Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the tag “high school”

Techno Faux Pax

A variation of an old chestnut:

Two girls walk into a classroom wearing the same yellow sweatshirt. They stop and stare at each other. They size each other up. The teacher tries to cut the tension with the quip: “Looks like you got the email.”

You know–that joke.

The problem is that teens don’t email each other. At least not anymore. The class bursts out in derisive laughter. “Yeah, right. Because that’s what we do. We email each other.” Loud smirking ensues.

Trying to save a bit of my self-esteem I respond brightly: “Maybe that’s why I don’t hear that often from my own kids –I email them.” The moment is somewhat saved and we go back to English.

I do text. I don’t Tweet. I do FaceTime. I prefer visits. I write letters. Hmm–nothing comes close to a letter. A humorous card maybe.

Yet, if I were to say the right techno term I still would be on the outside looking in. Why? My expiration date is beginning to show. I’m at retirement age and students know it. I don’t feel like retiring yet, but because I could, that makes me old. Out with the old, in with the new.

If I happen to drop in a casual word or phrase students seem surprised. Do I know what that means? If I mention a movie, song, a whatever that is in their world I think it concerns them. It’s as if I have bumped their youth bubble. Granted, I don’t know most of their music, trends, or media choices. On the other hand, they don’t know that Edgar Allan Poe influenced Stephen King, who I remember reading when he first came out and none of his books were movies yet. Or how about everyone from Monty Python to Jimmy Fallon quotes some line from Hamlet and now my students know why. Or the reason there are strong female protagonists like Katniss is because we had Jane Eyre first. And they don’t know about Byronic Heroes–yet, even though they do know about Loki, Ironman, and Bat Man.

I may get my techno terminology tangled, but they don’t know all about the who, how, and why of Shakespeare’s influence of just about everything. I have job security for a bit longer.

So is blogging for old people? Oh who cares–I need more than 280 characters for my say.

The Go-Slow-Need-My-MoJo Mode

Today the seniors begin taking their finals. I have earned the sympathy of staff members who do not teach seniors. Senioritis hit shortly after Spring Break and only graduation can cure its outbreak. There has been epidemic of no shows, skippers, and non-coms floating in my classes.

I have come to the conclusion that teaching seniors is not for sissies. There are only two of us in the English department who willingly sign up to take them on. Why the hesitancy, the reluctance, the fear? Well, this group of students is under the misguided assumption that just because they are eighteen they are adults and are entitled to set their own course. The half-baked logic of  “I’m signing out now because I’m eighteen and can do so” crops up halfway through class with some individuals. This reminds me of the Calvin and Hobbes cartoon where Calvin raises his hand and asks to be dismissed because his brain is full. Apparently, students are developing smaller brains because they seem to fill up quickly these days. It can’t be that they want to avoid British literature…no, that can’t be. Yet, these same proclaimed adults who have figured out they are able to write their own excuses, haven’t figured out that self-excused absences or any absence not sanctioned by school or a doctor’s note, add up and jeopardize graduation. It has now caught up, and many students are stunned that they haven’t gotten away with it after all.

The reckoning forces are visiting classrooms in force these past couple of weeks. When the office aides come in bearing admin passes I gleefully announce, “More Wonka tickets!” Yes, these yellow slips of beckoning, these invitations, these golden tickets are summons for the select few.  Alas, no chocolate awaits. These little lovelies announce the privilege of coming in after school either Wednesday or on Saturday to make up seat time. I wonder how these same studrnts who do not comprehend the  “play now, pay later” reality will deal with the cause and effect of credit card usage and credit card bills. 

Now with a handful of days remaining, I contemplate the need for time to slow down because I still have so much I want to teach them; however, I’m losing my Mojo because teaching seniors is tough. It’s as tough as herding cats, but I do it, because I’m no sissified English teacher. I’m tough, and I’m thankful for the opportunity of pouring some Dickinson, Keats, Yeats, and Thomas into their brains. It’s what I do. Yup, not everyone can do we do (EDS=English Department Staff). And when those students cross that platform and grab their diplomas, it’s all worth it.

