Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the tag “students”

A Cat Named Atticus


I will admit it: I am officially in countdown mode. 

Once Memorial Day weekend arrives it’s just a matter of reviewing for finals and finalizing grades. 

This is also the time of year that I begin to reflect upon the overall. The usual introspective “Was I effective as a teacher?” thing that often ends up with the “Maybe I should look into retirement” nudges.

Yes, there were plenty of successes: students embracing the new research paper format; scores for state testing going beyond stated requirements (at least in one class); finding lost papers.

Yet, I dwell upon those perceived failures: that one class, that one student, that one unit that didn’t quite, that didn’t quite–that, well, wasn’t quite a success.

Maybe retirement would be a good idea.

Thoughts like that prompt me towards a library run and lunch out. And that’s when I am handed a providential reprieve. 

In a small town like ours it is inevitable I run into students, both present and former. They bag my groceries, fill up my water glass, complete my Penney’s purchase, and serve my food. This one I couldn’t remember her name, or if I actually had her as a student. So I feign the friendly, “Hey, how’s it going?” 

Then the question pops up: “Do you still teach English?” 

I guess I do look like I’m retired. We talk as she wraps up my purchase. She was in my class when I taught freshmen (that was a ways back). I wonder silently if she gained anything from the class. Five years ago…That’s going back a ways. Then she says, “I remember we read To Kill a Mockingbird.” I wait for her reflection, her possible judgement. “I named my cat Atticus.”

A cat named Atticus. 

Yup, I can put off retirement for at least one more year.


image:sportsmagazine.net

In Between Aah Weekend


As I sit in my lounger recuperating from a week of giving finals, grading essays, posting grades, and planning next quarter’s lesson, I take a moment to breathe an “Aah.”

The weekend in between semesters is rather delectable. Finally–no papers to read and grade and no last minute adjustments to lesson plans. I embrace the leisurely weekend ahead. A good book to indulge in. A nice nap to appreciate. Maybe some shopping. No guilt. I am in between semesters and there is that hint of June frisking in the distance, even as snow falls.

Any other teachers out there feeling that in between “aah”?

Or maybe you’re a student feeling the same way.

Hoping you all have some “aah” time before Monday.

Shakespeare Knew Unrest


Peggy O’Brian, director of education, of the Folger, queries how former Folgerians are doing from time to time. Seeing the Folger is neighbors with many prominent Washington DC power sources, such as the Supreme Court, her question holds some resonance of consideration.

I paused and thought. How are we doing? The “we” for me being the school environment because school is a large part of my life and serves as a reflection of how the world out there is affecting the lives of present and future citizens: students. I will say this: there is unrest and concern.

Here is my partial response to Peggy’s question:

We are feeling the bite of unrest. Students are forming clubs that reflect their need to express their views. We have a club that celebrates the 50.5%, formed by young women (and young men). Another club is the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, young men who want to explore what it means to be a male in today’s society. We also have Interact and Key Club, which reaches out with fundraisers to meet the needs of the community. The administration has a mentor class of student peers who lead discussion groups.

Class discussion topics for my AP Language class bring forth interests such as “fake news,” and how women are portrayed in the media. Students exchange ideas and debate views. We share. I remind them their voices can be heard. They march. They write letters and articles for the school paper. They are involved. I am fortunate to be part of their conscious desire to be the change they want to see in the world.

And in all this, I keep teaching Shakespeare. He saw injustice, corruption, love, hate, death, prejudice and he put pen to paper, and words became actions upon the stage. Students see that 400 years later we still have the same issues, even if they are expressed in a different manner at times. My students see that one man continues to have a large influence upon the world. Shakespeare truly is a man for all time.

Shakespeare is one way I illustrate how times of unrest are reflected through the arts. And it’s frightening to learn that funding for the arts is being threatened.

I’m hoping our voices will be heard up on the Capitol’s hill that the arts are important and the people want them to remain a vibrant voice.

We especially need our voices to be heard in times of unrest.

Oh, for a muse of fire


As a senior English teacher I have the distinction of being the last of a long acquaintance with school literature for my students. Many, if not most students, come in with a surly attitude about English. My goal is to get that frown turned upside down. While I don’t resort to extremes, I have been known for some surprising antics to liven up class. I inject movie clips, silly voices, and theatre activities into the lesson plan.

I enjoy teaching English because I’m actually a librarian at heart (budget cuts). To infuse the love of books is a mission, not a vocation.

