Teacher and Student Burnout: The Battle is Real

I sit here helplessly in my little living room /slash/ office area of my tiny little apartment in this huge metropolis and I listen to people that have never worked in a public school, in any capacity, talk about how safe it is to go back to the classroom. I sit here and I listen to them compare me to the grocery store clerk, or the trash collection service. I hear them making a moral judgement about my courage and fearlessness in the midst of this crisis, as compared to my counterparts in other public service arenas. Well, I just want everyone to know that I'm not a coward, and I am tired of my opinion being overshadowed by people that have no experience in the classroom. At the same time, I'm not stupid either. I know for a fact that schools are disease factories; I know that schools can never be clean enough to "stop the spread"; I know how many colds, coronaviruses, streps, stomach illnesses, and other infections I have caught and/or transmitted over the past ten years of my career in public school, so how can this disease be any different? Uninformed people think if you throw some hand sanitizer, a mask or two, and some big cash at the problem, along with some attempted social distancing, that all of the kids can just march right back into the school. The reason that schools are not significantly contributing to community spread is because they are currently rather underpopulated, so how can anyone sit there and confidently pressure teachers and support staff to just go and willingly sacrifice their own health, or their family's health, for a job that they are not even adequately paid to do?

Kids and teachers are definitely unhappy right now. One thing that is getting my goat is this business about my online class. We are to slavishly follow the five-part lesson plan as it is laid out by Doug Lemov in his book, Teach Like a Champion. I have no problem with Lemov, and I like some of his ideas, but making a student do 7 Do Nows a day, along with 7 Exit tickets a day, all online, is just the dumbest thing ever. My kids are complaining voraciously about spending 7 hours a day doing a repetitious five-part lesson for each online class. That is 7 Zoom meetings a day. Making the teacher create 5 separate folders for each day and script out each step of the class, and then make that same teacher slavishly follow this five-part, five folder, five day a week, boring repetition is a burn out machine major-deluxe. I have heard in songs and stuff that it is better to burn out than fade away, but now I'm beginning to wonder. Maybe fading away is not a bad idea, a sentiment now shared by many educators.

This week I had the unique experience of getting an administrator in my online class asking questions. All of my kids can follow my class, open my materials, and work with my digital content. I am running 4 digital platforms: Schoology, the community college I work for, Skyward, and the College Board. All of these have some different requirements and portals to put grades in and different things for students to do. I am trying my hardest to keep it simple for my students by engaging them in creative and colorful discussion boards and assignments. My attendance is amazing, and the vast majority of my students are growing as writers, thinkers, and readers. Even though we are separated by distance and this disease, we enjoy our classes. In spite of everything, I have been able to build some robust relationships with my kids, so their suffering is my suffering. But I got a weird dressing down of sorts from my administrator because I don't have little folders for each day, with little lesson plans in each day, with my content spread out into these separate days. It's the craziest, most clerical intensive, mindless, and uncreative mandate that I have ever been asked to engage in. My students go back and revisit materials constantly, so I don't see how making them hunt and peck in daily folders is of any use to them; nor is this hunting and pecking of any use to me, as it completely stifles my ability to create a meaningful lesson plan or unit designed on the unique and specific needs of this crucial moment. My lesson plans, when I do them the way they are mandated, are fragmented and not unified. When I do them the way I have been taught in college, then my students are happier. I create a new folder every week, but these lesson plans and folders as mandated are harming my students' classroom experience.

I want to know when it started becoming important for me to write lesson plans that prioritize my administration over my students so that I can be judged, not for my teaching, but for my ability to make little daily folders, and all of this during a world health crisis.

This kind of negativity, looking for fault and calling teachers cowards, should be forbidden during this crisis. It is an all-hands-on-deck kind of a mess. Administrators and the public should be looking at ways to get teachers and kids safely back into the classroom where we do our best. If that means moving teachers up the line to get a shot, then why not? When you ask a politician or some high-level administrator this question about the vaccine, you get a bunch of weird lip service, but no answers. We are talking about the safety of our kids and the people in the schools that are charged with spending long hours everyday with them in close proximity. Only a fool or a charlatan would go around making the claim that schools are safe. Clearly, they are not, and they won't ever be if people in power can't focus on what is important, rather than what is petty. 

