On-the-Job Learning


I generally don’t divulge many details about what is happening in my school, and I have tried to keep a modicum of anonymity (although I know that the curious reader could probably put the pieces together). That’s for my protection as well as my students, none of whom deserve to be dragged into blog posts by name (or even gender, where I can avoid it). I know as a first-year teacher that I am in somewhat of a precarious spot, despite the fact that my position itself is not anywhere close to being on the chopping block and that I have pleased administrators enough that I think I’ll be around next year. (It also helps that I’m the third high school English teacher in as many years; the position needs some consistency.)

But I have to write about something that is happening at my school right now. It’s simply too much for me to keep in.

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This week is going to be a long one: seniors turn in research papers tomorrow, for one. I have two out of a grand total of 19 that I’ll end up grading (hopefully, at least – not turning this assignment in will kill a 2nd semester grade in a hurry), and whereas I don’t expect to take the two weeks that it took last year for 50+, it will still be exhausting, I know.

I also start PSAE/ACT prep for my juniors this week, which will carry us through the last week in April. I have never done this before, and I’m going to be shooting from the hip in many regards. I have taught persuasion multiple times now, including once last year in preparation for the ACT Writing test, so that will be the relatively easy part. On the other hand, I haven’t taught much grammar this year, and now it will kick into serious gear. I fortunately think I have some good resources on this, so I’m hopeful.

Essentially, though, I’m navigating unknown waters, and it will be interesting to see how it works out. I’d say that I’ll get back to you all on that, but anyone who’s noticed my blogging habits lately will be rightfully suspicious of any promises to that regard.

We’ll just have to see, I guess.

A professional development opportunity I’ve taken advantage of this year has been a reading/discussion group of teachers in our building covering Todd Whitaker’s What Great Teachers Do Differently. (If that name sounds familiar, you might be a regular reader: see here and here.) It’s been very interesting to hear other teachers’ opinions on Whitaker’s 14 points, and a lot of discussion about our own school and how to make these things work has happened, mostly in a productive manner.

One subject that has come up – unsurprisingly – is the teachers’ lounge. (Which has also been a topic of discussion around Docere.) For almost every school, the lounge seems to be one of those institutions that teachers cling to despite the fact that it almost always propagates the worst attitudes that we could possibly have. Whitaker even mentions that the most common reply he receives from teachers when he asks what advice they would give to student teachers about the teachers’ lounge is “Stay out!” – which is sad, since there probably is a degree to which it might be cathartic for us to share our struggles and triumphs with other people who are in the same boat.

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Part of my personal philosophy on teaching and learning is that they are somewhat interchangeable: most of the time, I will teach and students learn, but the opposite should also happen frequently as well. And although I want to provide models, sometimes it’s nice to explore with them.

In my writing elective, we’re studying short fiction, and I wanted my students to write some microfiction pieces, 200 words or less. I gave some examples from a blog that is run by some friends of mine (it’s good stuff) and let the students go, joining them in writing a couple of microfiction pieces as well. The ones that the students shared were quite good: some funny, others serious, with some other variations as well.

But for a moment, I’m going to take the spotlight and share my own writing. Keep in mind that these pieces are unedited from the original writing – and I wanted to keep them that way. (more…)

And actually, not because of this.

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One of my friends on Facebook is a college professor at my alma mater who is in her second year of post-graduate teaching at the university; although I never had her for a class, she and I discussed doing some work together for a digital rhetoric/new media article she wanted to submit to an online journal because I had experience with PHP/MySQL coding (the collaboration never happened, sadly).

Her status was about having just taken a look at online evaluations, which the university just switched to this year, and being depressed at the negative feedback. Being a fairly new teacher as well, I know how it is to get negative feedback and how frustrating it can be, but I shared some advice with her about how I’ve learned to handle feedback in general, and I’d like to share that with you as well.

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You might even say it was a case in which I did actually learn my lesson.

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Or, You think I’d learn, Pt. 2.

Okay, forget the self-deprecating title of this post: I don’t think I’m stupid, but I sometimes wonder why I just don’t seem to learn. I even have a visualization for the sort of philosophy I have on teaching and learning:

Old experiences and ideas + New data and information = New understanding of the world Transforming self and external reality

Yet, when it comes to stuff that works, I don’t seem to have mastered the idea of thinking back to my best lessons and reflecting as such: Self? [Yes?] You remember that lesson that went really well? [Yeah, it was awesome; you–er, we rocked it in the class.] Well, maybe I should try that again. If it works one time, then maybe it might fit here, don’t you think? [That’s a great idea! Go you! Er, us!]

Case in point: today.

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2mm, but still no funThus is my life currently. Well, now more especially than normal.

Despite the fact that I generally don’t have exciting weekends as a married man and teacher, this weekend was exceptionally thrilling. I ended up at the doctor on Saturday for pain in…well, we won’t go there. Let’s just say it was an exceptionally sensitive spot. I had to go from there to the hospital and eventually the ER.

And the trend continued on Sunday, when an early morning bout of severe lower back pain sent me back to the doctor…and the hospital…and the ER again, to find out that the likely ultimate cause of all of my misery was a 2mm kidney stone. (See the photo for an idea, although seeing one is nothing like having one inside one of your ureters.)

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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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