At the end of the month my students will have studied a handful of sonnets, examined three Shakespeare plays, watched one live performance of Hamlet, analyzed two of the Bard’s speeches, and have performed one of the speeches from a play. They will be so full of Shakespeare at the end of this unit they will leak iambic pentameter onto their desks. This might cause consternation with the custodians, yet it is all part of my mission to turn these Bardihators into Bardinators. I would be Bardilating even if it wasn’t Shakesyear.

My extra effort Barding might be paying off; I think I might be making headway. We began with Taming of the Shrew, a farce that they could relate to because of Ten Things I Hate About You, and then we went onto a tragedy. I surprised them with Othello, a complicated study of villains and heroes and racial issues that resonates with my students even after 400 years it was first performed.

We moved onto my personal favorite: Hamlet. We explored the first eleven lines together and they realized Shakespeare’s language does not present the barrier they thought they would encounter. We prepared for the climatic duel of act five by going outside and learning  stagecraft fighting with duct-taped yardsticks.

I teach the same lesson six times, slightly modified, due to being the only senior English teacher this year, so my Shakespearience becomes even more enriched over the years because the math computes to a lot of repetition of knowledge. I’ve always said the best education I’ve received is from teaching.

As for students and their absorption of English? I wonder how much impact I will have. Will students fondly or disdainfully remember my efforts to interject the muse of Shakespeare’s fire into their lives? Will there be Renaissance Man moment, when they will recite a few lines or carry the meaning of a studied play with them into their future life? I hope so.

For now, my librarian-teacher  heart will continue to thrill when students make comments like: “I really like this. I really like digging into this Shakespeare stuff.”

My fire is amused.

image: pintrest

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.

NPM: #28–a classroom poem


This poem is for all you teachers out there, and yes, to you students as well. We ask a question, and know our students know the answer, but there is such a reluctance to share the knowledge, unless you are the student who always has the willingness. What about the others? This poem helps to unravel the mystery of the reluctant hand.

The Hand

“Take a chance…” image: galleryhip.com

 

Light and Eyrey


image:: pintrest.com 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:

from http://www.chicklitbooks.com:

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 http://www.dictionaryreference.com:

chick lit

/lɪt/ Show Spelled [lit] Show IPA

noun

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).

 

Labor Intensive Days


Well, those laid-back, lazy days of summer break get stowed away with my white shoes after September 2. (Yes, I know I’m showing my age by my stodgy self-imposed fashionista rule).

White shoes for summer

September whites still a no-no? image: theclothingmenu.com

 

What I don’t like about the first day of school:

  • Trying to get through the name rosters without totally slicing and dicing the pronunciation.
  • Going over classroom expectations because even though I need to, I doubt anyone is seriously listening to yet another teacher reeling off the rule spiel.
  • Fretting over what I’m wearing. Hair and wardrobe malfunctions do not create good first impressions.
  • Trying to reason with my stomach that grazing days are done for now, and to please hush it’s malcontent state. Especially since our hallway is slated for second lunch this year.
  • How tired I am at the end of the day. Remember the Barbie clip in Toy Story? Yep, that “it’s exhausting being that up and happy feeling” really does slam a person.
  •  My feet hurt. Stylish shoes still rule over sense. I doubt I will rock Reeboks to school.
  • Timing bathroom breaks. And no, my classroom is not even close to the staff rest rooms. I have line up with everyone else. On the other hand, I do get to hear some unexpected choice bits while stalled for time.
  • Dreading that stage fright feeling of “am I gonna bomb or be the bomb?” Really, it’s like running a three show routine with three different audiences. Are they going to get my jokes? Do they respond in the right places? I commiserate with ever Saturday Night Live host about this time of year.

But the cool thing about September is that I do get to go back to school.

  •  There’s that excited buzz of the new as everyone returns to the hive of learning.
  •  What about the opportunity of “clean slate”–never mind last year, this year is gonna be even better.
  •  New clothes! I took advantage of Coldwater Creek closeouts this year.
  • Renewing and forming friendships among staff. “Old and new faces sharing spaces.”
  • Trying out new ideas on old curriculum. “I can’t wait to release this new perspective of Beowulf.”
  •  Schedule–I like a well-ordered life and getting back into a routine makes me humm like a happy llama.

What are your back-to-school thoughts? What side of the desk are you on?

Committed to Poetry or Was that Commentary of Poetry?