AdobeStock_382060887


Pandemic Diversions: The Crazy Cat Lady Wins Again

Dear Readers, 

In this installment of my favorite cat lady tails, night animals collaborate to keep a human awake in the deep of the night. Something similar to the following story happened to me the night before last when I mistakenly left the doggie door open all night, and Bill ventured out and was unable to hoist his fat self back into the house. I stumbled out of bed and down the stairs to open the door for him because he was barking his head off, and then I tossed in bed all night thinking about my various lives: the struggling new personal life that means more to me than anything; the struggling work life that is causing me to experience different layers of burnout; the struggling financial life that whirls around the credit universe in a long series of minus signs; and, of course, the never-ending parental worries about my struggling musical artist that lives in a sort of artist camp with a bunch of other artist types. 

And of course, all of us are worried about Covid disease; I know we need to divert from this horror and weirdness as much as possible. The stories that independent writers produce are valuable in this regard because they provide moments of peace by temporarily moving us into a different realm free of disease and chaos while we safely wait out a viable solution for our return to normal life. Anyone currently suffering from Covid disease has our sympathy. I would like to introduce another such story from my favorite indie writer.

This story won a flash fiction prize, and, no, it is not mine.

Stranger in the Night

Leaving my parliament of night owls on their own recognizance—for some reason, a group of owls is not called a “congress”, but that is another story-- I hit the bed early, hoping to catch up on some much-needed rest. I toss. I turn. All goes blank. I must have fallen asleep because out of the blissful quiet, in the middle of the peaceful night, a teeny-tiny voice at the foot of my bed politely asks:

“Mew-myeow?”

“Go away,” I command. Refusing to obey the Siamese Tom, who clearly has a job for me to do, I settle back down to more peaceful slumbering. All is silent--even my inner monologue has fallen still, until:

“Mew-MEOW??”

“Go away. I am asleep!” I say, raising the amplitude of my voice to equal the insistence of his cattery demands.

This cat must be the reincarnation of the hideous, Dr. Mengele, who is obviously alive and well and conducting sleep deprivation experiments on me. I muse before I lapse into waiting for Cat- Mengele to rouse me again. His extreme patience pays off. Just after my breathing becomes regular and deep and I am nodding off, I hear:

“MEW-MEOW???”

This time the caterwauling falls right into my ear. Are those notes” D” followed by “F” in the key of C? Even if it is the middle of the night, I would know if I had perfect pitch! I may be a music lover but I have had enough.

“Get! Get! Get the hell out of here!” I roar, jumping out of the bed and chasing Siamese-Mengele out the bedroom door. Bam, the door slams. No need to fear waking the hoot owls, they never ever sleep.

I return to my bed and sweet repose until a laughing child’s voice inquires, “Are you okay?” “He was yodeling in my ear.”
“Dad says you were impressive!”
“You mean you could hear me?”

“We all heard you.”

Suddenly, I realize that my throat hurts. I yelled at the cat one full octave below my normal speaking voice. Damned cat! Now, I have throat nodules! My conscious collapses into a tiny purple painful asterick in the center of my skull, where it pounds relentlessly until I can no

longer lie still.

I glance at the alarm clock. The time is 2:30 A.M. I rise to find the hoot owls congregating over a bowl of salty snacks, dried mangoes, and assorted nuts. I guess, the cat was howling mad because he didn’t get his share!

“Where is Siamese-Mengele?” I inquire of the youngest owl. “Hiding under the table with PTSD,” the eldest owl growls.

I join the snacking parliament then return to bed. Suddenly, from next door comes the anguished howls of the abandoned Pit Bull, Ruger, who must have starred in Norman’s production of “Hounds of The Baskervilles”. Oh God, I whine. It has started again!

AdobeStock_241994199


Tails of Kindness and Love: Pandemic Writings from the Heart

My guest author sent me this bit of flash fiction below, and it made me start thinking more metaphorically. I wondered if in my desperation for love and guidance during this difficult time (as you know we must support our teachers, writers, artists, and musicians because they are dying off in a multitude of different ways thanks to the pandemic), if I wasn't inadvertently standing on someone's tale or tail. Maybe I am standing on them both, but I'm doing it out of a sense of love and amazement. I'm grateful to discover that God and the Angels are on my side, that they would send me a warning message that would move me into a courageous mindset that is now making these positive changes a reality rather than a dream. After thousands upon thousands of nights under a grieving starlit sky, I am finally recovering. 

