Tuesday, April 29, 2008


Last week my ninth graders started getting ready to read To Kill a Mockingbird. They may not have been completely aware of it as my way of getting them ready was to do a webquest on the history of Jim Crow. I adapted this last year when I was teaching TKAM for the first time. Odd, it was my twentieth year of teaching, but my first time teaching that novel. I guess it isn’t really big in the seventh and eighth grades around here. Today I passed out index cards for them to write five things they learned about Jim Crow from the webquest. If the chatter I heard during class is any indication, this assignment didn’t go well.

They had a paper to write on what they had learned and I tried to take it up today. It was due yesterday, but I was absent and could not collect it. Discounting the absent students and those at the ALC, I had about 23 students Friday who received the assignment. I had seven turn in the paper. Two more claimed it was done, but not here due to computer problems. We shall see.

This is, unfortunately, not an isolated incident in the classes I teach. Assignments, whether to be done in class or at home, are viewed by many of my students as optional. Over half the ninth graders did not do a parts of speech project that was required of them (I was told by my department head I had to review the parts of speech with my students). Most took a 150 point zero. Why? It wasn’t that difficult, just involved enough that it would take them some time to do it well. And most opted not to. The grades they earned for it were not, on the whole, very good. They had a chance to revise it and turn it in for a higher grade. One student took me up on that.

It is not just this class. It is not just ninth graders. It is not just my school. My wife has similar problems in a tenth grade physical science class in a high school in Georgia. And her class is required for graduation! As is my ninth grade English class.

I guess the best I can do is not take it personally. It seems that this is not aimed specifically at me, but it is more of a growing problem. I am not a big homework giver, but when I do give it, I expect it to be done. Maybe I am just too unreasonable. I expect them to care about their educations. Maybe I should check up on my Maslow’s Hierarchy again.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Inner City Mother Goose

I have never thought of poet Eve Merriam as a controversial writer. The poetry I had read of hers was childlike in its wonder and had an innocent playfulness about it. Imagine then, my surprise when I checked out a copy of Inner City Mother Goose from my local library.

The introduction by Nikki Giovanni let me know that this wasn’t going to be the cute, sweet poems by Merriam, but rather a form of social commentary on some rather obvious societal inequities.

In her own introduction to the 1982 edition (it was originally published in the late 60’s) Merriam recounts the book’s being banned in several places, including colleges. She hints at a thirteen letter word she used in one of her modern nursery rhyme retellings. Apparently that one caused a great deal of trouble.

As with most social satire this is not always a comfortable book to read. There are some poems that made me squirm a bit. But it also fits in with a new awakening in me for more social justice.

The illustrations by David Diaz fit the poetry extremely well. They had a reality that spoke through them, as did the poems.

While I might not recommend it for the classroom, necessarily, I would recommend this book to be read by those who teach in inner city schools and/or by those who are interested in social justice issues.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Found Poem Variation

On Friday I worked with a variation of found poetry that I developed for my classes several years ago. I have published my 2004 Sun Belt presentation on Google Docs, just in case anyone would like to take a look at it.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Poetry PPT and Website

As part of National Poetry Month, I am focusing more on poetry in my classes. I took a look at the Tabloid Headline Poems that they turned in last week and noticed that a sizable portion of my students had no clue about line breaks--what they were or how to use them. So, I took an old handout I used to use with my students and turned it into a PowerPoint presentation that we worked through.

I also found a pretty cool website on the subject of interpreting poems.


Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Two Views on Why Public Schools Suck

Apparently my blog is a feast or famine thing. Currently we are in feast mode (a terrific way to avoid grading papers I desperately do not want to grade, while still feeling productive).

I have a bunch of subscriptions to science blogs. Why? I just do. Seems like I can always find something interesting in one of them. Well, as I was going through some back entries today a couple caught my eye and I thought I'd share them. Feel free to chime in with your comments. I know our schools have some troubles--exaggerated in some cases, underreported in others--but it just always pisses me off to hear the entire US school system constantly trashed.

Here's the first one--feminists beware! Women's Liberation Movement and Public Schools.

And here's one on our national disorganization: Nationalize Public Schools. Sorry. I am not currently in the mood to nationalize very much. At least not until we are under new management. And probably not then, either. Who knows what the next management shift might bring.

A Little Something for NaPoMo

If you click on the menu button, you can find the code to embed this in your own blog or website. I would be flattered if you want to use it. If you do, please let me know. I'm interested in how useful this could be.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Elie Wiesel on NPR

For those of you who teach Night (or those of you who are just a fan of the author), I heard something really interesting today. I was listening to All Things Considered on NPR and heard Elie Wiesel read his essay for "This I Believe." It is already on ATC's website. It will also be podcast soon and is on the site for "This I Believe." It is worth a listen to. He brings to life Santayana's quote: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."


You know, there are times when I just have to marvel at the sheer chutzpah some students exhibit. First a minor example, than a larger one. Brief note: I choose to view each of these as a major example of chutzpah and not stupidity.

I was showing a poetry video in class today, as it is National Poetry Month. It is the first video in the Language of Life Series by Bill Moyers. The featured poets are Sekou Sundiata, who recently passed away, and Naomi Shihab Nye. My students were to keep their heads up, their eyes open, and their mouths shut during the video. That was basically the assignment for them at the time: pay attention to the video. One several students were unable to do this to the point where they earned themselves detention notices. One of them had a novel defense: “I wasn’t talkin’, I was sleepin’!” As if that behavior was such an improvement.

The larger example actually comes from another teacher in my school. She was extremely upset last week as her cell phone had been stolen off her desk in the last ten minutes of the day. She knew from talking to the phone company that calls had been made since then, some obviously from inside the school. A couple of her female students knew who took it and stole it back from him to give to her, letting her know who took it. The student who originally took the phone still had it, at school, today. There were pictures in the phone’s memory of him at school. He had erased all the numbers she had in memory and replaced them with numbers he wanted to call. But he failed to erase the log of ingoing and outgoing calls.

Come on. If you are going to steal a teacher’s phone, and you know she is actively looking for it and the person who stole it, why keep bringing it back to school day after day?

I must be getting old, because I just can’t understand the thrill in that.