Archive for the ‘Teaching’ Category

It’s a great day in 9th grade Linguistic Studies when you can sit back and listen to your atheistic master teacher give a roughly coherent explanation of the Trinity to a roomful of students–who range from nominally or devoutly Catholic to religiously ambivalent.

So many of our attempts in this classroom are to get students to think about texts in a deeper way–in any deeper way  We’re less concerned that they’re getting the “correct” deep meaning out of the text, then that they are looking for a deep meaning somewhere.  Shakespeare is, of course, a fantastic author for this.  We can read themes and symbols into nearly every word if we want to, and we do.  Our goal is to get students to do the work of reading below the surface.  Once they are doing this, we can teach them how to do it better.

We want students to get used to the feeling of searching the text and finding stuff in it.  Our students inevitably read the throw-away interjection “ho” as a reference to hookers.  We have yet to correct them– as we’d prefer that they enjoy the feeling of “getting the joke”– the technical mistake is easily fixed later.  I’m sure you can attack this method from many angles, but I’m learning to see its benefits.

So, for the purposes of our reading this quarter, numbers are symbols.  Always.  As we we read through the Prince’s first speech, we stopped at “three civil brawls.”  Ms. C— notes that “three is an important number for Christians and Catholics … the most important number in fact.”  When asked why, students give us a primer of New Testament history.  The three crosses, the three days Jesus was in the grave, the three wise men, John 3:16, etc.  Finally, Ms. C— asks, what about when you cross yourself, what do you say?  The room erupts with “el padre ….” etc.  She proceeded to give a thirty second explanation of the the Trinity (including introducing most of them to the word Trinity for the first time) and to discuss the importance of unity in reference to the Trinity and the number three.

Yup.  It’s a good day.

Ms. H.


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Students are entering …

Ms. H: You’ll need your Romeo and Juliet text today.

B: Aww sh**, it’s in my locker.

Ms. H: B—-, can we try that again.

B: Oh sh**, I mean, oh, sorry Ms.
Yeah, sorry … I left the play my locker, can I go get it?
And— good morning Ms!

Ms. H: Of course.  Thank you!

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She said it like it was random affection, or personal taste.

I wanted to explain that it wasn’t personal affection.  It’s just what happens when you work hard, take assignments seriously (or alter them so that you can take them seriously), and treat your professor like a professional colleague– not a high school teacher who’s forcing you to finish your homework.  You end up with a professor who respects you– and in this case– uses your work as an in-class example.  I wanted to explain that it didn’t have anything to do with smarts or personality.

But I didn’t.  I’m already in danger of being the show-off.  I try fairly hard to not be That Student in class.  But, then it occurs to me, shouldn’t teachers be the very best of students?  Shouldn’t a classroom of teachers be a room a educational overachievers?  WHY, in a post-graduate program, AM I BEING MADE TO FEEL ASHAMED FOR BEING A GOOD, HIGH-ACHIEVING STUDENT.


But seriously, sometimes it’s terrifying for me to think that some of my classmates are planning on spending their lives training and influencing students– and they can’t get through a class or an assignment without bitterly complaining and trying to do the least possible amount of work.

Of course, this is not true of all my classmates.

Also, I must take it as warning sign to myself, lest I fall into the same trap of complaining and running through the motions instead of putting my all into every component of my work.

But also ……… grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.


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Overheard today at LASGS:

“Well, don’t they take like six months to a year to grow?” (in reference to Shakespeare’s first child being born 5 months post-matrimony)

“Can’t babies hold their breath longer, ’cause you know they’re like floating in water in the womb?”  “No, man, they have a breathing tube.” (amidst a conversation on fear of water/swimming in p.e.)

“Dude.  You need to teach us more about sex.  Seriously.” (a 9th student to a teacher, upon hearing that 4 acquaintances from junior high are pregnant)

Ms. H

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from today

One of my favorite things as a teacher is doing stuff alongside my students.

I have two groups of students reading McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses in their literature circles.  It’s not an easy read, especially for 9th graders.  During class today, as I was checking in with each group, I was called most often to work with the students reading McCarthy.  We thought about words together, trying to figure them out from roots (e.g. primogeniture) or context (e.g. the red, elliptical sun).  We hashed out who was talking on any given page and tried to piece together the fragmented narrative flow.

