October 2009


I finished the book I’ve been reading this week earlier today, Why Do We Gotta Do This, Mr. Nehring?: Notes from a Teacher’s Day in School by James Nehring, and I have to give it my highest recommendations for any junior high or high school teacher (although it will be more topical for the latter). It is a very compelling book, equal parts narrative and commentary but all contained within a narrative framework that is very approachable. Nehring does a great job of telling the story of education – not a history, but the way things are. I say “are” because I don’t think things have changed a whole lot in the 20 years since this book was written and published; in fact, if you replaced all instances of “Walkmen” with “iPods,” there would be virtually no dissonance with the reality of education in 2009.

There is much that can be said about Nehring’s commentary – perhaps the most important part of the book, although the narrative is entertaining and engaging – but I want to return to that dreaded question that I wrote about a few days ago*.

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It’s not really a victory in the classroom, but I count it a victory nonetheless.

One of my professional duties is lunch duty, which probably sounds ridiculously boring but which I find to be a very useful time. This is for several reasons: first, it’s non-instructional time, and the amount of actual supervisory work is incredibly low. I also have duty for the first period of lunch (out of two), and this period happens to be almost the exact disjunction of the set of students I currently have in class – that is, I teach 10th-12th graders (well, most of them), and this period covers 7th-9th grades – so I have been able to get acquainted with a number of students who I will (most likely) have in class in the next few years. Consequently, I think I have begun to build positive relationships with many of these students, and I think this will work out in my favor.

But these aren’t even the best things about having lunch duty. My favorite part is, to be blunt, basketball.

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Post now updated with post-data – see bottom of entry.

I have often been disappointed at the reaction that some students have had to activities I’ve prepared, especially the ones I’ve been excited about. I once tried to do an activity with eighth graders that was essentially an improvisational exercise utilizing an understanding of the four types of sentences – declarative, exclamatory, interrogative, imperative – based on an improv bit that was done on the late great improv show Whose Line Is It, Anyway? where the participants are given a certain type of sentence and can only use that type of sentence to carry on a dialogue. (The Whose Line? bit focused on questions, and they also did something similar with song titles.) I thought it would be fun and it would engage current knowledge – well, it bombed, badly. Part of it was a lack of understanding of what they needed to do, and part of it (I think) was a lack of motivation to be creative.

So when I started planning an activity today, I decided to temper my enthusiasm with a little cynicism about how well it will be received.

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As noted recently, I’m currently reading James Nehring’s wonderful book Why Do We Gotta Do This Stuff, Mr. Nehring?: Notes from a Teacher’s Day in School. It’s a fascinating book, written in a sort of stream-of-consciousness style that focuses on one day but jumps back and forth between the (somewhat) hypothetical events of this single day and the very real issues that affect teachers, such as groupwork and leading discussions. I’m enjoying it immensely.

I wondered when looking at the title if Nehring would discuss that dreaded question – “Why do we have to do this?” – and I wasn’t disappointed:

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I have actually been on somewhat of a roll with my personal reading lately: in the past three weeks or so, I’ve finished the novel A Separate Peace – which was excellent – and read through Dave Barry’s History of The Millennium (So Far) (a fake history in Barry’s normal vein of humor – absolutely hilarious) and Ernest Hemingway’s early short story collection In Our Time, which contains a number of Nick Adams stories. (Both of these were, coincidentally, bargain buys at a local Waldenbooks.)

Why do we gotta do this stuff, Mr. Nehring?: Notes from a Teachers Day in School

Tonight, I started reading a book that came to me by way of a rummage sale, something that my mother (who is a fanatic about these kinds of things) picked up for me because it’s about teaching and…well, you probably know how mothers can be.

The book is “Why Do We Gotta Do This Stuff, Mr. Nehring?”: Notes from a Teacher’s Day in School by educator James Nehring (now an assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell), published by Fawcett Columbine in 1989. I’ve read a couple of books by teachers about their experiences (most notably Educating Esme by Esmé Raji Codell, a fine read from an elementary teacher’s perspective), so I thought I knew what to expect.

But I have to admit that this is the first book of this sort that I’m reading as a full-time teacher, and it struck me when I started reading the first chapter that I have a much better point of reference now. For example, the major controversy in this first chapter (and keep in mind the time): kids having Walkmen.

It has to be said – Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. (For those of you who, like me, don’t speak French: The more things change, the more they stay the same.)

I’ll keep you posted as I read through this book.

Faithful readers: What are you reading? Anything good?

That’s “Thank God For Short Weeks.”

Today is the last day of instruction, and only the first half of the day meets for classes (so no juniors – hoorah!). It couldn’t come soon enough.

The last few days since I last posted anything have been extremely trying. Notable moments (good and bad):

  • Tuesday: Celebrated the National Day on Writing in a few classes by doing writing of some kind, and I taught a mini-lesson on six-word memoirs; several of the students really got into it, giving me such gems as “Promises are made by truthful liars.” Also, sophomore hits me in the head with Dan Brown’s latest novel (I wish the student had better taste in smaller books). Oh, and I had to correct my seniors on the true etymology of the F-word (it’s from a common Indo-European root with analogues in several Germanic/Scandinavian languages; it has nothing to do with acronyms like “Fornication Under Consent of  the King”), which is, um, not something I had ever really expected to come up…
  • Wednesday: Discussed evaluation with principal, which by and large was good; asked for some feedback on how I could improve and talked that out a little. A sophomore class really pushed me over the edge, and I gave another detention to one student in particular who has repeatedly pushed me too far.

I need the break, and I wish I were getting one: tonight is my older brother’s wedding rehearsal (I’m in the wedding party, my first time in that experience), and tomorrow is a few parent-teacher conferences in the morning (that might give me some new material to write about) and the wedding in the late afternoon. I am going to be wiped out, most definitely.

Wish me luck.

My recent post on autism has apparently sparked some interest (hello Trinity students!), which I’m not altogether surprised at: autism is a hot topic these days, and for good reason. It’s especially a matter of concern for teachers, who are now faced with a greater likelihood of having a student on the spectrum mainstreamed into one of their classes.

Well, besides all of the nice comments that the last article sparked (despite the fact that it was mostly about my own personal dealings with autism as the parent of an autistic child and not really about education in general), I happened to get a message through facebook from a former classmate of mine who student taught and graduated at the same time as I did back in the spring. This message, however, was not about teaching and ASD but instead about teaching with ASD.

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