Thursday, January 27, 2011

Tales From School

When I was a student at Lehigh Carbon Community College, I majored in Liberal Arts because I planned on transferring to a four-year college; the liberal arts major allowed me to take the core requirements most colleges would require, like foreign language, a lab science, gym, etc. If I didn't take every single English class that was offered, I took most of them, including the Journalism class. Part of our task was to write articles for the school newspaper, which included interviewing folks (usually faculty) and covering events. I didn't hate the class itself, but I found it difficult to develop questions and interview people. Despite the professor, whom I'd had several other times, journalism was the only English class I didn't enjoy. It was an eye-opener, if for no other reason that I could ascertain without a doubt that I should not go into that field (not that I'd really considered it anyway, but it might have been a case of discovering another interest or talent).

A few weeks ago, it was arranged that a few students from local high school newspaper, The Silver Scribe, would come visit the 9th grade English classes today. Eight or so students arrived, armed with copies of the paper to distribute (and candy for those who asked questions), and described what they were about: It's not all writing; students could do other things like photography or website work or advertising; "We get to interview chicks" (mentioned by one of the male staff) and get into various events for free; they got to travel to places like Anaheim ("We got to go to Disneyland!") and Washington, D.C. for conventions; they get to meet actual professionals in the field and visit places like the NPR studios.

One of the students who came in had a beard. This proved fascinating to at least three of my students, one of whom chased the guy down to ask how long it took to grow the beard ("a couple of weeks"). Apparently he was asked that question a lot today.

It's repetitive and slightly boring teaching the same subject repeatedly throughout the day (I teach six sections of 9th grade English, although one of those is an integrated classroom, which presents its own sets of challenges); reading the same section of A Christmas Carol six times a day is, not to be dramatic, boring as all hell. On the other hand, it allows me to tweak how I teach. You're going along, thinking you're explaining something really well, or you forget (or don't think to) mention something that's really obvious to you but not to the students (because why would it obvious to those who are still learning whatever it is you're trying to teach?), and then later in the day you realize you inadvertently shortchanged the class(es) earlier in the day. Or, more commonly what's been happening to me is that I finally figure out how to discipline the kids who just won't shut up.

Today I gave a short, 22-question multiple choice/short answer test on "The Most Dangerous Game." Since the journalism students managed to interrupt each class - they always came in the middle of class, never at the beginning or end - my classes would get chatty and want to look at the newspapers, compare notes about the test, etc. I learned a few class periods in to tell my little test takers that if they continued to talk, I would simply take their tests and they would receive zeros. I missed that opportunity in the first two class periods, but by the end of the day eight students had received zeros because of talking.

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