April 27, 2006

Oklahoma teacher pay and curriculum choices

Posted in Uncategorized at 2:52 pm by mrsmauck

A couple bits of education news from the Sooner State: First, I heard on the news this morning that Oklahoma is 48th in the country in teacher pay, but 7th in teacher quality. This has got to outrage your sense of justice. The reason this was on the news was almost insulting: the state legislature is proposing a $3,000 pay raise. A Christmas bonus isn’t going to keep me from crossing the Red River, should the opportunity arise. Texas teachers make an average of $9,000 more per year than we do (or I will)!

This other story actually made the AP wires, about an Oklahoma City middle school history teacher who assigned a list of “vocabulary words” that caused some serious stirs. In an effort to teach a lesson on discrimination, this teacher sparked a wildfire of criticism. Students’ homework was to define words like bastard and n*gger (excuse me!), and come up with less offensive alternatives, words that actually communicated what these words meant. The full story is below.

Students’ word list includes slurs, profanity
By Ken Raymond
The Oklahoman
Teletha Walker often helps her granddaughter with her homework, so she wasn’t surprised Friday when the 14-year-old girl asked her to define a word. She was shocked, though, to hear what word it was.
The seven-letter noun, which begins with B and ends with D, refers to a person of questionable parentage. It seemed a peculiar word to find in an eighth-grader’s homework assignment, and Walker asked to see the rest of the lesson.
“When she brought me this list of words, my jaw must have fallen two feet,” Walker said Tuesday.
The list came from Judith Miracle, 54, a history teacher at
Webster Middle School who has taught in the Oklahoma City Public Schools system for 13 years, said Sherry Fair, district spokeswoman.
“She was trying to teach about discrimination through words that have been used to stereotype immigrants,” Fair said. “There are words like that on there that people have used over the years to refer to a variety of ethnic groups.”
But there are other words on the list, too.
“They are filthy words,” said Walker, 53. “There are some I won’t even say. Disgusting words.”
Dozens of words. Among the ethnic slurs, she said, are insulting curse words and explicit slang terms for genitals. Dozens of them.
Fair said Miracle used an overhead projector to display
the words to the class, asking students to discuss the terms and copy them.
As homework, they were to define the words and come up with less offensive alternatives.
Walker and others complained soon after learning about the lesson, Fair said. District officials are investigating the complaints and will determine what, if anything, will happen to Miracle.
“She is still in the classroom,” said Richard Brown, Webster
principal. “However, she has been told to cease teaching that particular unit.”
‘It was just inappropriate’
Per district policy, lesson plans must be reviewed and approved by the
supervising principal, Fair said. Miracle was approved to teach a lesson about discrimination.
“The district has much more constructive ways of teaching students about discrimination and tolerance,” Fair said. “No matter how much value she saw in the method she used, it was just inappropriate. … The district apologizes to the students and parents involved in this.”
Walker wants more than an apology.
“This deserves more than a slap on the hand,” she said. “I want
to know what this teacher was doing, what she was thinking, why she would do this. Giving this list to … 14-year-old kids. That’s just not right.”

No quotes from students…perhaps Mrs. Miracle should have kept her lesson
within the walls of her classroom, not letting the parents see the list of words
the kids hear and probably say everyday at school.

April 26, 2006

Up all night thinking about teaching

Posted in Uncategorized at 4:59 pm by mrsmauck

Last night, I went to bed at 9 p.m. and slept through my alarm, waking up at 7:30 and having to come to work with my damp hair in a ponytail and no breakfast. Why, you ask? Because the previous night, I had an ephiphany at 3:30 a.m. and could not get back to sleep until around 6 a.m. The ephiphany: a superintendent who goes to our church had mentioned he would have a computer teacher opening in the fall. At the time, I was only inquiring for my cousin, a high school science teacher looking to move closer to home. I hadn’t thought of it since, but for some reason when my puppy woke me up whining to outside, I remembered it. Suddenly, my mind was flooded with ideas and possibilities. For being a computer teacher, you ask? I thought you wanted to teach English. Well I do, but Alternative Certification gave me the okay to seek certification in Journalism Education because of my work experience. Once I get certified in it, I can take my English certification test, which I should be ready to do after I finish my Master’s program in English Ed next year. So my current job is boring me to tears, but it pays well and my husband is considering quitting his job to go into business for himself. This means we will be relying on my steady income. So I can’t quit to sub or quit for some GA job at the college while I pursue my Master’s. I have to have a full-time job. Hubby and I had just talked about this that day, and I was still kind of reeling from the realization that for the first time in my life, I actually had to work. I’ve always worked, but I’ve always had support from someone–my parents in college, my husband after I graduated. In the next few months, my income is crucial to our financial well-being. So despite my discontent with my PR job, I have to be here. Welcome to reality, right?

