education Feed

The Dangers of not Knowing how to Read and Interpret

 

People might point out that I am myself a know-nothing compared to the professor of comparative languages from Princeton, but that type of superstar academic is seldom found stumbling around a public school with students struggling below grade level. Public schools typically hire teachers with good state educations, with some kind of certification. But now that teaching has become such a hopeless endeavor, now that the profession is bogged down by budget concerns and political attacks, hardly anyone, no matter their expertise, wants to risk their livelihood authentically improving student outcomes.

The English degree takes quite a bashing, and the result of this is that an entire subject is deprofessionalized. Now, at least in my state, nearly anyone, no matter their course of study, can teach English in a public school. The horrific outcomes are obvious to people like me that actually follow trends and can notice the decline in the classroom. In my short career, I have taught students that can't read at grade level, have no knowledge of academic vocabulary, no relationship with any book, have never read a newspaper or magazine, don't know any current events, are media illiterate, and cannot speak or listen in the classroom. Some of my students cannot use dictionary guide words, cannot take effective notes, have never asked questions of a text, and cannot plan an essay. They know nothing of banned book week, poetry month, what a poet laureate does, or the part that opinion plays in American life. These types of disenfranchised and miseducated students will not succeed in college or in the job marketplace without serious intervention.

When my feelings of confusion rise to the surface because of a scheming manipulator or hateful sycophant, I push my hurt down and watch the ooze glide off of my fingers onto my pen to the page beneath; my tear splattered manuscript becomes a textual product of the mental stress this kind of gaslighting takes on me the teacher. An entire state changed its standards to help people like me ward off the fake English teacher. One fake happened to make an enormous amount of money running a low-achieving high school that I happened to work in. Before that position, she worked as an English teacher in a charter school that was closed due to falsifying student records. Her "know nothingness" accentuated her ridiculous behavior.

She arrogantly strode into my room accompanied by an equally clueless Teach for America candidate that also masqueraded as an English teacher, and then yelled at me in front of my students because "They aren't doing anything"! The students, some of them for the first time in their lives, were busily self-selecting books from my classroom library to read for the first few minutes of class. Some of the students filled the books with sticky note comments and placeholders so that they could go back to the books again and again to keep reading. She hauled me into an admin meeting and wrote me up for insubordination after she caught my kids reading after her outburst. My lawyer, armed with academic research proving the benefits of sustained silent reading, had a hard time understanding her smug stupidity. The result of the meeting hurt all of us, the students and myself. In place of reading, the students practiced standardized test questions.

Another Know-a-Lot claimed to have an English background, even bragged about an English degree, but couldn't understand why classroom novels and projects related to shared texts mattered. She sat at her desk while the "kids did lit circles with choice books." This person even tried to convince the administration that the new state standards didn't allow for assigned texts, by far the dumbest assumption ever uttered by a person in a public school. And this person even suggested that encouraging student writers to professionalize and join English departments, and become English majors, is a form of disservice, a barricade to their employment.

I know my readers think I harp on this a bit too much, but I believe our darkness, the horrible state of our world, is due in part to the mixed messages that our students cannot properly decode. Our students are ill-equipped through no fault of their own. Until we recognize that real credentials matter, until we treat our fellow teachers with respect and provide them with the authority to create authentic activities in the classroom based on shared texts and stacks of texts, while incorporating multimedia literacy, we will not solve the misinformation problem. And the misinformation problem, the confusion, is paradoxically connected to the fake English teacher. In this way, the fake English teacher is a threat to national security.

All students can learn to do any of the things in the above list. They need an authentic English teacher, and you can't provide that to a school system if you downgrade the degree itself. I've seen fake English teachers with philosophy degrees, psychology degrees, history degrees, and so on. Maybe that is okay if the teacher is willing to add hours of education in English literature and composition. But I don't see that happening. What I see is a slow withering away of the English teacher. I see a slow withering away of the librarian. I see a political movement based on fascism forcing its own low standard on our educational system by creating near unbearable working conditions for literacy experts. I see book bans and attacks on teachers and academics. The government threatened librarians with jail time. This kind of multi-generational ignorance is a real threat to our country. When someone is happy to walk up to you and accuse you of spreading filth because you are an English teacher, freedom and democracy are threatened.

