Monday, January 19, 2009

From the Teacher's Desk

A sampling of musings from the mind of a suburban high school English teacher:

School administrators are using adjectives like "bloody," "gloomy," and "bleak" to describe the current financial state of affairs for the rest of this year and next. I am hopeful that Barack Obama will authorize federal legislation to help cities and towns deal with declines in state aid revenue. I find it a bit disconcerting that we can easily lend billions of taxpayer dollars to automakers and finance companies, yet are forced to pause and deliberate when it comes to ensuring all our country's students receive a solid education. Anyone who has ever worked inside a school can tell you, every dollar does make a difference.

Are there any teachers out there with writing centers at their schools? When I was a M.Ed. graduate student at Plymouth State University, I worked in the college's writing center. It was one of the most enjoyable jobs I've ever had. In order to get the hang of it, I underwent training in the non-directive approach to writing consultation. One of the most valuable things I learned was "silent and wait time." For the non-directive approach to be effective, the writing consultant must be patient and give the student time to ruminate on an idea or improvement. This was quite different than my days as a newspaper reporter, when editors would explain everything I did wrong and then fix it for me. I hope to eventually create a student-staffed writing center at my high school, as I've seen how they can be effective. I believe that if implemented with care, they can work at the secondary level. Please contact me if you have experience with high school writing centers.

Launching a high school newspaper advertising initiative in the middle of the year is difficult. For years my high school's newspaper was published in-house on an archaic printing press that only one teacher knew how to use. When he retired last year, so did the press and all that it produced. Left without a means to publish our newspaper, I was relegated to performing evening prayer rituals to Joseph Pulitzer in hopes of securing funding. My calls were eventually answered by my principal, who offered to give us enough money to publish five papers this year. My goal for next year (or perhaps even later this year) is to create an advertising department with a business manager responsible for generating enough ad sales to allow each issue to pay for itself.

We finally got around to hosting our Poetry Out Loud Recitation Contest. The original date was a wash due to a snow day. As a result, interest waned, and only two students ended up reciting a poem. We do have a winner though, and she'll represent our school at the Massachusetts semi-final recitation contest this March.

Second quarter grades close this Friday. I should be in decent shape grading wise, as unlike years past, I made sure to not have a major essay due right before the close of the quarter. It took me five years to figure this out, but I am learning, albeit slowly.

I plan to add a new section to my blog called "student work." Recently two students did stellar jobs on their Outside Reading Book presentations. One created a movie trailer for Cormac McCarthy's "The Road," which he published to YouTube. I highly recommend checking it out, as it's professional quality. Another did answering machine messages for five characters from Stephanie Meyer's "Breaking Dawn." She captured the characters' essences to the T.


Erika Muller said...

Mr. B-G,

This is great stuff! I came upon your blog while doing blog research for a Writing in the Disciplines of Education class at Colorado State University. I am inspired by the breadth of your blog. Any words of wisdom for an aspiring high school English teacher? How do you the future of the profession?

Erika Muller
Fort Collins, CO

Erika Muller said...

Mr. B-G,

Oops--my last question was how do you view the future of the profession? I forgot that word "view." I guess remembering how to form a sentence is a crucial ingredient to teaching English!


Mr. B-G said...

Hi Erika,

I'm glad you happened across my blog. It's been a fantastic outlet for me, allowing for a place to muse about my teaching, connect with other teachers, and publish my writing - even if I'm sometimes the only reader!

There's something about throwing one's writing out there for all to see that's invigorating and liberating.

As for words of wisdom? I'd say flexibility is probably # 1 on my list - or at least in the top three.

Be gentle on yourself. Be patient. Reward yourself for successes. Don't dwell on the negatives, but learn from them.

There are so many different ways to do this job well, and so many different approaches to take. My advice is to observe as many teachers as you can. Sit in on as many classes as possible. Shoot for a variety of teaching styles, a mix of grades, levels, courses.

This blog has allowed me to learn from a number of different teachers about how this job can be done. Even at my own school, within my own department, each of us has his or her own styles and preferences. It's hard to say one is better than the other. As long as students are engaged and learning, we are doing our jobs.

Also, remember to breathe!

As for the future of the profession, do you mean education or the teaching of English? Both questions have weighty answers I suppose, and probably deserve more thought than I can muster at the moment. I will need to ponder and get back to you.

Best of luck with your classes. Thanks again for visiting my blog.

Erika Muller said...

Mr. B-G,

Thanks for your words of encouragement! I look forward to observing as many teachers as I can. Luckily, I have some good friends who are already working in the field who I can observe. Hopefully they can provide me with some more contacts, too.

In my Teaching in the U.S. class which I am recently taking at CSU, we have discussed the importance of creating dialogue in our classrooms. Do you think that creating dialogue in the classroom is essential to the future of the English teaching profession? If so, how can such a process be used?
Thank you so much!

Erika Muller