have a quiet expectation, but I am genuinely surprised when the ebb of this tide recedes and I examine what is left on the shore before me."

"When I consider my writing "good," the frame of mind occurs naturally because my body is possessed. There is a writing ghost who inhabits my spirit."

"When I'm in the writing frame of mind it’s as if my brain itches. There is nothing I can do about it, I can't scratch fast enough, deep enough, long enough. In fact, the more I scratch, the more I itch. The words pour out like a salve, and the passion that inspired it is calmed as the thoughts pour out on the page."

Well, time for me and my writing ghost to hit the sack. See ya.

30 April 2008

This is Why I'm Not in Management

Far be it from me to look a gift horse in the mouth, but here goes anyway. At my first school, the problem with recruiting a staff for the yearbook class was that there weren't enough talented, hard-working kids, and that many of those who did fit that bill were in band the same period as my class. So, I would usually get my top two or three for editor positions, and the rest was a combination of kids who liked me but weren't too interested in the book, or people the guidance counselors stuck in.

Now I have much different problems. I have a pretty good group to start with, and only four positions available for next year. There are 10 applicants for those positions, and they are all great candidates. Plus, instead of the advisor making the call by fiat, the tradition has been to let him/her hold the right of veto but let the staff interview the candidates and vote on them themselves.

Well, two of the four slots were slam-dunks to fill, and one of the other two was also decided fairly easily, if not unanimously. That last spot, however, was the source of an hour-long bare-knuckle brawl today. Cheerleader politics, comments about what someone's mom is going to be like to deal with, and every shade of what's-fair and what's-not-fair argument ensued. Nothing has yet been resolved, and I may be called on to make the final call, in which case I become even more of a contributor to someone's heartache.

Why should this bother me? Because I hate, hate, hate to be the one to give bad news, that's why. What if someone cries, for God's sake? Should causing people to cry be part of my job description, unless I'm being paid Dr. Phil money? Nay, I say, nay.

I think next year I'll hand the whole business over to one of the coaches; their used to cutting people all the time, and probably don't give a rip when they do.

27 April 2008

Yes, I'm Alive...

...but don't have much in the tank after my second weekend in a row of workshop/think-tank/seminar/reflecting heaven (I guess it's heaven to somebody, anyway). Give me a couple of days to get ball games out of the way, and I promise a full rant about some real live deconstruction cultists I wanted to punch during a keynote address yesterday.

In the meantime for any of you literary nerds, below is a link to a great piece on those pesky (mostly Southern, I must add) New Critics whom the deconstructionists like to think they've killed off. They're very much alive in my classroom, by the way, but then I've always been a sucker for the unfashionably old-fashioned. Enjoy!

Grammars of a Possible World

20 April 2008

Day One of Writer's Project

That was my entire Saturday, save for the little bit of mowing I squeezed in before dark. As you may recall the first two sessions of my summer Writer's Project class take place on back to back Saturdays in the spring, and now one is down. I must say it was fun, and the group of 15, plus three instructors, were fairly irritant-free. We wrote quite a bit, natch. And talked about writing quite a bit, natch. It was enjoyable, but the contrarian in me already points out that in contemporary America people who like to read and write can make books and writing a bit too precious, or a bit too much like religion. I'm well aware of this, because I'm sure I've been guilty of it myself. On the whole, though, I'll say I'm looking forward to spending so much concentrated time writing this summer, even while I try to suppress that "This could lead to big things! Maybe you could be a real writer!" voice I've heard all my life. You know you hear it too (or perhaps you are a real writer!)

Since I'll be spending three weeks of my summer with these people, it's important for me to go ahead and anticipate who will cause me heartburn during that time. The only candidate who sticks out right now is a near-retirement-age teacher from the coast who will be living in Raleigh on campus for all of July. She had a long-winded comment about everything, and while not unpleasant, was the least helpful person in the group writing assignment we did. We'll see if I'm right about my unkind speculation, but I read this as a "divorced and no grandkids" situation.

Wow, that was mean.

The only other person I'll mention at this point was this really sweet granola child in her mid-thirties who teaches in Chapel Hill (heh, heh). Seemed like one of the coolest people there. Among the things she is excited about is the new "Social Justice" academy she helped start at her school, which is run by some English and some history teachers (heh, heh, heh). But you know, she seemed like such a good soul, talking about the organic garden she and her husband have behind their house, and was so nice, that I don't have it in me to completely mock said academy. Yet.