Ghetto


The Sin of Low Expectations: Is it a trap?

Okay, I know it's true, I am thorny. I am thorny by design and not by choice. I am thorny because of my experience and what I know. I am justifiably thorny. Open your eyes to the potential in front of you, and then ask yourself if you are committing the greatest sin of all, the sin of low expectations. What if someone wants you to accept low expectations, low expectations for job satisfaction and unity, student achievement, parental involvement, equity, and social justice? I heard someone remark one day that, "Our kids are not there. These are not the kids we have. These kids cannot do this." I thought it was the most idiotic statement because an individual can only have limited knowledge of student learning styles and potential in a broad way, and students present with an unlimited variety of possibilities. We can never know how far they can go. 

I sometimes become frustrated with the superficiality of what I see and what I hear. The mundane and hollow, pretentious and predictable, sad blasphemy committed against my subject by people that barely understand its complexity or purpose; I believe this is proof of some type of sabotage. This blasphemy spills from the minds and mouths of people that are in powerful positions. How can we be so deluded? We can never know all of this. What are we thinking? Why are we here? Why do I tolerate this lie, this blasphemy?

My subject is a key that opens the door to power and democracy, equality and justice. Without the key, people suffer. Even if you possess an extraordinary key, one that is gifted and complex in design and purpose, it still might fail to render the best outcome. The key I offer my students is never guaranteed, but it certainly remains their best option for solving difficult personal and social problems. This key opens a gate to the pathway of knowledge, so how can its value be measured by people that claim it as a part of them, but then prove by their actions and words that it is something foreign and unfamiliar instead? This key, when used for good, opens the door to true power.

I'm tired of the charade. I am becoming convinced that the opposition's failure to attack with an effective offensive assault resulted in subterfuge and duplicity instead. Certain powerful individuals look only at abstractions and spreadsheets, when instead they should look inside the organization, into the head of the fish. But what would I know? Maybe I know because I recognize the sheer absurdity of what is happening. I see through the haze of mendacity straight into the eyes of the aggressor. I'm swatting flies.

Many nights and days are devoted to my key. I hold it in my palm like a precious jewel. I share my key with the people that need to unlock the gate to knowledge. I tell them to write to learn. They do it. 

IMG_2567Credit to unknown meme artist


Working on National Board Certification: Lost and Adrift

This year I am going to try and complete two National Board components. Last year I successfully sat for the Component One exam and that provided evidence of accomplished teaching. Component Two is designed to prove that I fairly provide differentiation for all of my students. My worry is that somehow my featured activity/lesson/artifacts will fall short of the requirements. I'm not sure if National Board envisions a large project activity or some small specific skill, whether it can be an outcropping of some paper through a writing conference, or if it must entail a specific standard and strategy. I'm skipping over Component Three and moving ahead to Component Four, which my coach encouraged me to do. But now that I've watched some YouTube videos on this subject, I am wondering if she actually misguided me. The problem is that I have only 2 more years to get these done, and they are only approved yearly in December. 

In my program, I am lacking an English coach. They did assign me one, but she failed to stay with the program. My official coach is a middle school math teacher, someone that truly doesn't seem to understand the kind of advanced English classes that I teach. My work products are possibly a bit foreign to her. She already downgraded one of my practice submissions which is a final exam paper followed up with feedback and then a student written reflection with specific prompts. Most of my classes are dual credit anyway, and this kind of lesson might have seemed extreme to someone that doesn't teach much writing.

Even worse, I am receiving no support at all from my campus or my district. Other teachers around my area receive extra planning time, financial compensation, and assigned cohorts in order to achieve this difficult certification. My district refuses to even accept the micro credentials that I complete for Board certification practice, even though the rigor is extremely high, possibly higher than anything else a teacher can do other than the actual Board Components. 

I'm not confident that I will achieve a National Board Certificate because of the time frame and my lack of support, but I'm going to try anyway even though it has been thousands of dollars out of my own pocket. I am learning to become a better teacher by engaging with this process even if my participation is only superficial because of my challenges. 

As a young twenty-something living in Oklahoma, I abandoned any dreams of ever becoming a teacher. The low pay and the location interfered with my idyllic imagining of a bright and wealthy future. I wanted to make "as much money as the men." I often felt insecure and homeless, a possible feeling of negativity left over from a difficult childhood. Later, after I partially completed my first degree, I started to imagine myself as a teacher again. But I ended up returning to my previous work because money was tight, and I had my little boy to worry about. 