Never mind me though, my wonderful guest author is always a joy to read. I write cringe worthy stuff, but she blends fantasy with reality in a unique and positive way; her writings are rather cryptic, inviting the reader to decode the message. I really believe young adult fiction is her genre, and that her stories could teach growing readers to see behind the curtain. 

Flash Fiction from Oklahoma

Earlier this morning, Hobo, the rescued cat, was outside growling. I grabbed my spray bottle and ran to his aid. Except, I couldn't get out of the door because my husband and Prince YOU-YOU were already there trying to see Hobo's opponent. Lee opened the door and Hobo ran inside. I was still trying to get outside but my way was blocked. So I started talking to Hobo, asking what did he see? And was he okay? Hobo is a talky cat. However, he answered all of my questions with an ever increasing desperation in his voice. I thought he was telling me all about what had scared him. I was standing on his tail. Poor gentle-cat!

FatPat


Musings from the Crazy Cat Lady on Election Eve: The Resistance and J.K. Rowling

My Favorite Author

I am an old-crazy-cat-lady that writes. I have ascended to this august status from the state of just plain crazy cat-lady that reads prolifically! You might wonder, but probably wouldn’t ever, now, which author does a b@+$h!t  writer with a runaway imagination like best? The answer is J.K. Rowling—definitely J.K. Rowling. The reason is as follows: tomorrow is election day and young people, who cut their teeth on Rowling’s moral compass, are turning out to vote in droves to drive a certain unnamed Wizard out of the White House. Rowling’s avid readers, Generations M and Z, know a Lord Moldy-wort when they see one. I am confident they will do whatever it takes to defeat both the princess of darkness and his soul-eating cabal. Voting to oust HE, whose name should never be mentioned, is only the younger generations first step to magically creating the world of compassion and fairness that live in the Harry Potter series. So, thank you, J.K. Rowling for your contribution to literature and your call for all good young witches to fight for the side of common decency. The young ones, having lived through a devastating wizards’ war, know that anything of value comes only at a great cost. Therefore, if we should lose this battle, our young agents of change will come back to this ongoing war on darkness fiercer and more resolute in their determination to defeat self-serving and aggrandizing evil-- once and for all and in the next election. Thank you, now, I am off to buy a new broom. I will need it to go vote and sweep out the White House.

FatPat


The Truth of it All: Skate Carefully!

The pandemic and one crazy dream full of screaming and desperation threw the hollow fruitlessness of my life back in my dumb face. For example, I assumed that someone that I missed and loved was far away living happily in some wooded, cool area with a lot ferns and drizzle, and possibly some kids around. As it turns out, I was wrong. I'm almost always wrong about people, and the while the truth is ironic beyond belief, it is just the kind of twist that I deserve. Right this moment I'm paying a stiff price for my complacency and inability to face reality. I'm forced to think about the person I was as well as think about the person I've become. Honestly, I don't like either one of them very much.

I also made the crucial mistake of asking my son to rebuild my old roller skates while I waited for the new ones to arrive on back order. Never ask someone that rides a skate board to rebuild your roller skates because the concept of drag and traction isn't in the skate boarder's base of worldly knowledge. They ride hell-bent for leather with the wheels on total freedom. Skates, as you know, require a lot more control. I was determined though; you have to give me credit for that. I tried hanging on my lawn chair to get going, but the skates felt like they were parked on a patch of ice, and within less than ten feet I had done some kind of combination of splits and bum bust on the concrete at an incredibly slow and tortuous pace.

Honestly, I couldn't even get back up on my feet without taking the skates off because I literally had wheels spinning the hell out of control. Lucky for me, I don't think my neighbor taped the whole incident, at least I hope not. If he did, I hope he leaves out the part where I am trying desperately to perch on the tips of my toe stops so I can limp, scoot, or crawl back to my lawn chair.

Anyway, my life is a combination of "I am sorry" and if there is a way "I have to fix all of this"! I'm also living with a ton of back, neck, and butt pain right now, along with a vicious case of writer's block.

