Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Teachers Spared

From today's am New York: "City teachers spared thanks to state budget. The 14,000 teaching jobs that Mayor Michael Bloomberg threatened to cut are likely safe under the state budget approved this week, the mayor said yesterday. The stat's plan increases aid to public schools by about $1.1 billion, and gets rid of the governor's proposed $700 million education cut."

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Political Trends

I'm sure this has been going on for years, but the more I see it, the more it really bothers me: Personally attacking politicians. It bothers me because Obama has been in office for such a short time, and already his entire presidency is being damned. I know there are stereotypes about politicians being sleazy, or corrupt; I'm staying away from that line of argumentation. I'm very bothered by the personal attacks against politicians, specifically the statement that "I hope he fails." I've seen quite a few of the this lately, and I question the thinking of those who make such statements.

Clearly not everyone is going to get his or her choice in terms of elections; either the person you've voted for gets into office, or not. And if your candidate of choice loses, I suppose it's easy to get into the automatic mindset of how terrible that candidate must be, and automatically dismiss the politician's entire political term. I see a lot of this mindset in Republicans, although I'm sure it's true across the board; but I can say with complete honesty that I've heard this solely from the Republicans I know about Democratic candidates, and not at all from any of the Democrats I know about Republican candidates. Even when Bush was in office - and I would still like to know, in all seriousness, if anyone believes Bush's policies were effective, or good ones - I didn't hear any of my Democrat friends or family members criticize Bush personally; his policies were attacked (as I believe they should have been), but personally he was left alone. I would have no problem if I heard people tell me specifically if, for example, Obama's policies are weak. And I'd really like especially to hear counter-solutions; just hearing that something sucks isn't really helpful, is it?

What disturbs me about wishing someone would fail is that it shows an inherent lack of kindness, patience, or tolerance. You don't like someone's policies or politics? Fine. But one would hope you would like to be proved wrong, that the politician would create and enforce polices that would strengthen our place in the world, our economy, our healthcare, our educational practices. And if that politician does fail, one would hope that you would have the grace to acknowledge that the next person will hopefully do a better job. Attacking someone personally for their practices just smacks of immaturity and an inability to distinguish the mistakes a person can make and the person herself.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

An Unmitigated Disaster

Today I: got hit in the back of the head with a book, as a result of one of the several book fights that occurred in my classroom; had four separate teachers (one of whom was a dean) come in on four separate occasions to help me manage my classes; got called a "bitch" by one of the students; and got my iPhone stolen (and returned within an hour).

My growing opinion is that schools that are dubbed "educational complexes" (such as the school in which I did part of my student teaching, and the school at which I subbed today) have unilaterally rougher students. In the case of today's school, the students are called "scholars" and they are required to wear a uniform, but that didn't stop them from chucking books at each other, using language I can't imagine having gotten away with in middle school, and mock-fighting as a form of entertainment. I couldn't get their attention in any way, not by speaking in a normal tone of voice, not by speaking loudly, not by any other way I could think of.  I simply could not maintain any semblance of organization at any point throughout the day. What didn't help was the teacher not having left any lesson plans; apparently he broke his leg and has been out of school for a month, but I question why he still wouldn't be responsible for providing a lesson plan or the school not arranging for extended coverage, if this were the case. 

And then I realized my cell phone was missing, and I couldn't find it. The immediacy in which the entire class did an about-face to help was actually surprising; I don't know if it was a change in tone of voice or an expression on my face, but one of the ringleaders heard me say that I needed the class' attention and she shut them up for me. When I voiced my concern that I couldn't find my iPhone, but that I wasn't blaming anyone, the entire class interrupted with "We don't do that!" and several students asking if they could/should run out to get the dean or another teacher  (and actually they run out before I could even agree). One student went through the teacher's desk; and the class was as a whole was pretty upset on my behalf, which was rather nice and made me begin to change my mind about them. The dean arrived, I told her the situation, she asked the students if they had any ideas - and one student immediately volunteered another student from a previous class. This turned out to be a correct assertion, as the student was picked up almost immediately by the dean and one of the school's police officers (and dare I say, an actual police officer, who apparently works in the school full time). Apparently the student initially lied about taking my iPhone, but then confessed, and I didn't press charges on the agreement that the dean would call his parents and take appropriate in-school disciplinary action. The students were supportive enough when I got back to class, wanted to know the outcome, of course, and were a bit easier to handle, but were still pretty rambunctious, and the dean's presence was still required to make them chill out.