Light and Eyrey

image:: Jane Eyre Silhouette Black and White Book Cover by Pendantmonium,

I am preparing myself early this year for when I announce we will be studying Jane Eyre.

“Do we have to?”

“Is that our only choice?”

“Isn’t that a chic lit selection?”

And that’s the question I shall endeavor to answer. Because the first two questions both can be answered with “no.” But we won’t go there for now.

So, is Charlotte Bronte’s famous classic novel of being true to oneself, of overcoming adversity, of embracing family over riches really a chic lit because it centers on a romance, intrigue, and a woman who is victimized more than once.

First off let’s look at a couple of definitions:


What is Chick Lit?

Chick lit is smart, fun fiction for and/or about women of all ages. Many of these books are written from a first-person viewpoint, making them a bit more personal and realistic. The plots can range from being very light and fast-paced to being extraordinarily deep, thought-provoking and/or moving.

Another perspective–from

chick lit

/lɪt/ Show Spelled [lit] Show IPA


literature that appeals especially to women, usually having a romantic or sentimental theme.

At this point Jane Eyre could be considered smart, fun? probably not so much. First-person viewpoint–yes. Personal and realistic–maybe. The plot is not very light and could be considered deep, thought-provoking and moving. It does appeal to women and does contain a romantic theme. Perhaps it is chic lit. Then again, let’s explore “classic.”

Mark Twain’s definition is universally accepted: “A book which people praise and don’t read.” However, Jane Eyre is read evidenced by it still being in print, let alone being studied in AP courses. Plus, look at all the film versions of JE.

I put the question to the guy students in class and most said the novel held their interest. The language, the setting, the intrigue, the cousin plot, the bitter aunt, and of course that underplot of a possible vampire living upstairs–wait, that’s a different novel (or is it?)

The verdict? How about JE is a classy literary novel focusing on a woman who overcomes her unjust circumstances. Oh, yes, let’s not forget Mr. Rochester.

Any thoughts?

Did you dread reading Jane Eyre in high school and roll your eyes or embrace the story of a strong young woman who finds happiness after much travail? (yes, I am slanting the vote).


Coming to Terms with Poetry


education (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

They say the best education we receive is that learned while teaching.  I found this to be especially true for poetry fundamentals.

I don’t recall studying poetry in jr. high English, unless studying Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sounds of Silence” counts.  As for high school, I remember short stories, yet nothing on the poetry radar comes up for remembrance. College yes, ohmagoodness, poetry aplenty. I do recall a cacophony of emotions as I partook in the banquet of poets found in my Norton Reader. I transversed from embarrassment to  gratitude as I feasted on William Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound, Sylvia Plath and others I had not known existed.  Why, oh why, did I feel the compunction to resell my Norton at the campus bookstore?  College students out there?  Think twice before reselling your textbooks.  All those annotations and well-visited markings really do become appreciated some day.

norton reader

norton reader (Photo credit: cdrummbks)

These days I’m teaching to Common Core Standards and have come to terms with poetry.  They are an absolute on the schedule of attained knowledge.  I also have my AP crowd to cater.  Although I have over 200 literary terms we learn over the course of  the year in AP, I start out my ninth graders with double dozen or so.  How many do you know or remember?