Finally, I managed to navigate myself back into education. Now I am happy with my choices. Even so, I am always critical of myself, so I am possibly feeling unworthy of National Board Certification, and maybe that is why I feel so lost in the process and need additional support and encouragement.

I know I can do this; I know I can learn from this experience; I know my students will benefit; I know I have to try.

01Rose


Working on My Subject Area Masters and the Devastating Consequences (with update)

My health went down when I worked on my subject area masters. Different than an M.Ed, a subject area masters requires you to become an expert, contribute to the academic discipline, and develop a thesis and area of study. As an undergrad, my interest in composition theory, education, and recidivism, led me into a series of interesting papers that felt easy to write, and my department chair and professors supported me with anything I wanted to do, whether it was in the education department or in the English department. For example, I enjoyed the experience of working as a visiting teacher at our local alternative school, and I split my observation schedule between 12th grade English and Kindergarten; splitting that observation time enabled me to imagine vertical alignment and see the big picture as it pertains to childhood development and literacy. I worked on a series of lesson plans for English with another teacher, and I created a lesson plan portfolio on our twelve domains that I donated to the education department when I graduated. Overall, the experiences, the practicum in English, the composition theory classwork, the writing, and the childhood psychology and development classes helped me become a better teacher. When I moved to Texas, I had to basically revisit all of that in order to feel qualified and effective. I worked on weekends, nights, and at all kinds of odd times in order to prepare for my masters. I read incredibly difficult writers and thinkers, such as Kenneth Burke, in order to prepare myself for teaching rhetoric and composition at the college level. I dug into the Theory of the Novel by Lukács, and I reread all of my old college textbooks in order to prepare myself. I worked on my writing using the theories that I learned. I published with my audience in mind, fellow teachers and instructors, and I watched as my writing became more professional and academic. I finally felt prepared.

My health slipped away. On weekends, while other people were out walking and enjoying the beautiful Texas weather, I hunched over my desk. I neglected my child, and I became surly and over-stressed. Taking him to his guitar practices felt like an intrusion on my study time, and working at my school on Saturdays interfered with my writing time. I gained weight. I became unhappy, but I loved my classes with a passion I hadn't felt since I taught English at the alternative school. I inserted the concepts, the beautiful ideas that I learned, into my ninth and tenth grade English classes. I started to teach Advanced Placement English. I navigated the hoard of people that judged me without knowing my struggle. I felt misunderstood. An over zealous and abusive administrator mismanaged me, one in a series of new underprepared principals that I endured early in my teaching career. I started to think that nothing that I did would matter to the world of education because it catered to a long line of people that, in my opinion, were unworthy of their position and relied on connections, instead of expertise, for employment.

The years went by and I became a better teacher. I paid for my own professional development at expensive places like Bard College and Rice University. I earned some scholarships from Bard and Rice, and this extra work helped me become even more professional. I even earned a scholarship as recent as this year from the College Board in order to study in a cohort with a mentor. 

But, apparently, somehow, this year, I am not worth as much to my institution. My institution wants to squabble with me about my adjunct pay. The community college that hired me as an adjunct issued a raise, but none of this money trickled down to me; this raise never trickled down to my fellow coworkers that earned the difficult subject degrees that allowed them to teach dual credit classes. Not only that, my institution wanted to pay me for one less section than last year, even though my enrollment increased substantially, and my students are struggling harder with the material. I wonder where the money is going. I wonder why I am not paid more for my education, the sacrifice that I made for my students, the ongoing cost to my physical health which is now named by my doctor, Type 2 diabetes. To define how this has made me feel, this attack on my professional life, could only be described as depressing. This feeling of unfairness, this disregard and disrespect for my contribution, causes me to feel like leaving my institution, the institution that has become so familiar and family like. Meanwhile, this steady parade of people barely making a contribution seems to increase in size.

(Update) Apparently someone on my campus made a little mistake that affected my pay and this issue will be resolved. Still, adjuncts did receive a raise that the district did not issue. Teachers at all levels are trying to achieve a healthy pay schedule so that they can afford to work and live in their districts among the students, typically inner-city, that need professionals the most. Civil workers deserve a decent and dignified retirement. Anything less is an attack on democracy. Imagine if only novices without college degrees are the main source of our education workforce. What would that look like for our children?