Today was just mostly an unmitigated disaster, and I can see how other subs are scared off teaching and get weeded out. I know I haven't had that much experience subbing yet, but I know that subbing isn't representative of having one's own permanent classroom. It was a hard day largely because I couldn't maintain any control (and with the iPhone being stolen) that was miserable. I know the up and down of a classroom and a day and the short term bursts of student hyperactivity, but it was still difficult while it lasted.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

CCCC '09 San Francisco - Day 3

I'm home; I spent the day traveling and I feel only residual guilt about not subbing tomorrow, but I'm tired and I have no clean clothes to wear, even if I wanted to sub. 

My last day of 4Cs was quiet and mostly not actually about the conference. I chaired a session, "
On Race, Privilege, and Agency," which went well, although this was the first session I chaired in which the speakers had a lot more to say than we had time. I gave myself the rest of the day off, since I hadn't spent any part of this trip away from the conference. I stumbled across the end of a St. Patrick's Day Parade, found some lunch at the Metreon, then went back to Justin's to chill out and go to church at a really gorgeous old cathedral that's about 2 blocks away from Justin's. (The building is really lovely, but it seems they're having trouble staying open; the church apparently closed for about a year back in 2000 for reconstruction, has huge debts still; and I noticed very few people at the Saturday Vigil Mass.) Vhary came over to hang out and have dinner afterwards; I think it's the longest we've hung out in a years. 

San Francisco - March 2009 from Michelle Solomon on Vimeo.

Friday, March 13, 2009

CCCC '09 San Francisco - Day 2

Hit up a few more sessions today, although the day was hardly hectic, but I did hit up some good sessions.  The first, “Others Mentoring Others: Mapping and Problem-posing the Intellectual Labor, Costs, and Rewards of Mentoring Marginalized Students” was one I went to because Harry was chairing and presenting the session. It’s not one I would have normally gone to; I seem to consistently be drawn towards the technology sessions, although I should branch out a bit, but it’s impossible to go to all the sessions I’d like to attend.  It turned out to be extremely interesting, though; based on one of the speakers, who’s nearly imminent completion of her Ph.D. or has recently finished, I started thinking about grad school differently in terms of the mental and emotional challenges I hadn’t fully considered. I started considering how the manner in which I tutor students, and the boundaries I set in terms of mentoring them (such as one does in tutoring sessions), as well as the ramifications that teachers/professors face in mentoring students, specifically how one determines which students to mentor, determining how much of the personal to share, the nature of the teacher/student relationship, etc. It got me thinking about my relationships with Harry and Courtney, that I still feel I have to be careful not to share too much personal information, although really, it’s not like I overshare with any of my other friends anyway.

I went to two sessions in the afternoon, the first of which was “Grammar, Language, and Student’s Rights.”  Dr. Dunn, one of my professors from Stony Brook, was giving a presentation (“Exposing Moral Judgment in Public Discourse on Grammar”) that I’d wanted to hear, and which was interesting. I'd also promised Patricia that I'd be in attendance of her session, in which she was co-presenting with a colleague from South Africa, Clifford: "Government, Funding, and the Role of Outcomes Assessment at the University of South Africa: A Preliminary Report." I'd heard most of this background before, but it was interesting to hear Clifford's talk and level of involvement. After the session I headed back to the conference after about an hour, hung out in the lobby, and debated which SIG to go to, ultimately deciding on "English Education-Composition Connections," one that I've gone to in years past. 