I know that won't stop some of you, though. I hear you, Brad and Phil.

15 April 2008

I'm a Made Man

Not quite in the same way the guys from "Goodfella's" were, mind you. Last Thursday an office assistant brought me the following ominous note:

Please see me during your planning period. This is an important matter regarding your employment for next year.
-The Principal

I suppressed feelings of panic enough to make it through the class period, then went down to check on it. The agony wore on as I had to wait while he dealt with a couple of boys who had been fighting. Then, when I finally got in, he explained it was nothing bad, and in fact was good. Because of the particular license cycle I am on this year, he had to make a decision to deem me a tenured teacher at the school, or to let me go. "You're too good for me to let you go, so I'm signing off on your tenure," he said.

Now, tenure for public school teachers does not offer the all-encompassing protection it offers for a college professor. Essentially it means that I cannot be moved to another school by the county office against my will, and that my position cannot be eliminated unless our student population dwindled tremendously, and even then I believe they would have to find a spot for me. Of course, I could still get fired for not doing my job, and I suppose there are a number of unforeseen disasters, like half the county getting wiped out by an alien flu, that could alter my employment status. But basically, I'm safe.

Still, the "made man" analogy might not be too far off, judging from the mood around the school the last couple of weeks. Let's just say that everywhere I turn teachers are talking junk about other teachers, palpable dislike hovers over most meetings, and malicious subtexts abound. Yikes. Better find Tessio and Clemenza (I know, I'm mixing movies).

09 April 2008

Boobs Again (Sorry!)

Well, both t-ball (for the boy) and softball (for me, in an attempt at a limited comeback) have started, and for my pains on Monday and Tuesday nights I contracted a bad enough cough to warrant a visit to the doc-in-the-box again. Nice, huh? But at least there is no infection this time.

Onto the real item for today, which, unfortunately causes me to revisit the prom once again. On that fateful night, I've mentioned previously, there was much to take notice of. However, one thing I did not observe (because I'm a good boy), but that a colleague mentioned that she and her fiance did, was the volume of cleavage on display - in particular, the volume of inauthentic cleavage on display.

This was a bit shocking to hear, 17-18 year-olds and all, and without knowing who some of these belonged to the whole idea of it seemed a bit unreal (pun intended) to me. But then on Monday I had the following conversation with my yearbook editor over the prom page she was checking. Names are changed here to protect the not-so-innocent:

Editor: Mr. P. you need to look at the this picture we have on the prom page. It's got Holly in it, and we should probably take it out since she's on the staff. But also... well, look at her in that dress. Isn't that inappropriate.

Me (glancing at the cleavagy picture as gingerly as possible): Yeah, probably. You can take it out. You know, my wife and I happened to notice Holly's dress was really short.

Editor: I know. It was scandalous.

Me: Well, I'll tell you this also. I didn't happen to see this, but some other teachers were remarking on the number of... uh... implants they saw on a number of the girls there.

Editor: Oh, definitely.

Me: Unbelievable. What are their parents thinking? [pause] But now my curiosity has the best of me. Any chance Holly is one of those they were talking about?

Editor: Well, you know the rumor from last year, don't you?

Me: No.

Editor: She missed a lot of school spring semester last year, and she said it was because she had mono. But the rumor was she really had implant surgery. Everyone thinks it's true because no one can remember her having anything close to those before she was gone for so long.

End of sordid conversation. I will only add that "Holly" at one point drove a pink Barbie Jeep (yes, they make those), that she occasionally participates in pageants, and that she has already done a bit of modeling. I now leave it to you, gentle reader, to draw your own conclusions and do your own railing (and/or snickering).

02 April 2008

Sign of Things to Come, or Just an Accurate Description?

We picked up our uniforms for my son's tee-ball team last night (I get a shirt too, for being asst. coach). We knew we were the Braves, but didn't know our sponsor, until we saw it printed on the back. This season, we will proudly display the following on our jerseys for the world to see:

All Star Waste

I think I'll post a picture of myself in that shirt on my teacher web page.

