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Archive for September, 2008

Notes From Homeroom

To recap, this is the first year my school has built a thirty minute advisory period into its weekly schedule. But we're five weeks into the school year and our advisory binder still has us untangling human knots, breaking ice between students who have known each other longer than I have known my wife1.

So we're veering wildly off script but the product hasn't been too ugly. The same kid who called this the most pointless class on her schedule at the start of the year just last week volunteered it as the highlight of her Wednesdays.

What we've been about the last few weeks:

  1. We voted on a name for advisory period. The finalists were: a) Purple People Eaters, b) Wombats, and c) Buhemoth, from which Buhemoth was selected somewhat, um, un-democratically. (For the record, my student didn't intend the misspelling but we all took it with an anti-establishment post-spelling stance like, "Yeah, we know, and we don't care2.")
  2. We brainstormed a logo/mascot for Buhemoth. The exploratory committee first suggested adjectives that best described (to them) the essence of Buhemoth. We decided on "fierce" and "terrifying" while rejecting "cuddly" and "sensual." (I swear.) The logo status is "in process."
  3. We researched designs for our cardboard regatta competition3 with a few YouTube queries. Perhaps you've heard that Jon Pedersen (not the one you're thinking about) and I won this competition at Ukiah High School, circa. 2000. This nation would not see the kind of intense, brother-waged-against-brother controversy that surrounded our boat design until Ohio, circa. 2004. Gonna be really difficult, in other words, to keep my mouth shut and let my students take full ownership of the design process.
  4. We ate doughnuts.

Next up:

  1. We will push our logo process along by viewing a montage of contemporary logos and classifying them as "Buhemoth" or "Not Buhemoth."
  2. We will create a "Buhemoth code", drawing on the Mafia's recently revealed ten commandments for inspiration4.
  3. In general, we will stay as far away from the binder as possible.

  1. Nods at Chris.
  2. cf. Wyld Stallyns.
  3. Relegated to a footnote since I'm positive 99% of this blog's audience knows what I'm talking about: you are allowed two rolls of duct tape and unlimited cardboard to make a boat that will conduct a student across a school pool. Prizes for fastest time, etc.
  4. I mean, or not, if that's a totally stupid idea.

Sup Teach?

Sup Teach?, a group edublog for new teachers, is the sort of blog you toss in your feedreader to keep your eye on that incoming link you received the other day but which, even though it's ramshackle and scattered (the category list in the sidebar includes "king koopa" and "slaying dinosaur-esque turtles," for no obvious reason) you can't bring yourself to unsubscribe, simply because it's too much fun.

Consider "When expletives lead to memorable teaching moments":

Student 1: "Miss S., you look pretty today!"

Ms. S: "Why? Do I usually look nerdy?"

Student 2: "No, I dunno where you got that."

Student 3: "She always looks pretty, dumbass. I like your vest Ms. S."

Ms. S.: "Ladies and gentlemen, we do not use that compound word in my class. BUT…it's compound words ROLL OUT TIME!"

Student 5: "Bittersweet!"

Student 6: "Basketball!"

Student 7: "Bathroom!"

Student 8: "Sunset!"

Student 9: "Redwood."

Ms. S.: "Redwood?!"

Student 9: "Yea, it was in our pop quiz yesterday, remember?"

Ms. S.: "OH. Yea."

Gah. Too fun. Reminds me of when I was a new teacher, and young, so long ago.

Brian Cormier:

I played [math basketball] today in class. Class versus the teacher. When I told them I never lose, this was all the motivation they needed.

This kind of hyper-authoritative faux-confidence informs at least 50% of my student-teacher interaction, letting me acknowledge to them that, yeah, I realize this particular lame-duck teacher is real, that I don't like them any more than my students do, letting me have some cake and eat it too. We get along.

This frosty slap to the face is courtesy our source deep inside Education Trust – West. For the record, I find this data overwhelming, and overwhelmingly depressing, and not half as insignificant as half my blogroll will claim it is.

DFW, one

Josh Dean, NYT editor, explaining DFW's particular literary gift:

But the thing that always struck me was that he could sizzle your synapses with intelligence and insight and literary pyrotechnics, but you didn't need to read his sentences twice. They were brilliant and also colloquial. How he pulled that off is a literary voodoo I might never understand.

Kathleen Fitzpatrick, DFW's Pomona College colleague, letting me pimp my favorite author and my favorite tv show all in the same post:

He was, in fact, extremely fond of The Wire — he stopped me in the hall one day last year and said, look, I really want to sit down and pick your brain about this, because I'm really developing the conviction that the best writing being done in America today is being done for The Wire. Am I crazy to think that?

David Foster Wallace, himself, explaining his respect for and the essence of good teaching:

It might be that one of the really significant problems of today’s culture involves finding ways for educated people to talk meaningfully with one another across the divides of radical specialization. That sounds a bit gooey, but I think there’s some truth to it. And it’s not just the polymer chemist talking to the semiotician, but people with special expertise acquiring the ability to talk meaningfully to us, meaning ordinary schmoes. Practical examples: Think of the thrill of finding a smart, competent IT technician who can also explain what she’s doing in such a way that you feel like you understand what went wrong with your computer and how you might even fix the problem yourself if it comes up again. Or an oncologist who can communicate clearly and humanly with you and your wife about what the available treatments for her stage-two neoplasm are, and about how the different treatments actually work, and exactly what the plusses and minuses of each one are. If you’re like me, you practically drop and hug the ankles of technical specialists like this, when you find them. As of now, of course, they’re rare. What they have is a particular kind of genius that’s not really part of their specific area of expertise as such areas are usually defined and taught. There’s not really even a good univocal word for this kind of genius—which might be significant. Maybe there should be a word; maybe being able to communicate with people outside one’s area of expertise should be taught, and talked about, and considered as a requirement for genuine expertise.

Sorry if this place gets a little funereal or mushy as I push through a lot of interviews, a lot of eulogies, and his entire published body of work. You should start with Shipping Out: On the (nearly lethal) comforts of a luxury cruise, recently made available free online by Harper's Magazine.

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