Roller skate


Thinking about Covid: Trucking versus Teaching

Creeps and pervs all over the place, and like I should expect something different considering the times. The chimes on my patio quiver with each circulation of my neighbor's air conditioner, and I wonder if I'm safe to sit out and watch the stars, or if I'm just breathing in Covid infused, smoke-filled air. At night I create digital content for my students, and on weekends I write lesson plans that I'm required to post in little folders for each and every day and upload to my learning management system. I barely have time to grade anything, but I assigned an essay for my dual credit kids and I have 65 students. That means I have 65 long essays to grade this week on top of the digital content, the folders, the honor society stuff, and the all around tough environment now that I'm forced to go back in the building. Next week I will drive the 14 miles to that building, go through a temperature check and facial recognition system, and then hibernate in my room for eight hours with my new mini fridge and microwave and still teach my students from a computer.

Outside the sun will shine, and at home my pets will be alone. My books scattered on every wall and corner of my apartment will sit on their shelves and miss me, as I will miss them. The cameras around my place will mindfully and suspiciously catalog the goings and comings from my street, and the cameras in the school hallway will track my occasional bathroom runs down the long and empty hallway. The hallways are basically empty because most parents are keeping their kids home because of the virus, but teachers still have to report even though the Texas Education Agency is still working from home until next year. That's what happens when you have a broken government; people are put in perilous and reckless situations, while the privileged few get whatever they need to keep them safe.

Even with all the terrible, reckless, weirdness, I have to admit that I enjoyed seeing all my coworkers in person again. They all think I'm kind of a snob, or maybe too nerdy. Most of them keep their distance, which is okay with me, especially now when I think how awful it would be if I brought some germs from my neighbor's air conditioner, or from the giant hookah pipe that fires up every night two patios down. Right now, in this moment, I am healthy in every respect. My mental health is okay, and my physical health is about as good as it gets for me...I am in the normal range for me. But, right now, I want to be honest with everyone; I am afraid. I really don't want to die with Covid. Even after working on the road for almost three decades alone, and if not alone, then not in the best company, I never felt this threatened by any disease, or any human. 

I loved to drive and travel. I fell sick with a flu-like illness only once. My boss at the time drove out to get me in his pickup since I wasn't that far from the yard, and he chugged down one Marlboro after another with the windows up tight on that Texas panhandle morning. And honestly, I thought I would die. A true asshole, he was a classic. Even though he hates me now because I'm one of those "damn liberals" he seemed to care that I was sick back then. Nothing felt better than the rumble of my truck under my bare feet, but to punish me for getting sick on the road and needing time off, he gave my truck to some other person. As soon as I felt better, I was back out on the road in a bigger and badder truck working for a better boss, watching the sky make its rounds from early morning nutmeg colored glory to its shadowy, dark and blissful, creamy blackness.

Since I've been teaching, I've gotten sick with respiratory type illnesses on a regular basis. I think because schools are disease vectors, and I didn't have much immunity built up since I had spent the biggest part of my life running up and down the road alone. You would think truckers would be all diseased and sick because of the insidious nature of truck stops and road side diners, but no. The same holds true for stupidity or ignorance; most truckers are smart in an uncommon and crafty kind of way, and some are just plain well educated. After my child came and ended my perpetual aloneness, together we traveled endless miles in a parade of beautiful trucks. But, in the end, no matter what, we always end up handing our keys over to someone else. This time, I'm not ready.

999ACDF4-DE61-42F9-BC32-62BD51A9C714


Coronavirus and My Late Relatives: What Would They Say or Do?

It's my late brother's birthday today, and usually I dedicate this date to him as a sort of holiday or time of reflection. But today is so incredibly bizzarro with Covid-19 declared as a pandemic and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo shut down, that I'm just totally discombobulated, like a person in a corn maze wandering around lost.

I always try to think how my late relatives might feel about current events, as a means of putting it all into perspective while attempting to access some of their wisdom. 

My brother would probably make rude comments about Asians and wet markets and what animals certain people are drawn to eat. Then he would probably flip right around and tell me that it's none of my business what people of other ethnicities are eating, and that I should learn not to judge. My brother fought against his bigotry on a daily basis. His granite colored eyes would glaze over when he struggled with something ethical, reminding me he was nobody to underestimate. Remarkably rough and uncivilized at times, he seemed to have an honest affinity for dogs and babies, but everything else was dispensable. 