28 March 2008

Congrats To Me; Let the Whining Commence

So, I attended a one day writing workshop back in January at N.C. State, and was so impressed by some of the tips I got that I decided to apply to the summer institute the Dept. of Education there puts on in conjunction with the National Writing Project. I was also highly motivated by the fact that I have two years left to get the rest of my continuing education credits out of the way, and thought I might as well do it in one big potentially enjoyable chunk.

Well, I applied to the summer institute, and just found out I was accepted. There were only 15 spots for 35 applicants, so yay for me, etc., etc. In reading the material, though, I began to seriously contemplate the pain in the rear this will be. In April, I have to go to a day long orientation one Saturday, followed by an even longer workshop and debriefing the next Saturday. That means working - gasp! - 12 out of 14 days. On top of that, it means missing two tee-ball games. DON'T YOU PEOPLE KNOW I'M AN ASSISTANT COACH?!!

And, as for the summer institute, it goes on for almost three full weeks, and, because it also counts for graduate credits, will no doubt involve some sort of research project/paper, in addition to heavy writing practice, as one of the core principles of NWP is that "Effective professional development programs provide frequent and ongoing opportunities for teachers to write and to examine theory, research, and practice together systematically." Whoo.

I need my Mommy.

25 March 2008

Even the Prom Has Its Melancholy Side

Well, Wyfe has now spoken on the prom, but I wanted to add something bothersome that I quite accidentally observed.

We had to man the registration table for the latter, interminable half of the prom, and after the king and queen had officially been announced, it wasn't long before a sizeable group of prom-goers gathered in the lobby, ready to head out for (ahem) other doings, which I had heard a little about from passive eavesdropping earlier in the week. Now, I did not know most of the these kids, but I knew enough to know this was the ultimate creme-de-la-creme in-crowd, partly because a few of my yearbook girls were among the throng. I watched a couple of these girls more intently than the rest, because I noticed how preoccupied they seemed. In fact, they walked right by us several times and never even noticed us at the table. I don't take this as a slight, because they are always friendly, and if they had seen us they would have spoken. They are good girls, off to good colleges, and in fact, though these particular girls are in the in-crowd, they are in no way partiers - I've heard them rail about the partying life before. I don't believe it was their intent to get too involved in doing the wrong things, but clearly they were going to be escorted off to the site of the proceedings nonetheless.

One of these girls is not currently dating, but her prom escort, a red-faced, overly self-assured seeming chap, was rubbing her back as they stood there talking with the others. Let's just say she did not look relaxed with this, but also was not discouraging it. Another normally confident girl shifted nervously, and went into the bathroom twice in the span of 10 minutes - I never saw her smile (in fact, if she had broken into tears it wouldn't have been a shock). Other girls whispered among themselves with serious expressions, and there was little jollity among them. As for the the boys in the group, I know I'm probably exaggerating a bit, but mostly they were what you might expect: the jocks and other cocks-of-the-walk who (in my jaded opinion) were clearly on-the-make, and disgustingly, smarmily professional in their on-the-make demeanors. I realize I flatter myself, but any decent man would have shared the same urge to punch every one of them.

Yes, the girls must make their own decisions, but I can't help but remember the horrifying seduction scenes from I Am Charlotte Simmons. I hope these girls made the right calls, but in an effort to stay popular they already gave in by putting themselves in a bad situation, I feel sure. Why, oh why, do we allow our girls to go through this, and allow our boys to become such predators?

As a counter image, I also noticed that most of the couples who stayed for the entire time seemed to be really enjoying themselves, and were not nervous or shifty at all. Some of their parents dropped by to see them briefly, and some of these kids I know are labeled as being "real Christian". Others were nerdy types, happy in their nerdiness. In contrast with the early departers, I felt relieved to watch these remaining couples. Believe it or not, some of them actually came to the prom in order to enjoy, you know, the prom!

24 March 2008


Last week's tour-de-force probably took years off my life, but I did survive, as you can now see. The week started with a wonderfully-timed three-hour leadership training session, scheduled right after school, that is required by the county for all employees who haven't undergone the training yet (so that each year the poor saps new to the county have to participate). From Monday to Thursday, my entire life was yearbook-related, except when I was trying, you know, to teach, or help coach tee-ball. In the last three weeks, I swear I've worked harder than at any point in my life (cue the sad violins).

Then, Thursday night was prom chaperone night, which I'll refrain from giving too many details about now in deference to my kind Wyfe, who was forced to join me and now wishes to blog about it herself (hint: it wasn't that interesting, and we were there from 7:00 to 12:40). Friday it was in the car and off to the in-laws while still in a daze, and after yesterday's Easter service and Sunday dinner we finally limped back in to town.

