I am so far behind, both here and in real life, so here are some highlights of the past, uh, week or so:


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?

I don’t often have time to surf other edublogs (which does make me feel a little bit guilty – how can I expect other people to read my blog if I can’t do the same?), but I’ve noticed something on several blogs: some type of image that goes along with the topic of the post. (For some examples: So You Want to Teach?, I’m a Dreamer, sometimes Epic Adventures.)

So, as one both interested in learning a better way to do things and interested in appealing to my audience, I ask: Does it get boring reading my largely image-less and certainly text-heavy posts? Would images make the reading experience more enjoyable for you?

Leave some feedback as to your thoughts in comments, or if you prefer anonymity, you can use the following poll:

I am a somewhat reluctant reader of webcomics: I don’t really like following ones with extended storylines, but the ones that can be read fairly individually and still make me laugh are my favorites. My favorites are definitely PHD Comics, Chaospet (although it isn’t updated frequently, it’s good philosophical humor), PartiallyClips, and – last but certainly not least – xkcd.

Well, today’s webcomic combines my love of literature and technology (and all most things geeky) into a strip:

Dear Peter Wiggin: This letter is to inform you that you have received enough upvotes on your reddit comments to become president of the world. Please be at the UN tomorrow at 8:00 sharp.

The mouseover/alt text is perhaps the funniest part (and that is often so with xkcd – it’s sort of like a really easy Easter egg): “Dear Peter Wiggin: This letter is to inform you that you have received enough upvotes on your reddit comments to become president of the world. Please be at the UN tomorrow at 8:00 sharp.”

Of course, this representation isn’t quite what happens in the book, but it’s still a funny little commentary on the idea that “essays on the nets” – which is precisely what blogs are – could give a person enough clout that the general population, even one that is in the kind of turmoil that we see in Ender’s Game, would hand over leadership to these bloggers. Why isn’t anyone handing over the keys to their city or state to Andrew Sullivan? (Other than the fact that he’s a Brit…)

[By the way, if any of you are interested in math, science, programming, science fiction, pop culture references, the Internet or its little quirks like 4chan (no, I will not provide a link – I like you all too much for that), or other geeky/nerdy things, you really should be reading xkcd. Bookmark it – now!]

…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

Since I last wrote here, I have encountered my first instance of outright plagiarism as a full-time teacher, one so flagrant that it was almost immediately identifiable as something other than the writing of a high school junior and which I found almost immediately with a Google search as an Apache creation myth (the assignment was for an original creation myth). At first, I was furious about it, but now I’m just disappointed and have cooled down maybe enough that I can handle the student the way he/she deserves to be handled: firm but with mercy.

I say “with mercy” because I’m providing a second opportunity for the student. If he/she will turn in an original myth by tomorrow, I’ll accept it for a significantly reduced grade (but higher than what he/she would otherwise get: a zero), and if not, I’ll give a zero and inform the principal of the violation. I was perfectly clear on my syllabus that plagiarism is not something I take lightly, and I intend to make my example here for future violations. I think I’m being more than fair.

On a totally different note, I have felt like planning has come together very loosely, and I’m still working out details for instruction this week despite having the weekly assignments up for students. (I might have set a bad precedent by doing this, although it helps keep me accountable.)

But one thing that I will change – in a very positive way – is due to something I just found. In searching for information on the 1992 movie version of Of Mice and Men (starring Gary Sinise as George Milton and John Malkovich as Lennie Smalls), I found an online streaming version of the full movie on imdb (streaming provided by that great video site, hulu) that I can use today for my students. I had wanted to show parts of this but wasn’t going to be able to get it in time; it’s available on netflix, which we use pretty much exclusively now for movies at home, but it wouldn’t have arrived quickly enough, and it isn’t available for instant watching.

And I took a phrase that has been a part of my teacher’s toolbox for quite a while – Don’t panic! from Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – and printed out an image of it with Marvin, laminated it, and put it in my classroom for easy reference (and another decoration for the room).

Another week, a mixed bag – but onward I press in this journey of teaching. As long as I enjoy it, I think it’ll be just fine.