Full time teachers that work hard to improve deserve respect. This practice of underpaying teachers and demonizing them must stop. The endless menagerie of toxic people installed into roles they are literally not educated for, these people that make it a habit to undermine the faculty, need flushed from the school system. People that underpay teachers to the point that teachers can't even afford a home, should be removed from the school system. Politicians that attack teachers and insult them by calling them childish names like "groomers" and "Marxists" must be voted out of public office. People that would restrict a students' right to read the books of their choice, should be forced to read the books themselves, write a lengthy report, and then file their dubious and silly claims. The attack on intellectual life, the attack on writers and thinkers, is a sign of authoritarianism and fascism. This is unacceptable. Installing people into roles that they are not qualified for is another sign of fascism. 

Lift up your real teachers. The teachers that are real, that want to remain in the classroom and not jump out into administration, are worth your protection. Show your respect by calling them teachers, call them faculty, stop calling them staff, provide them with moments of happiness that make them feel special. Pay them what they deserve without trying to find an excuse to take it away. Treat teachers with humanity, dignity, and respect. Remove people that micromanage and ridicule your teaching staff. Provide meaningful professional development opportunities, not busy work.

EnglishLessonShutterstock


Interesting Vaccine Mandate History that Everyone Should Know

JUST GO BUY A BOAT 

~ Professor Lee Hester, author

Due to personal stuff I haven't posted much... but I'll post this note out of frustration concerning people who are against Federal vaccine/masking mandates.

I don't know why there is even a question, legally. Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 197 U.S. 11 (1905), made it clear that states could mandate reasonable regulations for public health and the case was SPECIFICALLY ABOUT VACCINES. The plaintiff arguing against vaccination provided evidence that some medical professionals thought the vaccine was potentially harmful or ineffective. The court ruled that these objections were not well-founded given the overwhelming bulk of scientific evidence. Face it, there will always be naysayers, or conspiracy theorists. No matter what, you can find someone to gainsay anything. The court made it clear that states could follow the lead of the best science, rather than fringe groups in deciding policy.

The person that penned the decision, John Marshall Harlan, was a REPUBLICAN. He was nominated to the court by Rutherford B. Hayes... another REPUBLICAN.

Four more Republicans joined Harlan in favoring public health mandates along with two Democrats. Only one Republican and one Democrat dissented.

At one time, Republicans were not only the Party of Lincoln, but also the Party of Science and Reasonable Government it seems.

Some may say that this decision was only about state mandates. But that is silly, especially in the U.S.. With no borders between states, a single state passing such a mandate would constantly face the problem of infected people of neighboring states coming in.

A 50 state mandate of the Polio vaccine literally ERADICATED IT FROM THE U.S. The only cases recorded since 1979 were brought in from outside.

When we can't get 50 state mandates. we may need a Federal one.

Morally, it has always been clear to me that one person's rights end when another's begin and my right not to be infected greatly outweighs another's right to not get a needle prick, wear a mask or quarantine.

I've had three shots of COVID vaccine. Three FULL doses, not just half-dose boosters. I haven't grown tentacles and as far as I know, the NSA can't track me or listen in on me with some microchip. If you are so worried about that GET RID OF YOUR CELLPHONE. A vaccine is the least of your worries. You might also want to check with a mental health professional.

Of course some people cannot be vaccinated for valid health reasons. That is not a problem and would be covered in any reasonable mandate.

We are all part of a society, not individual atoms. We all affect each other, whether we like it or not. We can't all have absolute freedom because of that interaction. Regulations exist, in part, to ensure a balancing of individual freedoms. As an example, traffic laws restrict your freedom to drive 70mph across town without stopping, but they help ensure your freedom to drive across town at a slower rate with a much less chance of getting killed. And face it, realistically we can't all go 70 and not stop.

I'm tired of it. The people that hate mandates should think about whether they can even live within a civil society. The kind of freedom they want can only be achieved by living alone on a deserted island. Perhaps they should buy a boat.