So... I plan to blog a lot this week, though I've threatened that before and fallen short. Since I have the week off, though, I may plague your in-boxes with many a new post. Bear with me!

15 March 2008

Yesterday's Highlights

(Which I whine about simply by passing them along)

7:30 - 1st period thrown behind by donut deliveries from a DECCA fundraising event (yes, of course I bought some - they were Krispy Kreme!)

8:25 - 1st period finally gets around to the Prologue of Oedipus Rex after class members whined their ways for thirty minutes through a slightly harder than usual vocab. test. We only squeeze in 15 mins. of reading.

9:10 - I determine I have to write-up a student, who by the way failed my same class last semester, because he snuck out of my room during his mandatory remediation time and never returned except to get his stuff at the bell.

10:10 - I have to actually take a time-out and upbraid my entire 2nd period for their rude talking and laughing (first time I've had to do that all semester). One normally good boy in there pouts on one side of the room, after I made him change seats, while his buddy pouts on the other side.

10:20 - The real prize of 2nd period - a loud and rude white girl who seems to have talked herself into believing she is a loud and rude black girl - continues to be disruptive and refuses to hand over her phone after I catch her texting someone. Mental note: second write-up of the day to turn in.

11:40 - 12:05 - Hateful tri-weekly lunch duty, at which I find out my prom duty (since I'm a junior homeroom sponsor), will last from 7-12:30 next Thursday - five and a half hours of sheer boredom, with an unhappy Wyfe in tow!

1:45: One of my English colleagues, who has the same planning period, stops by my room to ask about some vocabulary word activities, and just to shoot the breeze for a few minutes. About five minutes later, her nose twitches, and she says, "That smells an awful lot like pot!" We walk out into the hall, and trace the smell from the boy's room across the hall. I go in, but no one is there. Whoever it was must have just left. I call the principal, who investigates and then goes off to check the security cameras.

3:30 I leave with my bag full of 50 tests to grade and 20 yearbook pages to proofread. If I were a drinker, I know where I would head next...

Can't wait 'til Monday!

11 March 2008

Yearbook Blues

It is easy to look ahead at a challenge that lay far into the future and say, "Yeah, that will be tough, but we'll deal with it then." Then, then is suddenly here, and it turns out it is not just a challenge, but a giant, pulsating pain in the rear.

At my old school, we ran the yearbook on a rare fall schedule, so I had the summers to wrap up any yearbook issues (i.e., doing pages that certain kids let go by the wayside and quit caring about as summer break approached). Not so, now that I am in the big leagues. We have a spring book, and it is supposed to be finished by next Thursday, before our spring break. So, my staff and I are all running around with our hair on fire, while also in the midst of other classes we are taking/teaching. We'll get close to being finished, but I'm already preparing my plea for the mercy of my yearbook representative's court. Just a couple of late pages won't be a disaster, will it (will it)?

Speaking of yearbook, my editor was scheduled to go to Spain, France, and Germany on a Spanish Club trip for 10 days. For weeks she's been pinching herself over this, often saying (excitedly), "I can't believe I'm going to Europe!" So, the plane left last Tuesday. A couple of days before that, my editor started feeling bad, and by Monday (the day before the trip), she sounded awful and apparently felt awful. She went to the doctor that afternoon, sat in the waiting room for an hour, and was summarily told she had the flu and under no circumstances could go on the trip. So, she sat at home for a week, sick and devastatingly depressed.

Well, we did our best for her by throwing a little "We're Bringing Spain/France/Germany To You" party on Monday, when she returned to school. Of course, all the food the kids brought was Italian-like (not counting the thoroughly American Chips-A-Hoy), so they were a little off geographically. But hey, at least they got the right continent.

06 March 2008

Some Tidbits

First of the penis joke variety (got your attention?). Our department head, a woman about my age, was helping one of her students - "a sweet redneck boy" to use her description - work out some details of his senior project. She began to sit in the chair beside him, and ended up half missing the chair, causing her to teeter. She attempted to reach out and grab her student's arm in order to steady herself, but she began falling and her hand caught his leg area instead. Again, to her description: "My thoughts were, 'Oh, I've got his leg... OH!, that's not his leg my hand is on. I really wish I would have just fallen."