  1. accent: emphasis or stress given a syllable or a particular word.
  2. alliteration: the reiterated initial consonants in prose or poetry.
  3. anaphora: repetition of an opening word or phrase in a series of lines.
  4. assonance:  the repetition of two or more vowel sounds in successive words, creating a type of rhyme.
  5. ballad: a song which tells a story; also be a poem with songlike qualities which tells a story.
  6. blank verse: the most common meter of unrhymed poetry in English; it lacks stanza form and rhyme.
  7. caesura: a pause within the line of verse.
  8. conceit: a fanciful expression, usually in the form of an extended metaphor or an analogy that usually displays intellectual cleverness due to the unusual comparison being made.
  9. consonance: a close similarity between consonants or groups of consonants, especially at the ends of words, e.g. between “strong” and “ring.”
  10. couplet: two consecutive lines of poetry that rhyme, and often have the same meter
  11. diction: the selection of words in a particular literary work, or the language appropriate for a particular (usually poetic) work.
  12. doggerel: crude verse that contains clichés, predictable rhyme, and inept meter and rhythm.
  13. elegy: a poem which mourns the death of someone.
  14. enjambment: when one verse runs into another verse
  15. epic: a long narrative poem on a serious subject, usually centered on a heroic or supernatural person.
  16. epigram: a short poem, which can be comical.
  17. figurative language: language which goes beyond what is denoted (see denotation), and has a suggestive effect on the reader; a figure of speech is part of figurative language.
  18. free verse: poetry which lacks a regular stress pattern and regular line lengths (and which may also be lacking in rhyme). Free verse should not be confused with blank verse
  19. haiku: Japanese form of poetry of seventeen syllables with three unrhymed lines of five, seven and five syllables
  20. heroic couplet: a couplet with iambic pentameter
  21. iamb: a metrical foot of one short or unstressed syllable followed by one long or stressed syllable.
  22. imagery: often taken as a synonym for figurative language, but the term may also refer to the ‘mental pictures’ which the reader experiences in his/her response to literary works or other texts.
  23. kitsch: sentimentality, tastelessness, or ostentation in any of the arts.
  24. limerick: a five line humorous poem involving a fixed aabba rhyme scheme
  25. lyric: a short non-narrative poem that has a solitary speaker, and that usually expresses a particular feeling, mood, or thought.
  26. metaphor: a direct comparison–it does not use “like,” “as,” or “than.” In literature it is a figurative statement asserting one thing is something that it is not.
  27. meter: the recurrence of a similar stress pattern in some or all lines of a poem.
  28. ode: a relatively lengthy lyric poem, usually expressing exalted emotion in a complex scheme of rhyme and meter.
  29. onomatopoeia: a word or expression which resembles the sound which it represents, like the meow of a cat or the quack of a duck.
  30. pastoral: usually written by an urban poet who idealizes the shepherds’ lives. The term has now been extended to include any literary work which views and idealizes the simple life from the perspective of a more complex life.
  31. prosody: the rhythm of spoken language, including stress and intonation, or the study of these patterns
  32. repetition: the duplication of any element of language such as a sound, word, phrase, sentence, or grammatical pattern.
  33. rhyme: the identity of the sounds of the final syllables (usually stressed) of certain proximate lines of a poem.
  34. scan: to assign stress patterns to a poem.
  35. simile: a figure of speech that draws a comparison between two different things, especially a phrase containing the word “like” or “as,” e.g. “as white as a sheet.”
  36. symbol: a person, place, thing, or event that stands both for itself and for something beyond itself.
  37. syntax: how an author chooses to join words into phrases, clauses, and sentences; similar to diction which is focused on individual words, yet syntax is concerned with groups of words.
  38. theme:  the central idea or insight about human life revealed within the work.
  39. tone: the attitude, as it is revealed in the language of a literary work, of a personage, narrator or author, towards the other personages in the work or towards the reader.
  40. voice: the writer’s distinctive use of language, which is created through the use of a writer’s tone and diction.

 Okay, there is about a triple dozen and a dose for good measure here. Some terms crossover into prose which is why we start off with poetry before short stories. We’ve found our students grasp analyzing smaller chunks of literary concepts and then retain those terms and skills for the longer works.

So, how did you do?  I didn’t include the various types of poems in this set.  Stay tuned…

Happy Poetry Month


Poetry (Photo credit: Kimli)


DST and a Tough Week Ahead for Me

First page of Benjamin Franklin's anonymous le...