Covidtestteachersstudents


Professional Development: How Bard's Institute for Writing and Thinking is Helping Me on Day One

It is impossible for me to quantify the many various ways that Bard College IWT has helped me become a more effective teacher. In the past, I participated in three week-long summer workshops on their campus that guided my pedagogy and introduced me to a bevy of other teachers from around the world that shared their own best practices and innovations. Today we did several activities that will inform my future teaching, including a loop writing activity that I must admit that I have neglected to incorporate into my own classroom. 

The theme for this workshop is "margins" and "centers," a confusing concept for someone that might not teach. But for me this poses a true reality as I think about what exists in the margins of my classroom and what exists in the center. I decided to share, verbatim, a couple of excerpts from my loop writing from today because I want you to possibly use this technique to improve your own classroom or workspace.

My teacher asked us to write about what is in the center of our classroom. 

The students are at the center of my classroom because, of course, I am a student-centered teacher. I want every student in my class to feel valued and appreciated so that they can have enough self-esteem and confidence to forge ahead and become happy, productive members of society. The goal, in my case, is to make my students be able to yield power in nonviolent ways by using the pen instead of the sword. I think humanity is tired of the sword.

One of our team members attending from Israel had an interesting response to this question. He wrote that the text is the center of our classroom, the reason we meet at all. I think we both gave pretty good answers. A class needs cohesion, so this emphasis on fragmentation, lit circles if you will, interferes with advanced interpretation and significantly reduces the possibilities of creating a valuable community in a challenging environment. A shared text brings the class together.

My teacher asked us to write about what is on the margins of our classrooms.

I am on the margin of my classroom because this is my students' high school experience. Even though I advocate for them whenever possible, I want them to solve their own problems and be active learners. That can't happen if I don't step into the margins. I don't want my students constantly looking to me for the answers. I want them to take my guidance and then create their own compositions based on what they believe to be true about the text, or I want them to be able to use style and voice to explain what they like or dislike about the text. I want argumentation and persuasion, and that takes confidence.

We did several more loops today, and then we used a metacognitive strategy to analyze what we had written. 

The loops gave me a way to visualize the interplay between myself, the students, and the materials presented. This activity also enabled me to visualize strategies used by my workshop colleagues as we shared our writings. The loops served to fine tune my planning--helped me access those murky spaces in my pedagogy.

We analyzed a visual. I am sad to admit that this has always been an area that I ignore or only briefly examine. My teacher used a photo that had meaning to me personally. Of course, my teacher doesn't know me, so he couldn't have known that this visual would lead me into some interesting ideas...in short, this activity is going to help my students on their exams. This activity is going to help my students with inference, symbolism, and interpretation. 

The pandemic created a climate of confusion and distraction for almost everyone. Thanks to Bard, I am finally breaking out of my cycle of confusion and distraction that haunts me continuously and rediscovering my ability to get in the zone and write. 

SteinbeckQuote


Explaining Myself: Why I Want to Become an Anti-Racist Teacher

First of all I would like to remind my readers that in spite of a stereotypical African American first name, I am a white person of western European descent with only a smattering of Native American thrown in. I know this for a fact because I took the 23&Me DNA test, and it turns out I'm nearly as white as a person can get. I do have skin that darkens up nicely in the sun, dark green eyes (cousin to brown on the DNA strand), and an overall 'Indian' look, but only one of my ancestors can be verified as native.

Discrimination and prejudice certainly impacted my life in an ongoing and rather problematic way because my family members stepped out in nontraditional roles and some of them worked in what could be considered as odd career choices, including myself. I'm not a stranger to white elitism and snobbery. But my challenges stack up nicely in the columns of inconvenience or mild heartbreak, even though I now realize that some of my old associates either hid their distorted and ignorant opinions from me, or have, over the decades, became disgustingly narrow minded and ridiculous, even ungrateful.

In recent years, some of my African American friends and coworkers quietly and patiently pointed out some of my own dumb blind spots and unearned privileges. Even if I earned the right to some of my privileges through hard work or suffering, I still enjoy a ton of White-Bread-American advantages that people of color righteously feel angry about. The best place to view this list of unearned advantages built into the racist American system are listed in Peggy McIntosh's essay White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.

McIntosh, associate director of the Wellesley College Center for Research on Women, lists 50 ways that white people experience privilege over people of color. All 50 of them are relevant and important, eye-opening and true, but for now I want to talk about number 39: I can be late to a meeting without having the lateness reflect on my race. 

