Teacher Interaction


I’m up late grading papers, about to quit for the night, and somehow in my distraction, I got to thinking aimlessly.

My thoughts for some reason turned back to my eighth graders last year from student teaching, many of whom I still think about and wonder how they’re doing in high school this year. And as I thought about that, I thought about the last day of student teaching and how my cooperating teacher for that group acted.

I admit that I am a little bitter still about being robbed of a final moment with a class that was a struggle to connect with. I think singing them a song they had talked about for the majority of the time I was there would have solidified the memory, and instead, the time was spent watching narcoleptic cats, which none of the students enjoyed as much as the co-op did. And the send-off that we got as a class was almost entirely provided by me, since the teacher bailed on bringing drinks as he had agreed to.

But I am a believer in learning what I teach, and this practice has affected me profoundly during the discussion I’ve had with my sophomores over To Kill a Mockingbird. The model of Atticus Finch and his saintly heuristic of “walking in someone else’s skin/shoes” provides a high moral standard, and the fact that he turns it to people in the novel that seem at first glance to be just bad people (Mrs. Dubose, for one; Bob Ewell, for another) demonstrates how difficult it is to hold it consistently.

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Tonight was the opening night of our high school play, which is the delightful parody High School Non-Musical. I had been planning on seeing this for quite some time, since the cast are mostly students of mine. My wife happened to get into a conference this weekend, so I went alone, opting to stay after school until the show started.

It was nicer than I expected: a colleague invited me to go out with her husband and their 5 kids, and I enjoyed talking with them about family and teaching and numerous other things while we watched their kids interact.

When we got back to the school, it was basically time to grab a seat so we could get good ones, and it was a blast. The kids were funny (although the humor was very subtle and very much contingent on pop culture and literary references, from Monty Python to Shakespeare), and many of them really surprised me at just how good they were and how much they did during the play. It was a pretty decent performance, and I really had a good time.

But perhaps the best part was afterwards, where the students had congregated in a hallway to sign “autographs.” I went through and had the cast sign my program (even a few who aren’t students of mine), and some of the students told me that I was the only teacher who stuck around after the show, despite several teachers (and even one student teacher) having attended the performance. We had some laughs, and many photos were taken, including one of me and all of the senior cast members. I loved it.

And more importantly, I hope they loved it and will remember me in that moment.

As a teacher, I want my students to learn. I want them to grow, to explore, to expand their minds. But I also want them to know that I care about them, and I am grateful for extracurricular opportunities like this to share that with students.

So I can say with confidence: Yes, it was certainly worth the wait.

Over a month ago, blog friend Clix stopped by to point out a great resource for English teachers. I said I would look into it, having heard about it a little, but I admit that I was remiss in doing my duty to pass on this resource to my own readers (some of whom are English professionals).

The resource is the English Companion Ning, which (if you’re not familiar with Nings) is a social network that is dedicated to questions of English pedagogy. There are a great deal of very capable English professionals on the site, and there are groups and forums devoted to virtually any broad genres or disciplines within English language arts where you can start discussions and find resources for teaching – from teaching writing to teaching texts to teaching research papers, as well as discussions on The Crucible and transcendentalism (you can bet I’ll be referring back there soon) and To Kill a Mockingbird and teaching writing to lower level and unmotivated students (I’ll be revisiting that one soon – I have plenty of both!) and even MLA research papers. There’s honestly too many discussions to link.

And it’s a huge network – over 10,000 members as of this posting – that has even won this year’s Edublog Award for Best Educational Use of a Social Network Service.

If you are an English educator and haven’t checked out this site, don’t wait a month like I did – do it now. I promise, you won’t regret it.

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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Seriously, I get tired of writing about the teachers’ lounge. If it weren’t for the fact that I do like socializing with my colleagues during the one real time I get to see any of them (besides my lunch duty, which I share with another new teacher), I think I would avoid it. It seems like when I pay attention to what’s actually in there (which I do somewhat out of necessity, since my lunch period starts 15 minutes before the rest of the group), I inevitably find something that makes me go through what seems like the stages of grief: anger that someone in my hallowed profession would applaud something so stupid, depression that someone would actually disseminate bad information when our job is to promote knowledge and understanding, and finally acceptance (or maybe resignation) that I can’t change everything.

But then the idealist in me says, What do you mean, you can’t change everything? How will you know if you can’t do something about this if you don’t make an effort?

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I always seem to find myself in weird places when it comes to generations: I obviously fit into the Generation Y timeframe (mid-’80s) but have some of an appreciation for both the old and the new. I have a soft spot for tradition but embrace progress and change – it’s a somewhat bizarre mix at times.

Since becoming a teacher, I have found certain things causing me to engage my place on the generational fence, confronted on one hand by some of my older colleagues (although there are a handful who are roughly my age) and on the other by my students, who have their own ways of making me feel old. My own stance provides me an interesting position, though, to engage the thoughts of both the older Generation X and the newer Generation Z.*

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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.

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.

…which one of my colleagues has an affinity for printing on colored paper. This is not in itself a problem – hey, I can see some advantages to color-coding – but when he/she leaves paper in the network printer/copier, that means that I end up printing on the same color. No offense, but I really don’t like printing tests and handouts on purple and pink paper.

Whoever you are, please cease and desist.

Thanks kindly,
Mr. B

(Pardon the title.)

I have never been in any industry where unions have been a part of life until now. I’m honestly not that big a fan of unions, although I recognize their importance and function, especially in education where they play a role in mediation and contract negotiation (which of course applies to other industries as well). So I’m just getting my feet wet in this kind of stuff.

Our local union, which is a part of NEA, met today to elect officers. No one really wanted to volunteer to be a part, so most of the current officers were re-elected. One of our co-presidents, however, voiced her strong opinions about NEA leadership and her objection not to helping out the local union but to supporting the national organization. Much of it had to do with controversial retired General Counsel Bob Chanin (check here for a taste, although I’m not too enthusiastic about the reliability of many of these sources). It’s all politics.

That was the timbre of my first real union meeting: no one wants to be in charge, and we don’t much care for the higher-ups.

Union, right.

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