My Uncle Alfred would sputter angry curses and blame the "women."  He taught me everything I know about horses and random acts of kindness, but he was a total misogynist from day one. 

My mother, in spite of periodic fits of anger and drama, always remained calm and logical in a complete meltdown of all social or family norms. In the midst of this pandemic, my mother would recommend stocking a few groceries and making some good cocktails even though she never drank herself and didn't cook much. She would be on top of everything for at least a minimal length of time, and then she would wither away into her room and start making threats via phone or letter that would make the pandemic seem unimportant. 

My grandma could manage the whole crisis from the top of her cookstove, ordering people around as if they were drawing a salary from her neat and well computed check book. Her hand, extremely calm and nurturing, could quickly clip a grapevine for a sound thrashing if you dared get lippy in the midst of an emergency. Grandma would have a lot to say about Trump, and none of what she would say would be feathered in any notion of kindness. She would hate his guts.

Tonight my relatives would wonder why specific questions weren't answered by their president. They would all sit around the kitchen table and talk about how our lives are going to change. They would wonder why the Republicans are so selfish.

Shutterstock_795022531


Collapse of Coronavirus Leadership: Alex Azar, Trump, and Pence? Heck Ya I'm Nervous

No doubt this virus is nothing to joke about because of its dark nature. Look at all of the souls it has recently dispatched, and the intense suffering that it's causing around the globe. If the Trump administration and the CDC are resistant to calling this calamity a pandemic, if WHO doesn't want to call it that, then what exactly are we dealing with? It's certainly more than an inconvenience, especially in the United States.

For us, this pandemic could endanger millions of people because of our lack of a basic social safety net. No one from the Trump administration has said that our government will pay for these long hospital stays and thousands and thousands of tests for individual citizens. If our profit partnerships with hospitals and insurance companies are in charge of billing for this disease, then we could be facing a financial collapse for thousands of individuals with insurance and the certainty of long term debt for those without it.

People are buying food and supplies in bulk, at least around my town. Yesterday, one lonely bag of jasmine rice remained on the shelf, and the dried noodle aisle was almost completely empty, as if a big storm was rolling in. I'm finding sales on weird items like holistic cough medicines and immune support supplements. Name brand vitamins are getting pushed, and so are some off -brand cold and cough medicines.

The liquor store had quite the run yesterday considering that most people were down at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo Bar B Q event. I guess maybe this isn't that unusual, except if you follow what people are actually saying around town they pretend they aren't concerned at all. I haven't seen anyone wearing a mask, but I have seen an uptick in people rubbing on hand sanitizer. I, in fact, purchased the last bottle of 365 Lavender Hand Sanitizer at my local Whole Foods.

I am going to go ahead and act as weird as possible. I'm a nerd anyway, so no one will notice (not that I think anyone should care what others think about them). Since I pick up nearly every single virus that my kids bring around, I'm spraying all surfaces liberally with Lysol. I'm using hand sanitizer even when I don't need it, and I have picked up quite a few extra things from this place and that place just in case I decide to park myself at home. I'm unabashedly unashamed of my paranoia because I feel as if I am on a winding mountain road with a drunk at the wheel. This morning's visit to the Sunday news shows by Alex Azar the Human Health Secretary, previous pharmaceutical lobbyist, did nothing to assuage my fears. He's not a doctor, and this is not a political hoax as Trump has tried to declare.

Shutterstock_1627256197


Why the Bloomberg Message Matters so Much! Listen America...

Writing in juxtapositions hyphenates how circular and connected everything in the world is. When I interact with my dogs, I parallel their train of thought with my own because I respect the brain, the little soul, that exists in this furry, needy, little body. As Lukács relates his theory of social realism to Marx, he "contends [that human beings] are essentially socio-historical beings" and that the "formation of human society across time is a process of economic transformation, in which deep economic tensions resolves themselves in higher forms of social organization" (Graham 198). Even though Georg Lukács theory of the novel is simply that, a theory about novels, the economic juxtaposition is impossible to ignore. How does this all relate to what is happening in American politics now? Trump, an obvious fascist, represents an opposition to what most Americans fear the most, a debasement of the social structure as it swings left to shelter and support vulnerable individuals coded out of the mainstream economic upturn. 