First page of Benjamin Franklin’s anonymous letter to the editors of the Journal de Paris, April 26, 1784. The letter is a satire proposing various methods to awaken Parisians early in the morning in order to save money on candles, and presages the idea of daylight saving time. The letter is untitled and appears in the “Économie” section of the journal. The original letter was in English but this, its first publication, is a French translation. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

No matter when I go to bed I automatically wake up around 5 am.  Good thing I’m a morning person.  This usually is not a problem for me because I actually enjoy getting up early and having the best part of the day to myself. I find myself embracing the cadence of morning. However, I do not embrace 4 am, which DST has reinstated since Sunday.  I can push the clock back an hour, not so easily my body clock.  Daylight Saving Time and I do not see eye to eye.

Which brings me to notion of how art imitates life.  Currently I am involved in NaNoWriMo and have even gone as far as inflicting sharing my daily NaNo entries with readers as a separate blog.  Consider this an invitation:  The main character has many of my tendencies, dark chocolate breaks, being one of them.  “Vera” also dislikes DST as much as I do.  In fact, she turned her rant against Ben Franklin, the inventory of Daylight Saving Time, into a scathing persuasive essay called “Death to DST” (or words to that effect) as an English assignment.  I’m hoping she’ll get a good grade on it.

This week is a good week for that extra hour of sleep, although getting up earlier seems to nullify the bonus time. Yes, this week is the official beginnings of second quarter and with it comes Parent-Teacher conferences.  My school runs them two nights and gives teachers Friday off.  We are very much ready by then for a long weekend. We teach all day on Wednesday and then PT until 7 pm–basically a twelve hour day.  Thursday we meet as departments and then meet with parents from 3:30 until 7 pm once again.  It’s part of the job, yet it is grueling.  I actually like meeting with the parents and discussing their student, except there is usually a buffalo herd of moms and dads hanging out in the hall waiting their turn.  I try not to drink too much water because breaks are far and few between.

DST, NaNo, and PTs–it’s one of those weeks of sucking it up yet needing to find time to breathe.

Yes, it’s NaNo time…

VIA Nano Chip Image (top)

VIA Nano Chip Image (top) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

November is a great time for writers.  The weather is chilly enough to no longer tempt outdoor activity, there is a coziness to the house with the crackle of the fire, and NaNo is on.

Two years ago, when I finally decided to leap into NaNo I managed to meet the 50,000 word challenge with a day or two to spare.  I’m still editing that manuscript.  Writing quantity instead of quality is whole different way to write.  I tend to edit as I write and editing is a luxury when it comes to the National Novel Writing Month.

There are a plethora of blogs about NaNo and how it works, so I shall not perpetuate redundancy.  Instead I will bravely leap once again into NaNo; however, this time it will be with a bit more panache.  This time I have created a separate NaNo blog site and will air my daily writings. Warts and all shall be bared to those interested enough to witness the daily grinding process of trying to produce 1,600 words daily.  I take NaNo founder Chris Baty’s words to heart, “No plot? No problem?” I am hopeful my daily outpourings will not be merely NaNonsense.

I will have a link in my column as well as periodic updates on the process.  I still hope to keep up with my Cricket Musings.

If you are NaNo-ing, please let me know.  The solitary tapping of the keyboard is much more comforting knowing I tap not alone.


Literary Spoilers or Have You Finished Your Assigned Summer Reading Yet?

Charlotte and Susan Cushman (the Cushman siste...

Charlotte and Susan Cushman (the Cushman sisters) in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in 1846 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)



However, if curiosity gets the best of you I shall not reveal the title, only the ending.

  1.  Juliet and Romeo die.  In fact, a lot of people die.
  2. The Navy comes in the nick of time for Jack.
  3. Ponyboy manages to pass English.
  4. Elizabeth finally says “yes” to Darcy
  5. However, it is not so happy for Heathcliff, Catherine and Edgar.
  6. Boo finally comes out.
  7. Gatsby doesn’t get the girl.
  8. George and Lennie go for a walk.  Lennie returns alone.
  9. Huck decides to hit the road.
  10. Gulliver decides to become The Man Called Horse

Now, finish up diddling on the Internet and get back to reading.