Between the sessions and the SIG in the evening I took a break and took the MUNI to the Ferry Building Marketplace; it was sunny and warm out in the sun and I wanted to see all the shops and maybe sit outside and get some sun and hang out by the water. The shade was hitting in the wrong place, though, but after I'd wandered through the shops, I sat outside on a bench in the shade and watch the ferries come and go. It was relaxing and was probably my only foray into vacation mode I'll have this trip.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

CCCC '09 San Francisco - Day 1

So here I am in San Francisco, attending another CCCC (4Cs, as we like to call it). Today was the first day of the conference, and as usual my best-laid plans have not exactly come to pass, but for a first day things went well enough. I always feel I should go to back-to-back sessions (if for no other reason than to get my money’s worth; these conference registration fees are exorbitant, although the student fees often tend to be much more reasonable), but one can only sit through so many 75-minute sessions without needing a break. By the time I was finally settled and organized, half the first session was already over, so by chance I meandered into a session I had bookmarked – but had already missed all the presentations, so I hung out until the next session: “(Re)Mediating Social Technologies,” which was interesting; the speakers spoke of teaching with Twitter and building community in the classroom vis-à-vis social networking sites. This was interesting, and I was especially glad for the handouts; it gives me ideas of what I could do myself.

Yet the session had started about 20 minutes late (one of the speakers got lost, which isn’t as ridiculous as it sounds; some of the presentations were held in almost an offshoot of the hotel, and scads of folks were wandering around questioning how to get from one section of the hotel to another). I inadvertently discovered wifi access (a bonus, since I had shaky iPhone coverage) and was able to keep myself plugged in. However, because the session started so late, it had the potential of running long, and because I hadn’t eaten since dinner East Coast time the day before I was ready to gnaw off my arm, so I left, wandered down the street, and had a rather tasty panang curry and some spring rolls for lunch. I attempted to arrange a tweetup for lunch, but I suspect between intermittent cell phone coverage, being in sessions, and the lack of wifi people weren’t tweeting as much.

Two more sessions followed after lunch: “(Dis)Connects: Writing Centers, Digital Natives, and Digital Immigrants.” The title should have warned me, but the first speaker immediately started out by getting into a discussion on “digital immigrants” and “digital natives,” two phrases that vex me to a degree that I can’t even begin to describe. These seem to be phrases used by people who are, generally speaking but not always, of a certain age (i.e., older); who don’t understand technology in any form, tend to be afraid of it, and are trying not to be afraid of it, and failing. It also smacks of a lack of understanding, thinking that because a student is of a certain age that she must be completely fluent in technology, be able to use it seamlessly and effortlessly, and from my own experience I know how utterly untrue that is. Knowing how to send e-mail, IM, use word processing software or social networking sites, or know how to download or use cell phones to take pictures, does not make a student a digital “native.” It might make them more comfortable, but that’s about it, in my view. And the people who give talks or write papers about how students under the age of 25 – because clearly anyone over that age can’t be as comfortable using computers – tend to focus on surface issues, and not the actual differences between what it is to be actually computer literate. To me – and I suspect this is because of the circles I run in – a “digital native” is someone who played with computers as a child, took them apart, put them back together, invented their own programming language as a child or teenager, used bulletin boards that required you to use your phone to actually connect; there’s more knowledge there about how computers work than simply having grown up with computers in the background. I’ve been speaking German for more than 20 years, but because I’m not actively speaking it and writing and reading in German, I am not fluent. I can get around, but I have to put in a lot more work to become fluent. I think that classifying students as digital immigrants or digital natives bother me especially because it strikes me as an ageist thing to do, presuming more or less knowledge because of when someone was born, by those who think themselves very far removed from the technology that’s out there. I think that anytime someone appears more comfortable using something else, one assumes a degree or level of literacy or fluency that just might not be there, but which can’t be discerned.

In any case, the rest of the session was interesting; the problems in dealing with integrating technology into a writing center and making an online writing center more integral and user-friendly; and why and how to use multimedia in an online classroom or writing centers. It is interesting to dissect the problems between those who don’t know what a chat room is, and integrating one into a writing center. Second Life really seems to have itself a cult following in the writing center/writing program world.

