Sunday, September 21, 2008

Home for the Weekend

Fresh banana bread, and free laundry are good reasons to go home for the weekend. I am convinced of such things.

So is the ability to go to the bookstore (to the best of my knowledge, the nearest bookstore of any reasonable size in my current town-of-residence is about 100 miles away) - I picked up a collection of Poetry, a book about the teaching of reading (hopefully it'll be at least somewhat worthwhile), and "The Watchmen" by Alan Moore, which thus far is proving to be fantastic.

Papers to grade and lessons to plan, and I spend my time reading a comic book (err, "Graphic Novel").

Still, no regrets.

Also: Finally saw "The Dark Knight" last night. I think I missed the first 10 minutes or so, but it was still fantastic. I sat too close to the screen (it was an IMAX theatre), which meant that the part of the screen I was looking at was not always the part of the screen in focus, but it was still a pretty fabulous movie.

In teaching news, my Juniors' portfolios are starting off marvelously - right now they're working through their stories, getting things done. It's neat to see.

My freshmen will be starting their quarter-projects here pretty soon. Like, on Tuesday. I'm excited.

I've found that, in terms of methodology, my favorite thing to do is work with individual students, or small groups of students as they try to solve a problem with an indefinite/not-yet-defined answer. It lets me engage them fully in process, with the assumption, I guess, that if the process of figuring stuff out works the way it should (and all the steps check out), then the end-result, whatever it is, will be mostly valid.

This might be a shaky assumption, but it's held up so far in my very short teaching career.

I had an observation on Thursday (By my principal)... since I still have a job, I must be at least minimally competent, which is good news, y'know? Hopefully that means that my assumptions/beliefs about teaching (such as my unwavering faith in process) are not too far misplaced.

In other news: Guaranteeing a victory for your high school football team, on the radio, is far from classy behavior for a coach, from what I can tell. So is insisting that such a victory is somehow a cog in your vendetta against said other team.

In case you were wondering.

Now: back to Laundry, and "The Watchmen". I've got a Ray LaMontaigne album to listen to, followed by the new Ratatat album.

Life is assuredly good.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

My Favorite Thing About Being Here

My favorite thing about being here is that I can see the stars at night. There is almost no artificial light in town, and I can see even the faint, far-away stars that we can't normally see, thousands and thousands of them all at once.

This alone is reason to go driving at night.

They remind me just how big the universe is, and how incredibly small I am.

And I can see for billions of miles.

I want to drink the sky, and feel galaxies sloshing in my belly, but this is impossible.

Seeing it, seeing as much of it as I can see is, I suppose, the next best thing.

This alone is reason to go driving at nights.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Prufrocking Out, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Just Re-Arrange My Reading Seminar

The amount that I'm proud of my juniors right now is a very large amount. We have been reading "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock", which is a very difficult read, even on a good day. More to the point, we started it last Tuesday, and have been plowing through it since then (with a break on Monday for writing).

Certainly nothing revolutionary, but I think they get it. I really do. We've dug through, line by line, stanza by stanza. We've done research. We've read articles (psychology stuff, tangentially related).

But the moment came today, when we debated. And my juniors got it. They really got it.

Tomorrow, we are reading "TS Eliot's Lost Hip-Hop Poem" (Audio Here), and finishing up "Prufrock"... two weeks, spent on 123 lines (if you do not count the indented lines as being their own lines). It was beastly. I told my juniors that. And they believe me.

The biggest victory, though, isn't in the understanding of Prufrock. That's just a poem. The big victory is how they're digging into the process of making meaning, the process of Figuring Stuff Out. That's the important part. They're trying to explain, they're looking for confouding variables, and they're trying as hard as they can to account for everything.

So we conquered a much larger beast than just a poem. We figured out how hard we need to work to figure out every single thing we'll ever read this year, and how deep we need to think just to start approaching a text.

I'm pumped.

Speaking of beasts to tackle, I've been struggling all month with trying to figure out what to do with my reading seminar. They're such a varied group of kids (ranging from really struggling with reading to needing just a little bit of confidence), and so I can't design a whole-class instructional thing that catches all of them in a way that is helpful to everyone.

So I am re-structuring this baby into a workshop. Kids will come in, grab their folders, sit down, write, work, read, whatever, on a couple of discrete and mostly self-defined projects, which will all come together to make their 1st Quarter Portfolio. I'll introduce this baby tomorrow, and we'll see what happens. I think it will work well, and this will be a good lab experiment, as it were, to see if all of this actually works.

That's right. I'm going Nancie Atwell on their arses.

I think it'll work. I really do. If it turns out well, I'm going to have my freshmen follow suit, if only for a month.

If it does not work, then I've only wasted a month.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Was going to spend tonight grading papers...

But sleeping is more important. I haven't been getting enough of it. Here's why:

1) Went back to Lincoln this weekend, saw some friends, at delicious potato bread, and saw at least 3 praying mantises, between 2 and 6 inches long. Then left to go back to Kansas far too late (830p... it's a 5 hour drive, made longer by me taking a quick nap at a rest-stop due to falling asleep.) after getting up at 6:15 that morning to eat delicious potato bread, which was brutal due to hanging out with friends until 1:30 or 2 am the night before.

I want to get back to Lincoln at least once or twice per month, but it's 10 or 11 hours of driving, and that's hard to justify (while I'm driving) sometimes, though completely worth it, I think.

I didn't feel as sick when I was leaving Lincoln this time as I did last time... that's a good sign.

2) First day back, they had me score-keep and line-judge for a volleyball tournament. Said tournament ran until 9:30 pm. I arrived at school at 7:30 that morning, on 3 hours of sleep. But the standing around (and cheering for our team, covertly, of course) made it a lot easier to be awake.

3) Frustration with writing. I've got things. I've got them in my head. But I forgot how to dump my head out... it all gets mixed together, and I can't tell if it belongs in one poem, or 2, or 7... and none of it is good enough yet that it answers those questions for me.

Commence beating my face against the desk.

End face-beating.

4) Teaching. Yeah. That. My juniors are reading "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" right now... it's a friggin' tough poem, and it's a lot for my juniors to take in. I know this.

But it's also beautifully written, full of all sorts of places where we can probe, and most importantly, it does not have a "set" interpretation (NEW CRITICAL THEORY LOSES!... or alternatively, "Thanks, Wikipedia!")... we can't account for everything.

I'm trying to get my students to realize that we're not looking for the answers, but rather we're pursuing the questions... I told them flat out that I don't understand this poem, but I'd like to, and I want them to help me with it. They seem skeptical, but that is alright.

My freshmen are going strong, at least as much as they can right now. We're studying irony. They don't quite get it yet, but I think they will. I hope they will.

I've got a few rock-stars in both classes (read: students who try really hard), and they make the day go by so much better.

That said, I need to be spending a lot more time grading papers and lesson-planning. But I'm doing what I can to make my students do more of the work, from handing stuff out to reading aloud and doing analysis.

5) The first-year-teacher project. It's a beast, and I'm spending a lot of time with it. No regrets, certainly no regrets, but in a lot of ways, it's just one more thing. I need to be spending more time with it.

6) High expectations. I've got 'em. For myself, for those around me, especially for my students, doubly-especially for myself. (Also, sentence fragments) Working toward those is tiring, and I get home most days wanting to eat and then sleep.

On the plus side, I am doing a slightly better job of remembering to bring a lunch on a daily basis. This is most likely a good thing.

Grocery shopping happens tomorrow.

In other news: I'm going to see if I can do something awesome with my reading-seminar kids. I'm still planning it right now, but we'll see where it goes... let's just say it involves awesomeness.