Blue Skies,


Romeo, Oh Romeo…

Today will the last day of the Romeo and Juliet unit for my freshmen.  We will end it appropriately with an Insult-o-Rama, which is basically a member from each designated family, Montague vs Capulet, stepping up to the line in our market square and squaring off with insults ala Bard.  You know the ones:

“Thou art an apish, lily-livered bed presser.” If that one doesn’t sting enough:

“Thou be an insolent foot-licking parasite.”  These go beyond thumb-biting, and it is all in good fun.  I keep my door shut just in case, as it does get a bit loud.

My focus when studying Romeo and Juliet is not so much as an introduction and exploration of Shakespeare’s famous play, it is more of an exploration and introduction to Shakespeare himself.  Surprisingly, my freshmen come to class with about a teaspoonful of knowledge about him.  Then again, I didn’t have any exposure to Shakespeare until I began teaching him.  I had heard of him, of course, but I didn’t really believe he had much physical substance.  I placed him a little bit above the Loch Ness monster in that there might be evidence of his existence, but not totally proven. After about ten years into teaching Shakespeare I believe a bit more and in fact have become a proponent of making sure my students appreciate his genius.  Please, no theories on Bacon and company and “Will the real Will please stand up, please” comments.  I think his plays, sonnets, and poems rock.

And so our curriculum starts with Romeo and his Juliet.  I guess two teenagers who are heck-bent on breaking rules by disobeying parents, state law and such still resonates with the teens today.  It makes sense, since if we started off with Macbeth they might go into spasms of cerebral overload.  We start them off gently.  Good call, curriculum powers that be.

Overall, we read a little, act it out a little, and watch different versions.  By the end of the unit most of them can understand Shakespearean language without consulting their No Fear Shakespeare interpretations.  Some students go into unattractive fits of eye-rolling and twitching at the  thought that they will study Shakespeare in their sophomore and senior year.  I don’t know why we skip him their junior year. American Lit studies have no room for him I guess.

There are many faces of Romeo, and both the girls and guys relate to his brash impetuosity.  Who wouldn’t want to be that in love?  Oh, Romeo, thou art timeless.

I leave off with some of the many faces of Romeo with his Juliet:


image: wikipedia


Romeo Juliet

Romeo Juliet (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Still of Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer in West Side Story


Lost in Translation: Part Two–“The Play’s the Thing” or “How Now, Hamlet?”

Today we finished Hamlet and with the help Mel Gibson, David Tennant, and Danny DeVito I think my students understood (as Ben Jonson once said), “Shakespeare is not for an age, but for all time.”

Laurence Olivier is undoubtedly considered a master actor; however, his is not the version of choice when teaching Shakespeare’s Hamlet to a current generation.  Sifting through various versions, and there are numerous, I decided Ahnold would suffice in keeping their attention.

Overall opinion is this is how Hamlet should have handled stuff when he got home from college.  On the other hand, you can see how short the show became when he went from inaction to a “Last Action Hero” (how many recognized the clip?)

Yeah, teaching Hamlet, a four-hour play of a college kid who doesn’t know how to handle his dysfunctional family( one that would rival any modern reality television program) to a roomful of teenagers is a challenge.  Don’t get me wrong– Hamlet is one of my favorite Shakespeare plays.  My problem is how to get my students who thrive on the likes of 300 and Aliens and Cowboys as entertainment to appreciate the play as much as I do, or at least see the reason why it is still relevant for today, even though it is about 200 hundred years old.  So I gave it over to a master teacher to introduce my students to the likes of  the Elsinore gang.

Actually, the movie did help my students understand Hamlet better.  They saw how it improved the lives of the DDs, and comprehended that Shakespeare is a great way to sharpen critical thinking skills.  They may never read another Shakespeare play in their lives, yet, as I always I tell my students, if they can comprehend Old English they can comprehend anything they come across, from a diesel engine manual to putting together their new barbeue.

As we traveled through the emotions, intrigue, and the nitty-gritty of family life gone wrong, my students saw that the interests of the Elizabethan theater crowed wasn’t too much different from today: sex, violence, love and death.

Sometimes only a little is lost in translation.

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