English: Former United States Poet<br /><br /> Laureate (2... Admit it–we like poetry
because for the most part it’s a quick commitment. Two to five
minutes we get our emotions stirred, we open up our imagery files,
and we tuck away a line to ruminate on.  This is not cynicism,
merely observation. We love, love, love poetry more than we love,
love, love short stories. At least, this is what I am beginning to
surmise as I dole out literary experiences to high school students.
Since I’ve been English literature teachering for the past
decade, I have discovered poetry is amazingly versatile in its
ability to stir up passion in students.  Students  run
the Richter scale of response of “Just hand me a dull spoon so I
can dig out my eyeball” (LOL–actual quote from a senior) to
“Poetry! I love poetry! Can we write our own poems!” (yet, another
true quote). There doesn’t seem to be much of the middle roading
when it comes to reading or writing poetry. Why is that, I wonder?
My students aren’t sure either.  Somewhere between Shel Silverstein and Shakespeare
sonnets the love of verse becomes irrevocably squashed.
I think Billy Collins presented oh so well:

Introduction To Poetry

I ask them to take a poem and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its
hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem

and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem’s
room

and feel the walls for a light
switch.

I want them to
waterski

across the surface of a

poem

waving at the author’s name on the

shore.

But all they
want to do

is tie the poem to a chair with
rope

and torture a confession out of
it.

They begin beating it with a
hose

to find out what it really
means.

Thank you,
Billy. I am trying to convert my rubber hose approach into one of
ski rope handles.
One of my goals as a teacher is to inject the love of
words into my students.  I want them to turn to poems like
they do to their tunes.  After all, song lyrics are mostly
poetry with infused music.  Once students realize that if they
actually unplugged their buds long enough to actually read
their play list lyrics out loud they will see all those
literary terms of assonance, imagery, rhythm, rhyme, simile,
allusion floating around.
I try not to have them beat the stuffing out of
poems.  I much prefer them waterski and wave in
acknowledgement as we launch out on poetry’s
waters.  Grooving on poetry is, I hope contagious. My
excitement at reading a really marvelous poem out loud causes me to
have physical reactions.  The other day I read Seamus Heaney‘s “Digging.”

English: Picture of the Irish poet and Nobel P...

English: Picture of the Irish poet and Nobel Prize winner Seamus Heaney at the University College Dublin, February 11, 2009. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.

Under my window, a clean rasping sound

When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
My father, digging. I look down

Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds
Bends low, comes up twenty years away
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
Where he was digging.

 

The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked,
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.
By God, the old man could handle a spade.
Just like his old man.
My grandfather cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, going down and down
For the good turf. Digging.
The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.

 

When I finished reading the poem
out loud I sucked in my breath and danced a bit in
place, so moved was I with Heaney’s wordsmithing.  My AP
students benignly tolerate my antics. I’m hoping my
unfettered appreciation will one day stir them  into
showing me their unabashed admiration.
Considering I had minimal
exposure to poetry during my own K-12 school days, and didn’t
really discover its merits until college, I am continually amazed
at its power to stir my emotions.  I valiantly want to pass on
this joy to my students and even before the Common Core required a
unit on poetry, I taught it anyway.
My commitment to poetry is my
commentary on how words artfully placed meaningfully lend a
dimension to our lives that makes us linger to inhale the
fragrance of as Coleridges states, “the best words in the best
order.”
Do you have
any poems that cause you to dance a bit in place when you read
them? Oh, do share.

There is no rhyme nor reason to poetry…


at least according to some of my freshmen.  I can understand their point. Who wants to study grammatically incorrect phrasings and try to make sense of what they are talking about when you are doing all you can at trying to get a handle on whether it’s “A” day or “B” day and what lunch you have (“ummm, first lunch on “A” day or was that “B” day?). But we’ve made a commitment to Common Core and it’s full speed ahead.

Cover of "Dead Poets Society"

Cover of Dead Poets Society

Actually, I’ve always been a proponent of poetry.  I’ve brought cowboy poets into the classroom, Beatle songs, clips of Robin Williams doing his crazy wonderful teacher in Dead Poets Society, and provided recipes for poems.  I had football players writing love poems and entering contests, mud boggers writing sonnets about their trucks. We’ve explored performance poetry through Taylor Mali’s incredible YouTube videos and we’ve participated in a packed-out community program of youth performing their own poetry.

Common Core though, I’ve noticed, has dented my zing. I’ve been having students prepare for their SBAC (I should know what that means) by writing up reaction paragraphs to each poem as a means of them practicing their critical thinking skills. There is nothing wrong with understanding and recognizing how, or what, or why the poem works, yet poetry is so different from prose. It should encourage the soul to sing. I’m afraid in my zeal for my students to do well on their tests by getting their writing skills up to stuff I’ve lost my way towards my original goal of greeting me with “What’s the poem today?” with that anticipation of a new flavor to relish.

Hmm, some Walt  Whitman and Song of Myself might do it…

Cover of "Song of Myself (Shambhala Centa...

Cover via Amazon

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