Month: January 2008

Total 44 Posts

Second Semester Seating Chart

Though I’ve maintained an entirely lax seating policy this year, I told them I was bored with the configuration, which had been constant since August. I told them to pack up, go outside, and wait near the door.

I walked outside and tossed out some mental arithmetic:

  • What’s 5 + 4 + 3 + 2 + 1?
  • What’s 5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1?
  • How many quarters are in $7.50?
  • What is the only state that grows coffee?

As students tossed hands up and answered questions correctly, I let them grab a friend and pick any seat inside.

As far as meaningful assessment goes, I doubt Bloom would approve. As far as seating selection goes, it’s my favorite.

[meekly pickpocketing my high school math teacher, Sid Bishop]

No Country For Old Teachers

No Country For Old Men recently opened a bag full of Oscar nominations, all deserved. Not only is it the most suspenseful movie American cinema has produced in years but Joel & Ethan Coen tightened their movie down without the usual horror soundtrack schlock – loud scratches, loud shrieks, and loud strings – deploying nothing more than this low, resonant murmur.

Their rationale, followed by its application to teaching:

“Suspense thrillers in Hollywood are traditionally done almost entirely with music,” [sound editor Skip Lievsay] said. “The idea here was to remove the safety net that lets the audience feel like they know what’s going to happen. I think it makes the movie much more suspenseful. You’re not guided by the score and so you lose that comfort zone.” [emph. added]

When you remove some scaffolding from your routine, you determine quickly if it was a) essential or b) a low-cost substitution for the essential. I’m noticing this everywhere lately.

  • slide animations (wipes, fly-ins, checkerboards, etc.) are a cheap sub for arresting visuals;
  • classroom rules are a cheap sub for a classroom well-managed;
  • jargon is a cheap sub for authority;
  • profanity is a cheap sub for articulated emotion;
  • sophisticated words are a cheap sub for sophisticated ideas;
  • machismo is a cheap sub for masculinity;
  • “i love you” is a cheap sub for a ride to the airport and a note in the bag;
  • technology used is a cheap sub for technology used well;
  • meaningless assessment is a cheap sub for meaningful assessment;
  • years and units is a cheap sub for a teacher’s worth;
  • supervision is a cheap sub for mentoring (submitted by jethro);
  • group work is a cheap sub for collaboration (submitted by TheInfamousJ);

These cheap substitutes (cansophisticated words and sophisticated ideas (eg.) can coexist. obviously these examples are highly situation-dependent.) lead us to believe we’ve filled a difficult prescription and performed our due diligence when in fact we are nowhere close.

Contributions and exceptions to this list are (as ever) welcome in the comments.

Crisis of Faith

Y’all lost Jeff.

I find myself entirely uninterested in matters ed-tech, ed-policy, or ed-anything related, aside from what’s going on in my own classroom. The Twitterverse (cringe) bores the hell out of me; I’ve nothing to blog about; and too much of my time has been taken up by meetings about technology products that are supposed to make my life easier from a paperwork point of view but don’t give me anything to work with in terms of things my actual students need to do.

Go tell him he doesn’t have the right to refuse tech.

Back On The Mainland

Well, that was awkward.

To set it straight, I was blogging back when blogs were written on paper and called “journals” (it’s an old-person thing – don’t worry about it) and maintained a pretty detailed record of that spectacular admixture of ignorance and hubris called “student teaching.” Those posts were a copied-and-pasted time capsule from five years ago, from a very different timeAnd if those were the posts I included, imagine the horrific self-incriminating garbage I left out. Please stop imagining now..

So. As much as I appreciated returning home to all the well-wishes and encouragement and assurances that, if I only stuck it out, teaching would get better … um … well I can’t even begin to phrase a response. “Thanks,” maybe. With one eyebrow upraised.

And as much as I’m glad that dude’s stint here is over and as much as I want to totally disavow his technique, attitude, and face, he and his commenters raised some worthy issues:

On Young v. Old

In response to 21-yo Dan’s blatant aversion to age & experience, Laelia (nee Nancy Sharoff) responds with some ageism of her own:

Oh honey, one might refer to your post as the result of the ‘innocence of youth’, however, in your case we might need to adjust that phrase to the ‘ignorance of youth’. FYI – I’m more than twice your age. We too face a dilema – that of how to deal w/ those still wet behind the ears, those that trip over their own feet, those who believe that the ‘truth’ resides only within them, those who have not learned the lessons that history has taught (that what goes around, comes around), oh wait….I must be talking about some of my peers – those 20-somethings.

She seems to have missed the mark with her nine-month prediction of my retirement (sigh … see first paragraph) but her comment (and my dumb, younger cousin’s post) points out the awkwardness of 60-yos and 20-yos working side-by-side under equal rank. Can another job claim that kind of weirdness? What do we do with thatOld people, be the teachers you want young people to become. Young people, give ’em a second look. (But not a third.)?

On Being Cool

Though my attempts to convert social currency into learning outcomes died a strange death several years ago, they morphed into something best described by TheInfamousJ’s comment:

My students respect my personality and I respect theirs.


I discovered that the best thing is not being cool, but asking them to teach you how to be “with it”. If you mean it, it shows them the kind of respect that you want them to give you … and they do (although sometimes with ‘kids these days’ you don’t recognize it as the respect you are used to seeing).

I’d add detached, dispassionate discipline to his confident, sincerely-interested teacher, all of which, taken as a sum, seems kinda … well … cool? … no no NO … I will not go down this path again.

On The Whole Thing

Thanks, everyone, for not asking the obvious question: what kind of self-obsessed loser guestblogs for himself?

Guest Blogger: Sucking Air

[This week’s guest blogger is Dan Meyer, a 21-yo student teacher from Sacramento who doesn’t realize he’ll one day consider six hours of sleep to be rather extravagant.]

Approximately eight hours for classes (in which I teach and am taught), four or five hours for prep work and homework, I’ve got a scant six hours in which to sleep, and I try to scrape an hour out of the remains in which to lift weights at the rec hall. I’ve never been this busy. I’m hoping that things will reach a steadier state for me because I’m burning out fast.

And it wouldn’t be so bad if I didn’t feel like such a failure. I had a real bad day on Thursday, wherein the class kinda ran all over the place, all over me, and didn’t do their assigned work. At least my supervising teacher happened to be there for his bimonthly review visit. I mean, at least there’s that.

When I apply for teaching jobs, when they ask for three adjectives to describe myself, I won’t hesitate: incompetent, discouraged, burned-out.