This is it. Tomorrow.

I shouldn’t expect too much from tomorrow – I have any given group of students for all of 15 minutes before the next one comes through, which will only be enough time to say hi, take attendance, pass out and go over syllabi, and say bye as they move on to the next period.

Still, it sets the tone. I have to be assertive, but not intimidating; serious, but not too sober. I need to make sure that students know I am not a doormat, nor am I the last teacher. I need to convince them that I know what I’m doing.

I think I know what I’m doing.

Here’s to a good start – to tomorrow.

Disclaimer: I like thinking too deeply about the characteristics of things that some most people probably think should be taken at face value. If you are one of those people, turn back now. If you’re one of those people and can’t help yourself, my condolences.

I recently noticed – okay, it wasn’t recent that I first noticed, but I observed again – that the syntactic features of Facebook statuses are quite varied. Eric Baković at Language Log wrote about pronoun issues with Facebook back in May, which was sometime after Facebook decided (perhaps after some complaint from syntactic-minded users, or maybe just from non-syntactic-minded people who just thought it was awkward) to stop forcing users to use “<Person’s name> is” at the beginning of statuses. Currently, the default is a box that says “What’s on your mind?” rather than prompting for an exact phrasing of the user’s status. Some people have ignored the fact that Facebook inserts the user’s profile name at the beginning of the status, which results in updates like

Jane Smith* what to eat….

Isaac Houston* stargazing! finished up for the night. took a fantastic picture of jupiter live! I will have a picture posted tomorrow I hope..

But at least among my friends, who are not universally English-oriented individuals (although I have plenty of English majors, graduates, and professors in my friend list), the trend as I’ve observed it in my relatively small sample is to stick with the classic style of updates and start with a verb. What’s interesting to me as I think about how I update is that there is also a tendency to stick to forms of “be” or “have,” the former especially due to the natural tendency for status updates to be expressions of an emotional or physical state (e.g. “Jacob Seinz* is tired and needs to go to bed now.”). Other copula appear less frequently, and there are a few others that tend to be more abstract (c.f. “need” in the previous example).

I’ve noticed, however, that even when I want to express some action rather than a state of being, mood, etc., I almost always use the present progressive. This tendency popped out to me when a friend’s status said “Marsha Cherrywood* reads Freire”, and I realized that I probably would have said “Mr. B is reading Freire.”

So now, just because I don’t like fitting into neat little syntactic modes, here is my new status:

Mr. B updates his status in simple present tense.

Much better.

*Names withheld to protect the innocent. Or something.

I just got perhaps the strangest spam message I have ever received (well, at least the strangest since the IRS phishing message that prompted me to click a link to It is strange because it has an element that I have never before seen in the strange messages that often pop up in my inbox (or more commonly, in the university mail service’s spam filter): poetry.


I have always had a love/hate relationship with organization: I like organization and generally like organization in my life, but it is difficult for me to get organized 90% of the time. I tried to be organized with student teaching, but my cooperating teacher kept telling me that I needed to make more lists to be organized. I agreed, which frustrated me as much as it frustrated her.

The problem is that I have difficulty getting motivated to get organized. Last Christmas, the company I worked for gave out small planners (small enough to fit in my back pocket), and I vowed to use it to stay organized with dates, which worked to some extent but not as well as I would have liked (for one, the planner fell apart because it was cheaply produced). No other methods ever seemed to work for me, either.

When my college graduation began to approach, my wife started asking me for ideas for a grad gift. My first thought was “Technology!” and I went off to see what gadgets I might find to improve my life. My initial thought before this had been a PDA, but most retail outlets that we looked at didn’t carry them since most consumers in the market for something like a PDA will probably opt for a smartphone instead. (Smartphones haven’t been on my radar since I haven’t wanted to get roped down with a mobile voice/data plan. I rarely use my cell phone now, which is prepaid.) I had crossed it off my list, and when I started looking at E-book readers, my mind went back to PDAs as a solution for both my desire to read books portably and digitally and my desire to get organized.


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