Thursday, August 14, 2008

Why I Teach English

This article says it better than I can.

The humanities, rightly pursued and rightly ordered, can do things, and teach things, and preserve things, and illuminate things, which can be accomplished in no other way. It is the humanities that instruct us in the range and depth of human possibility, including our immense capacity for both goodness and depravity. It is the humanities that nourish and sustain our shared memories, and connect us with our civilization’s past and with those who have come before us. It is the humanities that teach us how to ask what the good life is for us humans, and guide us in the search for civic ideals and institutions that will
make the good life ­possible.

Why I Wake Up Angry: An Anecdote Illustrating My Encounters With Fellow Educators, Especially Administrators

I recently sat through a horrible training session. It was disorganized and filled with things that get on my nerves. I had one and only one question that I wanted answered, but no one would answer it. If that session is any indication of what the year is going to be like, I'm going to make the Hulk seem as calm as a meditating Zen monk.

After thinking about that session, I was reminded of an encounter that I had with a principal several years ago. I think that it illustrates why I get angry nearly every day.

I got a new teacher desk for my classroom. I was at school a couple of weeks before school began and wanted to set up the room. The desk was locked. I looked for the keys in the envelope that had some promo materials and in a few other places before asking my principal for the keys.

He said that he had the keys but they were with a bunch of other keys for other new desks and new filing cabinets and whatever other new storage equipment came in that summer. He had to go to a meeting or something, so he'd get them to me the next day.

I did other work to get the classroom ready. After a couple of days, I still did not have the keys. I wanted to get the desk organized, so I asked again. He was still busy. I think I asked one more time before going home and swearing loudly and creatively at the walls in my apartment.

During one of the meeting days that precedes every school year, one of my colleagues who camps in the principal's office told me the principal wanted to know why I needed to lock my desk. After I explained to him that I needed to UNLOCK the desk, he went to the principal and got the keys in about five minutes. I really don't understand why "I need the keys to my desk" necessarily means I need to lock it it not unlock it. I also don't know what difference that distincion makes; teachers have all sorts of things that they don't want students to have easy access to.

It's a boring story, no gunfights or car chases or fire trucks or hookers or anything, but I have had more experiences like that than I can count. In fact, I have about 50 to 100 of these conversations every school year. I make what I think are direct and understandable statements or requests like "I need the keys to my desk" and fellow teachers and administrators assume that I really don't mean what I say or that I have said or that I intended to say something totally different.

I'm getting older and more cantankerous, so I don't handle the frustration as well as I used to. Maybe, I'll just talk to my students and ignore everyone else.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

A Lifehack That Should Have Been Self-Evident but Wasn't

I've frequently thought that multi-tasking is overrated. For example, this Atlantic article contends "multi-tasking is dumbing us down and driving us crazy." I have trouble working on more than one major task at a time, so I believe the article has it straight. In fact, I still think that M*A*S*H's Charles Emerson Winchester III had a nearly perfect theory of everything when he said, "I do one thing, I do it very well, and then I move on." I tried to apply the principle to every part of my life. I've always been proud of the fact that I can remember minutia of plot details of a TV show or novel. I love knowing useless details. The only way I could remember those little details was by concentrating on only the the thing I was watching, reading or listening to.

I often tell my students that they need to concentrate on only the material for a test or quiz while studying. They insist that they can watch TV, study, text, play Halo, and argue with their parents at the same time. Their test scores usually tell a different story, so I have always assumed I'm right about multi-tasking.

I can empathize with the kids. They want to do everything and they don't have time to do it. I'm in the same boat. I want to be prepared to teach, grade papers, watch TV, read serious novels, read comic books. I have always tried to concentrate on doing one thing at a time. During the past two weeks of this sucky summer, I have decided to multi-task entertainment. It's helped. I can catch up on some light reading like Rolling Stone reviews or a comic book and watch baseball. It's not going to work when I correct papers or read articles for debate, but it should buy me some extra time with little cost.

I know everyone else in the world probably has been multi-tasking entertainment since they were in diapers, but I haven't been able to. It's been one thing at a time until now when I no longer have that luxury because I seem to have been doing far too good of a job of wasting time.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Getting Ready: What I Learned during Summer Vacation, Part 1

The letter came last week, the one that welcomes teachers back to a new school year and announces the meeting schedule.

I am not ready; I don't want to go back. I didn't accomplish anything, nor did I refresh myself in any meaningful way; so I decided to assign myself a short series of essays about the summer to see if I can find something to build on to have a productive school year and avoid having the same problems in the future. It's a variation of the cliche essay "How I Spent My Summer Vacation."

The first thing that I learned is that I, like everyone else, am a creature of habit who repeats mistakes. This isn't the first summer that I've wasted. I have wasted more time this summer than I have in past summers, but that waste is really a difference of degree not a substantive change in habit.

The second thing that I learned is that time matters. I can't get the months back. They are irretrievably gone. I have always known that wasting time is costly, but now that I'm older with an AARP card with all rights and privileges that membership, the fact that wasted time is indeed lost time has become frightening.

The logical conclusion is that I must change. I remember a Linda Ellerbee commentary on NBC Overnight a long, long time ago. She claimed that the real time of new beginnings was September, the start of the new school year, not December. I hope she's right, but that hope brings me to the last thing that I learned this summer. I'm not sure that I know how to change. I guess I'm going through the ennui that makes rich guys buy motorcycles and marry trophy wives. Maybe they buy trophy wives too; I'm not a rich guy, so I don't know.

I think that's what I learned. I have a few additions to "My Summer Vacation" assignment that I want to get to, but none of them fit here, so I'll save them for another post. For right now, I've got to get ready for the new school year. I probably should see if Ellerbee is right and try to make September the time of new beginnings instead of waiting for December.