So at 3:30 in the a.m. two nights ago, I realized there was a possibility of me getting into education this fall! I could teach computers and Journalism! Although I strongly believe in the integration of technology into core classes, my mind was working overtime to think of ways to make an isolated computer class enrich existing curriculum and teach computer skills. Blogs on current events, webquests that support curriculum in other classes, website design for teacher websites…it all seemed so exciting compared to what I’m doing now, and so perfect for preparing me to be a teacher of a core class! Then I would have my last hour Journalism in a class stocked with computers. Oh, how I would cherish that hour of teaching tenacity and inquiry and curiosity! This blissful planning was all well and good for about an hour, and then I started realizing I had to be up for work in a few hours and needed to get back to sleep. My brain wouldn’t quit though! I had to grab my bedsite notebook–usually reserved for my nightly Bible readings–and scribble all my ideas in the dark.

When I got to work yesterday morning, I e-mailed my superintendent contact to ask him about the computer job, and alas, his computer teacher is staying on another year. But he did say that he thought me teaching comptuers and journalism would be a great fit, and he would let me know should the job become available, before he even advertises!

To sub or not to sub

Posted in Uncategorized at 4:03 pm by mrsmauck

Some teachers think subbing should be required for all new teachers, according to my daily teacher blog perusals. Over at I Thought a Think, this blogger said that if you walk from student teaching to your own classroom without having to sub, you lose an opportunity to learn the system from elementary to high school, to truly test your classroom managment skills, and to shore yourself up for every possible challenge you’ll meet in the public school system.

“Subbing hardens you. Subbing makes you think. Subbing teaches you how to punt
when the lesson isn’t going well, how to organize your day, how to fully see
just what the kids are doing, and so much about classroom management.”

I’m going to walk from a Master’s program to the classroom, if all goes as planned! Perhaps that plan will show to be a sucky one once I get into the classroom. It’s okay with me if it’s tough at first, but if I back out of teaching because I wasn’t truly prepared, I will be extremely disappointed. I know I’ll have as much if not more enthusiasm and creativity than teachers who go the traditional route of undergrad teaching program, student teaching, subbing, and then their own classroom. But discipline and classroom management is where I know I’ll be a bit lacking. In my English Teacher’s Survival Guide, it says that the teachers with the fewest discipline problems are the ones who want to be there, and whose classrooms and lesson plans are so organized and engaging that students don’t find much time to cause trouble. Even to a head-in-the-clouds girl like me, I know that’s not true all the time.

But I know I can do it! can’t I?

April 24, 2006

My students so far

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:29 pm by mrsmauck

I have no public school teaching experience, save those two not-so-fun days as a substitute. However, I am a one-time Sunday School teacher and the leader of an on-again, off-again college women’s Bible study. One one end, you’ve got students for whom the urge to pee is contagious and the right answer to every question is “Jesus!” and on the other end, your students already know the marjority of what you’re teaching, but enjoy talking about their individual plights as Christian women together. Good times.

Here are some of my best stories from both classes:

4-6 year-old Sunday School class

  1. In the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, I asked the students what they thought would happen if these men were thrown in the fiery furnace. One little boy immediately said quite solemnly, “They’ll go down to the devil.” I said, “But Collin, these are good Christian men who worship God. They won’t go to hell, do you think?” He backtracked, saying, “Oh yeah you only go down to the devil for like selling drugs or killing somebody or going to jail.” I tried to explain a little more about sin and hell, but Collin just nodded his head blissfully, in complete understanding of this whole devil place.
  2. I get out the gumball machine, the Holy Grail for my Sunday school class. Kids get a gumball for answering a question correctly. Most of them just stare at the machine the whole time I’m asking questions, and shout “Jesus!” if they can’t think of anything else.
  3. During this little Q&A period, I asked the kids what Daniel requested from the king to eat, rather than his delicacies. (The answer: vegetables and water.) When we had gone over this part in class, I had asked the kids what vegetables they liked to eat. They’d mentioned corn and green beans. When I asked what Daniel had eaten with the reward of a gumball, they started screaming out every vegetable they could think of. This was right, but I wanted some kid to say the word “vegetables,” so they didn’t go home telling their parents that Daniel asked for corn on the cob. (Not that big a deal, I see in retrospect, but I’m learning here.) When I said, “Yes corn on the cob is one of these…yes carrots are another. What did Daniel ask for?” one kid, his eyes glued on the gumball machine, shouted “Fruit!” while another asked thoughtfully, “Lettuce?”

College women’s Bible study

  1. During a series studying our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit, we had a study on keeping our bodies healthy. For some reason, this led into a discussion on the gross things about our body–one girl mentioned that certain deodorants make her break out, another concurred, saying her doctor made her get off the anti-perspirant, and then another girl confesses that she has two wear two kinds of deo to battle her B.O. Wow. TMI girls, TMI.
  2. We usually have a pageful of prayer requests. We come to Bible study from Wednesday night church, where we ask for prayer requests before our college Bible class, but these girls always come up with five times that many for our Bible study! It’s really awesome, though–much more personal stuff comes out, both good and bad, and we really pray our hearts out for each other, and then try to help each other get through the tough times and celebrate with each other in the good times.
  3. I used to pack these studies with Scriptures, and barrel through a lesson breathlessly. These girls made me nervous–I knew they had as much or more knowledge than I did, and I felt I needed to offer them a lot to keep them coming back. But then I realized that they came not so much for knowledge as they did for sisterhood. Once I slowed down and let them share experiences from their own lives, and what the Scriptures meant to them, we reached a new level of communication and spiritual friendship.

April 10, 2006

Toughest teaching job there is

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:27 pm by mrsmauck

I was talking with a friend over the weekend who is a college instructor, and continued to marvel at all the differences between being a secondary and postsecondary teacher. In public schools, you’ve got to plan for enrichment, remediation, lesson plans with three 15-minute activities, etc. My friend simply lectures and asks questions in her classes, and then leads lab experiments. My graduate program advisor and I were planning the graduate component of a class I’m going to take with him, and I suggested I turn in lesson plans for each work we read. He asked me what all my lesson plans would entail, since he’s never written one. It seems there’s just so much more organization, flexibility, and even creativity required for high school students. The difference? The majority of high school students don’t want to be there. There’s this whole new set of tactics you have to adopt when you have unwilling students and material they have to know for testing, both for EOIs (End of Instruction exams) and for college entrance exams. Not that college instructors and professors don’t have a tremendous responsibility-they do-but it just seems that the job of the secondary instructor is much more complicated. Does that ring true to anyone else?

April 7, 2006

Alone in the spotlight

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:10 pm by mrsmauck

A couple weeks ago, I had to complete the most difficult assignment of my life. In my Teaching Strategies class, we had to compose a yearly unit plan for one class. What on earth?!! Half the class are teachers, so they probably pulled out their handy-dandy lesson plan notebooks, punched in their unit names from last year, checked out which state standards they met, and clicked Submit. Me, I’m in freakout mode. At 9 p.m. the night before it’s due. After I told my husband what my assignment was, he said, “I can’t believe you waited until now to do that.” And HE’S a HUGE slacker and procrastinator!! I was grasping at straws, racking my brain for books and plays and poems I read in high school, what teachers assigned us to do, surfing web English teacher like a madwoman…Up to now in my classes, teaching had been this abstract concept…talking about planning curriculum (but never actually planning it), philosophy of education, and research in education. Then I had my easy breezy English classes–Native American lit, Advanced Comp, yeah, yeah, yeah, been doing it for four years. I’ve been picturing myself as a teacher, but not planning it. Then this assignment hit me like a baby grande piano.