The best school leader I have ever known was a younger and wiser African American woman. She is honestly gifted, an amazing writer and communicator, a wonderful teacher and friend to every person that knows her. She goes out of her way to think open-mindedly about people that I typically write off as plain stupid and fake (this is hyperbole because I seldom write anyone off). Obviously, her heart is ten times bigger than mine because she strives to see the good in everyone, no matter their background or identity, while I'm a skeptic when it comes to adults. But she sometimes, like a million other qualified and gifted people, would be late to a faculty meeting or other function. On one notable time, she was stuck in a meeting with a parent, and I watched and listened as she entered the room; I witnessed the negative body language and eye-rolling, and I heard the comments that were made:

"There she is, late as usual. I wonder if she knew we had a meeting. She's late all the time." 

It's true that occasional lateness happened, but if the occasional lateness happened to me, or some other white person, nobody ever cares or makes any audible comments. When it's a white person, people tend to mind their own business when it comes to lateness. When it's a person of color, it's because the person is not organized, or they are lazy. This is just plain wrong.

Number 13 has to do with money: Whether I use checks, credit cards or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work against the appearance of financial reliability. Let us be honest white people--most of us don't deserve the bank credit that we get. Some of us start businesses and fail to properly pay or compensate our employees. Some of us are not worth the paper we are printed on, and that includes me. I am just not worth much, and I may never be worth much. But I have something that most people of color don't; I have some generational wealth. It's not much, but it's still amazing. It's better than nothing. When I walk into a bank, I get a ton of respect, respect I definitely do not deserve. If my qualified and gifted person of color walks into a bank, she receives less attention and gratuity, even though she is trying much harder than I am to establish herself as a reliable and current bank customer. 

We all know these stereotypes and racist beliefs are built into everything American. The Governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, wants to make it illegal for teachers to point these facts out to students. He wants to forbid teachers to speak freely about critical race theory; but I'm positive that Abbott doesn't know what CRT is, or he would want to have it taught in our schools, because, after all, isn't Greg Abbott an open-minded and well-educated man? Critical race theory basically teaches us to notice the built in racist structures that exist, and then it teaches us how to reject and resist these ignorant ideas personally. For example, CRT points out that many deed restrictions disqualify residents based on their race. This is a fact of life, not a fairy tale or fake news. If it is our goal as a society to make opportunities and the American dream available to everyone, then how do these deed restrictions concerning race further equity? And, of course, this example of deed restrictions is just a tiny, petty example. If you really want to examine CRT, then look at incarceration rates, the war on drugs, immigration, and healthcare disparities, to name just a few glaring, national problems.

The real threat to American life is right wing extremism--neoliberalism. Donald Trump, Greg Abbot, and a slew of other ignorant politicians and demagogues clearly aim to normalize white supremacy, and they personally enjoy indulging in hateful and divisive acts and speech. They want wealth for a few and subservience for everyone else. Wealth for a few and subservience for everyone else is the political and economic theory known as neoliberalism. If you are following this ideology, if you are falling for this scam, then you are part of the problem. You are voting against yourself. If you are indulging in hateful thoughts and ideas, then you are doing something that is causing you to feel a temporary relief from what is buried under your psyche: the knowledge that you are wrong. You are actually causing Americans, including yourself, to lose freedoms. Neoliberalism and white supremacy are dangerous ideologies, but Critical Race Theory is an idea that will help you understand our national history; CRT will help you know yourself better, especially if you are white.

CriticalRaceTheory


The Campus Level Writing Program Administrator: A Way to Ensure College Success 🏛

After taking practicum in composition at the masters level, I am more convinced than ever that my campus should have a writing program administrator to help streamline assignments across disciplines and develop a common standard that reduces confusion and technical inconsistencies across departments. As a rule, professors write and publish their own materials using an individual set of norms and practices that work for them. But when students enter college classes, they are often not prepared for this next stage of vigorous academic writing. In one glaring example of malpractice, teachers in a previous social studies department taught high school students that topic sentences were little "baby thesis statements" and then insisted students write in generalities rather than prepare strong and assertive arguments because "it is more academic sounding." 