How much of this upturn is due to an increased expansion of the fossil fuel industry is unknown by me, but I would say that it goes far enough to spike fear in the worker, enough fear to maximize a winner-take-all mindset such as the one that Trump represents. Critical realism debunks any possibility of a happy ending in the great American story because these higher forms of social organization, the economics of the neoliberal/capitalist state, will forbid any transfer of wealth into more sustainable energy forms. While Americans do see a few more solar panels and electric cars around, nothing is happening to offset carbon and methane output, quite the opposite, so a dirtier and more perilous world awaits for our children and grandchildren, even as we now watch helplessly as a worldwide pandemic unfolds. Politics at large, especially left leaning lip service, fails to permeate the echo chamber of winner-take-all-fascist-mindset even on the eve of our destruction.

The politicians on last night's debate stage fail to grasp Lukács theory of society functioning as an economic process constantly in transformation, so in other words, they will fail to beat Trump's fascist ideology because they are unable to adequately assuage the fears of the common worker, the fear of sustainable energy overtaking the fossil fuel industry. Even so, another, more dark and shady goblin lurks behind the transference of power from fossil fuel to sustainable energy, artificial intelligence. Fossil fuel workers realize at some level the sloughing off of jobs to machinery and robots. Even as we transfer wealth from one sector to another, skill based jobs are declining, no matter the purpose or intent. Following a cruel fascist into a dirtier future will only make this economic transformation more difficult and result in more penury and suffering. 

This is why I think it's vitally important to the public that Mike Bloomberg use his platform if not to win, then at least to inform. Stopping Trump means that Americans will face a brighter future even in the face of this economic transformation. Maybe we are trading one neoliberal narcissist for another, but at least Bloomberg is authentic, a strong juxtaposition to Trump.

Shutterstock_1388894738


Moonlight Ramble 2019: The Astros Win!

Honestly, I never expected this year's Ramble to make me so happy. Saint Arnold's Brewery didn't disappoint us by hosting everyone in their beautiful patio, and the Astros made the night more fun by winning the game against the Yankees sending our proud city to the World Series another time. The Astros played their best when our community needed it in 2017 after Harvey, and they pulled it together this year. The only downside to the Saturday night win was clogged sidewalks and city streets with game winning partiers, but I don't know how I can complain about that. 

This year I pulled Bob around in the cart and left Bill at home due to his leg surgery. Thank God I didn't try to drag both dogs this time because I swear the event managers lied about the distance. If it was only ten miles, then that was the longest ten miles I've ever pedaled. My legs felt like rubber, and the streets stretched out forever, plus I swear we had a head wind all night. It also seems like the planners finagled a track that meant we were pedaling uphill because I just felt like I was looking up a long straight incline all night.

Anyway, a long uphill slope, a dog in the trailer, a sliced banana and an outhouse, and an endless ride through Houston's most cultural neighborhoods made me a tired cyclist with a sore bum, but I'm glad I went. 

See you next year!

BicycleHalloween


Writing in High School: Why the Standards for Teachers and Students are too Low

Copied from a friend:


Right at this moment I am experiencing the frustration of trying to undo the damage and neglect that happens when teachers fail to take any composition theory courses or engage in any practicums or actual student teaching. I'm basically cleaning up after people that think that teaching English is simple and you don't need a degree for that--a crazy assumption in some education circles that speaking the language is enough and learning everything by the seat of your pants is just as effective as years of education and experience.

Currently, I'm struggling with a group of students that are a case study in the administrative philosophy that English teachers are dumb, expendable widgets. This results in a group of inhibited writers that had no idea that you could compose an expository paper without including sources, or that their instructor would have any respect for their original words, or that some of the silly grammar rules they had been taught are nonexistent, or that writing is for everyone and not just the elites.

This group of polished and polite students had previously fallen victim to a form of teaching that only scrapes on the surface of what one needs to know. They were taught that every paper must be a research paper with boring sources and whacky formatting, that any kind of arrangement and weak thesis statement will suffice.

