November 2009


If you want a quick three-word description of what my life feels like lately, look at the title and you might get what I’m saying. (The Easter egg might also help, if you see it.)

Most of this feeling is unrelated to teaching (and is generally stuff that I wouldn’t want to spill on an unsuspecting and largely indifferent reading audience), but the sudden realization I had yesterday that there are only three weeks of school left before Christmas break most certainly is related. Ooh boy.

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Today, I did what I had to do: I fought what may be a sinus infection all day to make it to school to provide comfort for at least some of my students. Consequently, I quickly found out that the teacher who passed away, familiarly called “H” by students and colleagues alike, had had a profound impact on so many people.

That made it incredibly difficult. One colleague gave the announcement this morning, and having been at the school for years, he had a hard time making the announcement. The student who normally does the pledge bowed out (H had been a family friend, I understand), and the secretary, bless her heart, broke down crying in the middle of giving the pledge in the student’s place. It was so hard to listen to because the grief was palpable.

And then there was silence, something which has never (to my knowledge) happened at the beginning of my 1st hour class. So I told them, “I’m sorry, but I have to break the silence. We have to talk about this.”

And what ensued was a beautiful session of catharsis.

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I woke up this morning feeling pretty awful. My ribs and collarbone ached, and this turned into (over the course of the day) a full body ache that makes me think I’m getting sick.

At one point, I came by the house to get some medicine in the midst of running all over the place doing other things, thinking, I haven’t used any sick days yet…this would be a good time for it. And I have a message from a number with the same prefix as the district I teach in.

It’s the secretary, telling me that the teacher who I ultimately replaced (with one teacher between us) had passed away. I call her back for details, and she really has none. I tell her that I had been thinking about calling in sick, but that’s out the window now: I can’t abandon my students, especially the seniors who had this teacher as sophomores in her last year of teaching.

I honestly don’t know what I’m going to say tomorrow, although I know that I can’t really teach at least my senior English class. I’m going to have to let them know that I’m here for them and to lend a sympathetic ear. I don’t even think I know what I would do otherwise.

Tomorrow will be hard, especially if I feel the way I do. This is a moment, though, that I cannot afford to lose with my seniors, who are (now, finally) somewhat back on board with me after many of them starting to show signs that I’m losing them. If I didn’t show up when they will be grieving so for this beloved teacher – the teacher they were just talking up on Friday in a class discussion – then I would really be disrespecting them. I just have to bite the bullet and be there, in whatever shape I’m in. The students will likely do the same.

I don’t know if I’ll help at all. But the fact of the matter is that I have to try, and hopefully that will mean something.

I happened to catch a TV ad for the Illinois Lottery’s holiday campaign, entitled “Joy Someone”. My first thought: Is this a new sense of the verb joy? I knew the intransitive sense of “rejoice; take joy in,” but this transitive sense was new to me.

Well, I no longer have access to the OED Online (darn you, alma mater!), but I can at least see free dictionaries, and lo and behold, I found:

v.tr. Archaic
1. To fill with ecstatic happiness, pleasure, or satisfaction.
2. To enjoy.

So the sense of “to make joyful” is there, but it is mostly obsolete. I am skeptical that the creators of the ad knew this, opting instead just to use this existing intransitive sense of the verb form (which I think is rare, although I could be wrong) and use it transitively. (Linguists: Is there a term for using an otherwise intransitive verb in a transitive sense?)

But at least there is precedent for it, and that makes my inner grammar snob feel better.

Short version: Sometimes they’re wrong.

Okay, the background – I purchased a small class set of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein for my novels class, and we’re getting through it right now. While the students are digging into the monster’s narrative about his life after being created (and rewriting/paraphrasing it), I’ve been reading ahead to have some ideas for discussion.

My students have also expressed difficulty in understanding much of this novel, which is due in no small part to the fact that all of the novels we have thus covered – Of Mice and Men, The Grapes of Wrath, and The Great Gatsby – have been 20th century American novels, and Frankenstein is early 19th century British. One of the nice things about this text, however, has been a glossary of endnotes and a vocabulary reference at the back of the book, broken down by chapter so that students can refer to them. It’s worked okay for some, not as much for others; one student has been asking me about certain words, and I’ve found that explaining some words – like traverse – takes a little more than a simple denotative explanation. Still, it’s reasonably helpful.

That is, when it’s right.

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Right now, about 3/8ths of a year into my teaching career, feels like a valley.

You see, I’m at a frustrating point where I have a decent idea of what I should do (at least in general terms) to improve my teaching immensely…but it’s just not happening, and the blame for that is entirely on me. It’s like seeing an object and reaching your arms and hands outward, outward, short of the goal, and falling flat on your face — because you haven’t taken the few steps forward to put it within reach.

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Todd Whitaker has this little bit that he talks about in person (and he’s done it both times I’ve seen him) where he talks about teachers who say things like, “I’ve told Billy a thousand times not to do that.” His remark: “Now there’s a slow learner.” (After a few seconds, you start to realize that Whitaker’s not talking about Billy…)

Sometimes I feel like that teacher.

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