Next up: ““Blogs: Understanding the Potential and Challenges.” The first speaker I had difficulty following until the very end of her talk, when I understood her to be talking about having her students get involved, or her students who were otherwise involved in local events, use blogs to narrate and critically examine the issues at hand. The second speaker I enjoyed; he spoke of the problems he had, many of which mirrored my own, in implementing blogs for the first time into his classroom, and subsequent revision of strategies. He had shown a PowerPoint presentation, which included images of some student blogs, and had also supplied a handout with some sample student comments, but I thought it would have been really interesting to see a bit of the student blogs. Alas, though, this was not entirely his fault; none of the tech sessions seem to have Internet connections, nor do they all even have all other necessary tech equipment that had been requested. (This is what the kids today would call “epic fail.”)

Sidebar: I can’t quite grok why the Hilton is charging $15.95/day for Internet access. I even question paying $6.95 for an hour of wifi. I can almost – almost – understand having patrons pay a per-visit wifi charge (if I go to DMAC this summer, the place I’m staying at has a fee of XXXXX per visit, if you want the Internet), but the Hilton? Really? And for a conference? Give us a password for those of us who have registered and shelled out our money to come here. And to top it off, their wifi network isn’t even available in the entire hotel, so as I was going from session to session, different networks would be available – all protected.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

First Substituting Gig

The past week I've been subbing at a very small, 10-student secondary school in Valley Stream. It's Christian, I suspect non-denominational, but aside from recognizing its not being Catholic I can't quite tell what variety of Christianity the school follows. My subbing is the result of a late-night after having Googled local temp agencies and coming across one that's half a mile down the road; said employment agency had a posting for a substitute teacher, which I've never seen. A quick orientation on Wednesday morning, a brief introduction to the students, and I was in. As opposed to the rambunctious students I've taught in New York City, the students in Valley Stream are much quieter and a wee bit more passive. (There are three boys who are on the chatty side, and who came late to class, but if I take the right tone they listen, and they haven't talked back.) The girls especially are extremely quiet, and I found myself wishing they'd be a tad more rambunctious, but then I realized it was silly to want misbehaving students. I'm merely used to a different type of student, and I don't want to complain about students who are too good.

I've had four periods, about 55 minutes each: three history and an English. (And thank goodness; I originally thought I would be teaching math and science.) At least I can muddle my way through discussion of the World Wars, and English is no problem, of course. A few times students in the history classes asked a question, to which I'd reply, and then hoped I gave the right answer. (I did.) There are a few TVs set up for distance learning also, so there's connectivity with other schools in, I believe, other states, or at least schools further away. My day was pretty much done after Fifth Period; there is a Sixth Period, but the topic rotates each day and were extra-curricular (gym, music, etc.).

The teacher, Mr. N., whose absence I've been covering was out on vacation, but he made things very easy on me, laying everything out, having work for me to do, even sending a note home to the parents telling them of the situation, and requesting that they remind their children to behave, which was, of course, very kind of him to do. The other teacher, who teaches math, has been nice enough as well, although I haven't talked to him much. If nothing else, it's interesting to see different teaching styles in action. Several times I had to stop myself from revamping Mr. N.'s lesson plans. I don't know how long he's been teaching, or what his restrictions or motivations are, so I don't want to judge his not writing his own tests - and of course I haven't seen what he's done at other points of the year, or if he's left me textbook tests to proctor because of timing, etc., but it's difficult not to make assumptions based on the planner he'd left for me to peruse. Different backgrounds, experience, training, etc., I know all comes into play, but it reinforced what I would do in my own classroom.

Tomorrow is my last day at this school. It's been a pretty easy commute - no train involved - which means I'm home by about 2 p.m. I didn't go to class this week because I just was feeling downright depleted. I have to get my act together in terms of class and not miss anymore; I've missed two weeks at the Writing Center - once due to not feeling well, and once due to subbing, although my not tutoring because of subbing was a one-time situation.

Someone posed the question on one of the social networking sites I'm on as to whether it was possible to become burned out before the semester even began, and that really resonated with me. Even subbing, the little I've done of it, is proving to be more mentally flexing, which is not to say that my class isn't, but I'm ready to be working now. After being so outright afraid of subbing, I've slipped into it easily, and now I'm not afraid to sub in New York City at this point, now that I have an idea of what to expect.