I’m reading the book for the first time as well, so the discoveries on each page were mutual.  It’s a good feeling.

Ms. H

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No man is an island, entire of itself;
every man is a piece of the continent,
a part of the main.

John Donne

In good cartoonist form, Scott Adams starts with a killer hook: “Why do we make B students sit through the same classes as their brainy peers? That’s like trying to train your cat to do your taxes—a waste of time and money. Wouldn’t it make sense to teach them something useful instead?” in his WSJ article “How to Get a Real Education.”

He goes on to relate his personal experience of taking initiative and creating para-business ventures throughout his college years, demonstrating the fact that he learned management, loopholes, buy-in and other crucial business skills outside of a classroom.   He asserts that instead of filling students’ heads with art history,  physics, chemistry, calculus and classic literature, we should be cultivating entrepreneurial skills by teaching them to (1) combine multiple skills rather than trying to master one, (2) fail forward and view failure as a process rather than an obstacle, (3) be where the action is, (4) attract luck by DOING something, (5) conquer fear by learning to enjoy things like public speaking that scare the rest of the population, (6) write simply, and (7) learn persuasion.

One part of me is very attracted to his line of reasoning.  I’m going to assert (with no expertise to back me up) that since the Industrial Revolution, most educational organizations are set up with a single directive in mind: create human cogs for businesses.  Unfortunately, the Industrialization is moving overseas and we are not training our kids to ride the wave of the Informational Revolution that began two decades ago–where creativity will be more important than conformity, and risk-taking more necessary than compliance.  If our schools are going to create worker bees, they need to create a new kind of worker bee, and training them to be entrepreneurs may be the perfect remedy.

Another part of me is repulsed by Adams’ definition of “Real Education.”  I believe education should be a whole-soul endeavor, training an individual’s heart, mind, and body to be unified in pursuit of the Good, the True and the Beautiful.  I’ll agree that art history may not be immediately applicable for non-curators, but it opens your eyes to see what human beings are capable of creating, trains you to recognize beauty, and hopefully, empowers you to walk confidently into an art museum or gallery with healthy anticipation and enjoyment.  Physics may be ruled by Einstein, Hawking, and Sheldon Cooper, but even just the elementary introduction I received from my dad in high school was enough to cause me to be blown away by the complexity of the universe, and I certainly play billiards and Angry Birds with a much keener awareness thanks to my basic understanding of vectors and velocity. What does it hurt knowing that there are over one hundred elements and you only know the abbreviations to two of them and the rest end in -ium?  While you may never be a rocket scientist, taking a class in calculus should at the very least give you a valuable dose of humility.  And, of course, my personal soap box: classic literature. Heck, literature in general. Why should we make ninth graders read Romeo and Juliet or freshman undertake the Iliad?  Because (1) reading well is an essential asset in a world of print, (2) reading literature thoughtfully develops the critical thinking functions of your brain which allows you to engage the rest of life with curiosity and the ability to problem-solve, (3) literature allows you to experience multiple lifetimes before you’re halfway through your own, hopefully deepening and broadening your soul with compassion and wisdom, and (4) it incorporates you into the fold of Humanity writ large so that you realize you are not an island, but instead the youngest of a long line of brothers.

My solution: Get a world-class, classical liberal arts education to become a good person, then go on to a master’s program to learn a useful skill. In my case, entrepreneurship.

C.S. Doemner

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I’m lesson planning this morning, researching and typing out detailed notes for the introduction to Shakespeare workshops I’ll be teaching next week.  Sitting at LA Mill Coffee, a couple miles from our apartment, I’m reminded that there are a whole set of people in the world who spend their mornings at coffee shops–in the middle of the week.  I’m not one of these people, and I feel a little out of place– except during spring break.  Then I can turn into an artsy, tea drinking, pastry consuming, note scribbling LA coffee house-ster.

Besides trying to sneak in some fun reading this week, I’ve been tackling all the “forbidden love” novels that my students will be reading in their literature circles while we study Romeo and Juliet in class.  With the exception of the last three on the list, the novels are terrible.  I only have to slog through The Notebook before I can finally graduate to the three books I’m excited to (re)read.  I hope my students appreciate my sacrifice.

Hard Love
Like Water for Chocolate
The Reader
Romiette and Julio
The Notebook
Their Eyes Were Watching God
All the Pretty Horses

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