I had one student tell me that they hadn't written any kind of an expository text since ninth-grade STAAR; I felt intensely sorry for that kid because most of the writing in the world is expository. What do people think most magazine articles, blogposts, newspaper articles, reports, and nonfiction bestsellers are? What about your history textbook and letters to friends? Not every text is a research paper or an argumentative essay even when it contains an artistic arrangement of rhetorical moves. It doesn't require us to follow a process, like a recipe, so it certainly isn't the famous "how to" essay of middle school days, even though it is rich in its own way. It explains something. It's not a story, typically not a narrative, and filled with hypothetical or actual examples. So if these students have no awareness of genre, then what in the world have they been doing in English class?

A simple four page paper that asks the student to identify a problem in society and discuss and explain how they would contribute to a solution should be easy. Using one article for inspiration should be enough. I have kids that have a poorly formatted works cited with eight or nine sources listed in varying fonts and font sizes. I have kids that have plugged in so many quotes--incorrectly--that I can't discern where one thought ends and another begins. I have students who have shrouded their own intellect in a cocoon of worthless ideas belonging to an endless array of dumpster like Google searches of unknown authorship and origin.

Time after time, I have told my students that I want to see their writing, their ideas, their solutions. What I see instead is a dropped quote placed at the end of a paragraph, just sitting there while I stare at it in fascinated horror and wonder where in the world it came from and why it isn't cited. I wonder why it is sitting there in the first place glaring back at me equally horrified when I clearly instructed my class to give me their own expository writing, their own ideas, and their own insightful, original solutions. I would much rather untangle a badly written paragraph and provide a writing conference on original work than look at dumb facts generated from a website. Crazy paragraphs are the kind of horror I can handle.

Around my classroom, I see a multitude of confused faces that ponder and argue back: 

 "I was always taught that everything that I wrote had to be backed up with sources. You mean I can write what I want? How do I just make something up? What do you mean by hypothetical? Is that a medical term?"

My students have no knowledge about genres of writing, or even what kind of writing belongs with what audience. They don't know the first thing about creating a research question, how to avoid cherry picking sources, and most of them can't even embed quoted material. I see every form of accidental plagiarism known to the human species. Think about that. How could they have ever written a successful research or argument paper even under some form of guidance? When the expectation is that the students have surpassed English IV and are ready for dual credit, then one would think that the basics have been covered. My most talented students hesitate to take a risk with anything except formatting. I have seen all kinds of weird headers, footers, works cited pages, fonts, bolds, italics in bizarre spaces, and margins several inches wide. How can this be? 

Well it would seem that at the end of the day, people in power are sitting on their hands avoiding an obvious truth: our kids are being cheated out of a meaningful English class experience. Low level work and zero accountability is an everyday good practice in a low rigor, free-for-all, no pedagogy existence. We are doing a disservice by not raising our standards for our teachers, and by not providing adequate training to our teachers. In some cases, we are just filling a seat with a warm English speaker. In some cases, this warm English speaker would best be cast as an instructional aide or even as a math teacher. We need actual English majors teaching our subject. English majors that are willing to go the extra yard and write for the love of writing. We need English majors that will share that love with their students and enroll in high quality, advanced course work. At the least, we need teachers that are willing to recognize their own gaps. And once we recognize our own gaps, it becomes easier to learn from others because we realize we must. Pretending that we have all of the answers and don't need advanced course work or quality professional development is as mythological as a unicorn wearing a Steelers jersey zooming by freeway traffic perched on a skate board. 

Not only that, the kind of composition theory that teaches teachers to become writing teachers can't be found in the snake-oil, commercial world of quick fix education articles and forums, and it is best accomplished in a college classroom beginning as an undergrad. Composition pedagogy is dense and confusing, takes practice and dedication to master, and promotes student literacy in ways that nothing else can. Books by Peter Elbow, Sondra Perl, Pat Belanoff, and Kenneth Burke, help teachers untangle the mysteries of writing well, responding to student papers, and creating workshops, journaling activities, and professional learning communities that engage everyone with appropriate grade-level materials. And that is only scratching the surface of scholarship available to the dedicated and well prepared English teacher willing to dig in and learn. If we fail to provide meaningful, professional instruction, our students will journey into the world underprepared for work and college. This failure is a problem for all of us, as it impinges on our ability to maintain a just and democratic, civil society, a purview of the English department.

Writer