September 2009

This week is going to be an incredibly crazy week. Starting tonight, I have events through Tuesday night which will take a significant amount of my time, and I have lounge duty this week (meaning that I’m responsible for bringing snacks for coworkers and keeping the lounge clean all week). On Thursday, my fall evaluation period begins, and so I have to work out some time to 1) have a pre-evaluation chat (I think that’s what she wants) and 2) set up an observation time (prediction: it will not be during my junior classes). And there are further school events that will complicate matters further near the end of the week, which is very inopportune given that for at least one class I am already struggling to fit everything in that I want to do before the end of the quarter (which is three weeks away). I’m trying to plan as best I can to make this week work without too many issues, but, like so many things with teaching, it’s a juggling act.

It’s possible that I may not be able to blog very much at all consequently, so don’t be surprised if I’m absent for a few days. (Not that anyone will likely be holding their breath, so to speak…) We’ll have to see how things go.


Tonight, I’ve been grading college application essays that I received from students yesterday, and I’ve noticed a pattern that I’ve encountered before during student teaching, so I have to say something about it. If you are a student in an English or writing course, I suggest you read closely.


In the midst of these first-year struggles (the sort of growing pains that I think most teachers have to deal with), I have learned to look wherever I can for little celebrations. It’s sometimes difficult, but I can find them. Today’s was especially great for me.


Randomly, I happened to see a link come in through my WordPress admin panel, and I followed a short trail to find out that I got some recognition for my blogging from Scholastic Instructor. Docere Est Discere was apparently selected as the “Best Student Teacher Blog” for the September issue. I am absolutely thrilled to get that kind of recognition, especially in words like this:

Why We Love It: From tips for up-and-coming student teachers to his own reflections on his process, Mr. B. reminds us how far we have come. Perfect for those days when we’re feeling just a bit jaded.

How could I not be motivated to write about my teaching experiences with that kind of praise?

Thanks, Scholastic!

It has been one of those weeks for me: an utterly soul-crushing experience that has made me lose a lot of self-confidence in my abilities and what I am doing. I can’t say that the thought of giving up has entered my mind, but I have had doubts about how good a teacher I am. Not a good week at all in that regard.

But there are some things that can help make things better. For me today, it was colleagues who made me laugh. A simple thing, really, but laughter is so powerful, and even the gloomiest outlook can be softened by it.

Words I try to live by: When I can laugh, it’s a good day.

This is not a good week for me when it comes to making assumptions.

First, there was my encounter with bigotry and dealing with that, and then, when I thought I had a great solution, there was this: Several of my students decided to be wiseacres (putting it nicely) and asked me what temperature I was today. It was clear that my strategy hadn’t worked except in that one case (and even then it was probably mostly because of how I responded to them, not because of the technique itself) and that it wouldn’t work again.

I guess that proves that “diamonds” are not, in fact, forever.

One of my students writing a college application essay about wanting to be a teacher (yes, I have one) used this quote:

Who dares to teach must never cease to learn.

— John Cotton Dana

It’s so great that to see my motto so widely accepted.

I can’t say I’m always great under pressure, but every so often, I do something in the moment when I am feeling the stress and weight of a difficult class, and it works beautifully. When it does, I just want to share.


Bigotry has been on my mind a lot this week. Several days ago, my mother was talking about her concern that a “Middle Eastern” man* had recently taken ownership of our local gas station, and she backed away from really speaking her mind (I think) after I showed how apprehensive I was about the sentiment she was saying, which was ultimately that some foreigner had taken over, and why couldn’t the station stay in the hands of a local owner. One for xenophobia.

Then I saw the somewhat comforting tribute to Alan Turing.

Then I saw this sign and was sickened at the unadulterated racism that popped up during the recent 9/12 march.

Today, I was talking with a coworker over lunch before the rest of our lunchmates came in about a sign in a local Wal-Mart that read “Formula maybe purchased at aisle 18”. (My response: “What, you don’t know?”) I suggested that it could have been put up because this particular brand of formula had been shoplifted often, or it could have been racism (this Wal-Mart is in a moderately large town with a significant African-American population). I did put a caveat on my statements, though, saying (and I quote), “I’ve learned not to make any assumptions about bigotry because when I do, I’m generally disappointed.”

Then the rest of our colleagues come in, and the topic turns from a student who is now pregnant (who I have in class) to the welfare mindset, and quickly…well, I don’t think I even need to go much further for you, thoughtful reader, to finish the story.

In an amazing twist, I was proven wrong (or my point was made, whichever you care to look at it) within mere minutes, and by the very people who I work with to help our kids become upstanding members of society who understand and care about the diversity of human life.

I don’t really know what to say other than the fact that I am deeply saddened. I am utterly opposed to racism, xenophobia, and any kind of bigotry, and I make no apologies about it. It is not something I am comfortable with or will ever be comfortable with, and the only consolation I have is that I have a chance. A chance to help instill positive values that will impact the world positively.

I just hope that I can take advantage of it.

*I say “Middle Eastern,” but I’ve also heard that he’s a Hindu, which could mean that he’s Indian or some East Asian nationality. The point stands regardless of the specifics.

The name of the late Alan Turing has been popping up in a number of places lately, with a coalition of computer scientists, historians, and LGBT activists coming together to petition the British government to issue an apology for what was done to Turing. See, Turing was a brilliant codebreaker and the man most responsible for cracking the Nazi Enigma code, which undoubtedly changed the course of the war in favor of the Allies; his work with theoretical computing (such as his thought experiment, the Turing machine) is directly responsible for the rise of computers as we know them today. Turing was also gay, and he was subjected to chemical castration when this fact was discovered. Turing committed suicide two years later.

British PM Gordon Brown did issue an apology, and it’s a pretty good one as far as that goes (Geoff Pullum notes here that it’s remarkable to see a politician utter the unambiguous words “we’re sorry,” and I tend to agree). The fact that an apology was issued is remarkable and a worthy tribute, but I rather like the tribute that poet Matt Harvey gave to Turing (HT: Geoff Pullum at Language Log):

Alan Turing

here’s a toast to Alan Turing
born in harsher, darker times
who thought outside the container
and loved outside the lines
and so the code-breaker was broken
and we’re sorry
yes now the s-word has been spoken
the official conscience woken
— very carefully scripted but at least it’s not encrypted —
and the story does suggest
a part 2 to the Turing Test:
1. can machines behave like humans?
2. can we?

Can we, indeed.

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