Can we say, "Teenager scarred for life?"


The next afternoon, I sauntered into the cafeteria, along with other department members, a few minutes before the scheduled faculty meeting. Another of my female colleagues greeted me and then was about to ask me a literary question, when she interrupted herself to say, "Uh, Mr P., your fly is kind of open there..." Well, there are no easy places to duck behind in the cafeteria, as you can imagine, so the best I could do is turn my back on everyone and act quickly. Too late, though, to avoid the tale being told around the table within a mere minute or so. Can you say, "Me scarred for life?"

Like I've said before, it's tough being a man in the English Department, what with women looking at your fly and all. I'm sure Wyfe agrees with me.


My Lenten reading of late has included (surprise, surprise!) Flannery O'Connor's first short story collection. My biggest belly laugh so far came from the following passage of "The Temple of the Holy Ghost", when two silly teenage Catholic school girls sing in Latin for the guitar-toting evangelical farm boys who live near the house the girls are visiting. Spying on the scene is the precocious child who set up the date in the first place:

The girls dragged out the Amen, and then there was a silence.
"That must be Jew singing," Wendell said and began to tune the guitar.
The girls giggled idiotically but the child stamped her foot on the barrel. "You big dumb ox!" she shouted. "You big dumb Church of God ox!" she roared and fell off the barrel and scrambled up and shot around the corner of the house as they jumped from the banister to see who was shouting.

02 March 2008

PLC's? Puh-leaze! (Part III)

Though in practice I think PLC's can be promising, helpful, and flexible enough to fit local, particular needs (something most educational trends, coming from on high, fail at miserably), irritants still abound in PLC-land (natch). The two most problematic irritants are that 1) PLC people like to talk way too much about PLC's, and do so in a hubristic "we can save the whole world" tone, and 2) there is already an unhealthy amount of crap jargon that has grown out of PLC-ism (something probably related to irritant #1). Here is a sample:

1)"PLC's concentrate on students learning, not on teachers teaching": This is the philosophical pearl of PLC-ism, a mantra insisted upon as profound wisdom. Translation: some teachers get up and go through their motions, and don't care whether their students are getting it or not. Well, o.k., we all have known teachers like this, but the point is that these were/are bad teachers. Good teachers have always been concerned about whether or not their kids were learning. I find this mantra daft, and the point it is making only profound in that it is profoundly obvious.

2)"Each PLC should set a standard of norms for each meeting": Norms? Norms? Sounds like we are on Cheers. Whatever happened to the word rules? I know, too masculine and heirarchical... Anyway, translation: People in PLC meetings should act like adults.

3) "PLC's help identify specific, attainable learner objectives": In many ways No Child Left Behind is the co-author of little nuggets like this one. Translation: Let's figure out what even below-average students can learn, and establish that as our goal. As for upper level students, well you're on your own kiddos.

4) "PLC's use collaborative teams and collective inquiry to achieve school goals": Yes, there are a lot of scary words that begin with "c" in PLC-land. Unkind Translation: Communism was a failure but the old lefty's among us still need a place to use the word "collective". Or, Kind Translation: If we work together a little more, we might be able to make the school a better place. If you aren't interested, the Borg will probably assimilate you anyway.

Well, there is a brief tour for you. My final, omniscient pronouncement is that PLC's can be good for a school if they are taken seriously, but not too seriously. I think most people like the idea of working more closely with their colleagues in a productive way. However, no one wants to be thought of as merely a faceless part of the team. Value me as an individual, and I'll value my contributions to the effort.

For God's sake, though, lose the jargon!

24 February 2008

PLC's? Puh-leaze! (Part II)

You may have deduced by now that I have some heavy guns loaded and aimed at PLC-nation, but actually my only major qualms have to do with smaller, laughable annoyances, so I'll save that for my next/last/most enjoyable of three posts on the subject. Before being a little unfair and snarky, I thought I should give an account here of some of the positives that I've witnessed, or see the potential for, in a school that goes PLC.

1) The regular "collaborative meetings" we have probably help provide firmer accountability for teachers, since it would be fairly easy to figure out which teachers aren't doing jack in their classrooms when they have to give an account of activities each week. After all, no one wants to look like a slacker.