My experience in one prominent charter school chain convinced me that even a writing program administrator situated at the top level of the organization in the central office, someone with a PHD in English with a focus and background in rhetoric and composition theory, would alleviate some of the inconsistencies in vertical alignment and help teachers prepare all students equally for college writing. But realistically a writing program administrator at the campus level would certainly be preferable, and this person could also teach a few English classes. Basically this would eliminate the low quality instruction that is happening now with teachers packing students down with poor and erroneous pedagogies and clobbering them with low-quality, computer-generated, drill-and-kill, grammar exercises. 

During practicum as I struggled to write a college-level syllabus for my imaginary 1301 composition and rhetoric class, and as I struggled to internalize the basics of each composition pedagogy, I couldn't stop thinking about how badly writing program administrators were needed at the high school level. Now that almost anyone with any kind of academic background can certify to become an English teacher, even without any advanced coursework or quality professional development, writing program administrators are desperately needed. Helping incorporate writing into other subjects in a streamlined and cohesive way is essential in a STEM school.

The moments when I observe students floundering academically, and I see teachers struggling with a lack of content knowledge and writing experience, I think of the inequities that I witnessed in 2004 when I briefly worked as an adjunct teaching basic composition. Some of my students had been removed from their college level writing class because they had never been effectively taught how to take notes, write a thesis statement, organize a text, annotate, or read aloud. They literally tested their way into college without basic writing or moderate literacy skills. Angry and disillusioned, many of them felt used because they had been passed along because of some substantial talent at one sport or another. Now when I work with my students, I feel a sense of urgency. I know that if they fail to write adequately, they will never complete a four-year degree. Allowing students to move into the world of academia without providing them with solid writing experience is unconscionable. It is my hope that future high schools will begin to align goals and standards across disciplines and hire professional writing program administrators.

Shutterstock_749819029

 


On this Last Day of Love Month, A Cat Story

I can't do my own writing anymore, especially after the angst and misery of Valentine's Day, and the month of love: the month of crazy, wild weather; the month of a near total Texas electricity blackout; the month of a broken service pipe; the month of extreme Covid swings; and another month of grief over the death of not one, but two, little, precious pets. 

On this weird night, on the eve of Women's History Month, I am thinking about writing an article that features an important female in the world of rhetoric, like Ida B. Wells, an African American writer, or maybe Christine de Pisan from the Medieval era. Women in the rhetorical tradition typically receive some pretty outdated criticisms, so I'd like to offset that with some strong opinions of my own.

How do women balance all of these silly expectations about communication? What's wrong with writing aggressively? Should I write like a girl so that men won't be offended? Should I defer to the male voice? Is civil discourse really that important, or is that just another term for oversensitivity? I was told recently that I talked too loud, but my response was that I thought I couldn't be heard. 

Is that what men think we are doing when we write an aggressive text? Do they think we are trying to yell? Is that what the good conservative woman thinks? 

Anyway, the cat story submitted by my writer friend contains a message about gratitude. I am grateful that my voice continues to matter to my readers and friends, even though I am an outdoor cat. I am grateful for all of you. I'm thankful that you don't find me too loud for trying to get your attention. I am hoping you will continue to support me through these weird times. 🌹

IthinkSiameseCat

To train the cat or be trained by the cat that is the question.... Whether it is better to take a shoe to the Siamese or squirt him with the water bottle, after his sixth attempt to get one up at 5:00 in the morning, when he has been howling at one's bedside since three, or just to give up and open a can of cat food and stagger off and wait for the alarm to go off in just a few minutes, or throw his hairy little bohuncas into the garage, where it is freezing cold but there are mice....? These run on sentences frame the eternal questions of cat owners, who've been struggling with their cat masters, since the Egyptians made the mistake of first letting the cat gods into their hearts and granaries, in order to kill the rodents eating the grain.....

If I am sleep deprived, do I not get cranky? If I am tortured, do I not break? Even now, that Siamese is stalking me, complaining that the canned cat food doesn't meet up with his expectations for good service.... If I am harassed, will I not fight back; or will I just give up, give in, and buy the cat some tastier brand.....?

The outside cat thinks the canned cat food is damned tasty! He just ate it up in one gulp.

I give up.....

Just who is running this household?

Jennie (the Crazy Cat Lady)


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


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