Now, no one has come off as a slacker in the meetings I've been in, but at my old school, I can picture a couple of bad teachers squirming mightlily under this system. Of course, even then, I don't know that it would have mattered if the principal didn't feel he could get rid of them to begin with.

2) Considering the fracturing that has occured in so many American communities, striving to give public schools a more communal feel is a worthwile goal, I believe, and this may be one way to accomplish that goal. One key in this, however is that the faculty turnover needs to be at a minimal, acceptable rate, which is something many schools have trouble with.

Another facet of this involves the now boiler-plate mantra of "meeting every student where they are" in life. Well, this if fine, but part accepting "where they are" and fostering a communal school also means having due respect for the local community you serve, and laying off the heavy-handed approach of many that goes something like, "These provincial yokels need to think like the rest of the world (i.e., urban Northeasterners and Southern Californians), and it's my job to lead them there."

Not that I'm necessarily thinking about both the New Yorker and the Californian on my hall that I've heard implying such things...

3) From what I read, PLC-mania has been a bottom-up phenomenan which has grown out of schools looking to change their approaches and then reached academicians, and not the other way around. Something that bloomed from the seeds of actual practice, and wasn't invented by some fool with a Phd. Ed. must have something to recommend it.

4) For this all to work well, administrations have to allow teachers more flexibility in the classroom, and not scratch the micro-managing itch too often.

So, really I'm on board if we are going doing these things, with the understanding that there are parts of the PLC approach which will bother me. One of the biggest annoyances is that it seems we've done nothing but talk about the damn things for the last month, and I just want to get on with them. You may feel the same by the time I finish my next, and last, PLC post for a while. Please bear with me until then!

22 February 2008

PLC's? Puh-leaze! (Part 1)

Last year, at almost this exact same time, I blogged about the introduction of the term PLC into the lingo at my old school, and poked fun at the the jargoned-up description that my principal handed out to us about said Professional Learning Communities. Little did I know, from my lofty perch at the top of Mt. Smarmy, that in less than I year I would be working at a high school that had gone whole-hog PLC-ing. I have refrained from blogging about it so far this school year partially because the topic is so overwhelming, partially because it is kind of boring "inside baseball" school talk, and partially because it has taken this long to form some views that are in any way insightful. Now, however, the topic is unavoidable at work, and things seem to be reaching a new level of intensity over the whole matter.

In this post, I'm going to try and give you a short PLC primer, and then in subsequent posts I'll give more specific accounts of the good, the bad, and the ugly. Hope it's not too dull.

Essentially, PLC's are a new label for what used to be called "team-teaching", with a few other cherries on top. The centerpiece is that teachers of the same or similar subjects meet at least once a week and discuss their curriculum and what they are doing, and as their subject allows they try to come up with a few tests or assignments that they can all give, perhaps followed by a comparison of results. [Oh, did I say "tests or assignments"? Sorry, the prevailing jargon won't allow that denomination anymore - I mean common assessments. However, I'm jumping ahead of myself here, as I will spend more time ripping the jargon later.] During these meetings there is also supposed to be lots of sharing and supporting and affirming, and there are even fancy mechanisms for how to catch failing students early on and find more inventive ways to get them interested in their own educations and back on track.

A corollary benefit of PLC's is, ideally, that a the entire school and faculty will have more cohesion - that schools might, I suppose, have more of the community feel that has disappeared from so many of them. But there is only nostalgia for that one aspect of the schools of the past, because PLC-acolytes like to denounce "older school models" where the teacher was "an independent contractor who closed his or her door, took care of his or her own business, and rarely made contact with the rest of the school."

Some departments at my school have been doing their own PLC's for a couple of years, but sometime last spring our School Improvement Team (SIT)decided to forge ahead with PLC's for the entire school, starting the next (now current) year. So, most all of us have been dutifully showing up early on Monday mornings all year for our collaborative meetings. But the high majority of us have had little to no training in what we were actually supposed to be doing, and eventually this became a very apparent wart.

In response, the SIT decided all our staff development days this semester needed to be redirected so that we are only talking about PLC's (something that should have happened last spring). As a result, I've sat through about 10 butt-numbing hours of PLC talk in the last month, with four more hours to come in a couple of weeks.

Yes, kind patron, you should feel my pain.

Just as a preview, I'll tell you my feelings and opinions on the whole experiment are quite mixed, and I'll go into that in detail next post.