I ended up getting an A on the assignment, and my prof said it was a good yearly plan! I did a skeleton outline that night (after my brain had pretty much short-circuited from all the possbilities), drafted it out on a little road trip we had to make at work the next day, and then typed up the whole thing at work that afternoon. It’s funny, once I started actually examining literature from a teacher’s perspective, I got even more excited about the literature! When I can direct what people learn about it–the stuff that really stuck with me and affected me–learning is so cool. Here’s my basic outline for a year of freshman English:

  • Nine-week unit on conflict using Romeo & Juliet and The Outsiders (Final presentation: two courtroom dramas in which kids role-play as characters from the books. They have to prepare for their parts and accurately portray the context and character.)
  • Two-week unit on poetry (Kids make their own poetry booklets of poetry that speaks to them, five original poems, and illustrations)
  • Four-week unit on reading and research: Kids alternate with literature circles and research for their paper.
  • Six-week unit on The Odyssey. Students take their own odyssey, writing a travelogue of a journey they take to four places they’ve always wanted to visit (requires research).
  • Four-week unit on writing for particular audiences. Students create job application portfolio, write op-ed article (persuasive writing), a magazine profile, and create a print advertisement. (Oklahoma Language Arts standards include mass communications.)
  • Three-week unit on To Kill a Mockingbird. The unit will really be on compassion and tolerance (walking in someone else’s skin), and they will look at poems, art, and real-life stories from the times of desegregation.

This isn’t a ready-to-use yearly plan, but it was definitely a good experience. I just bought this book called English Teacher’s Survival Guide off Amazon, and it’s giving me some great ideas. For one thing, I think I would begin the year with a less involved unit, one on writing, so I can see where my students are, and then remediate as necessary. Then I would know how much grammar, punctuation and usage stuff I have to work in. Anyway, the most difficult assignment of my life will soon be a reality, when I’m looking at planning actual yearly plans for actual students!!

April 6, 2006

The wit and wisdom of teachers

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:42 pm by mrsmauck

The things that I actually remember teachers saying from when I was in school mostly have nothing to do with literature or composition. I remember those little bits of wisdom and practical advice that I actually made a part of my life. Here’s some of those bits I remember or have heard about from others:

  • “You haven’t had a drink of anything for eight hours. Don’t you think the first thing you do when you wake up is drink a glass of water? Hydrate yourself?” My Gateway teacher at OU. This made such logical sense to me that I actually started drinking a glass of water every morning, and still do.
  • Mrs. Hamilton had us look up pronunciations of words in the dictionary as some sort of weird test, I think. After we’d done it, she asked who looked at the definition of the word while they were there. Not even I, probably the biggest fan of learning in that class, looked at the definition! She said, in a tone of scolding and disappointment, “You had a chance to learn and didn’t take it? What a shame.” I honestly remember feeling ashamed of myself! Why didn’t I just glance over at the meaning of that word? I didn’t know the meaning! Wasn’t I curious?
  • Brittany, our student worker, just told me something a government teacher in high school had told her class. He advised them to spend an hour alone each day, reading something for personal growth and/or information (not a beauty magazine or a romance novel), or writing, or just thinking. He said he doesn’t see how you wouldn’t go crazy if you didn’t do this everyday.
  • One day, I missed Fiction class, but the next week, the whole class was still reeling from what our teacher Kamau had said in response to one student’s submission the previous week. They explained it to me, and it put genuine fear in me about my writing. He had tossed her short story onto the table in disgust and told the class you can’t copy what you see on television and in movies and make it into a good story. You have to be original. Apparently, her story was a rewriting of Memento.
  • “Everyone is a reader; some people just haven’t found the right book yet.” Dr. Elbert Hill, Children’s Lit at SOSU.

Basically, the kids won’t remember a single thing I say. I know I don’t remember very much of what even my favorite teachers actually said. I think I carry their messages inside me though, and live them out. Because of past teachers’ messages, I have confidence in my writing, curiosity about author’s message and theme, a critical eye for structure and pacing (my weaknesses), trust in my own ideas and creativity.

You might not remember what the teacher said, but you just might remember the experiences you had in that class—learning something about yourself or about the world. That Eureka moment, when you understand that color is important in literature, that it can tell you something. That the way you interact with text, and the way you understand text in relation to other things, is important, and should be noted and discussed. That Greek myth has influenced so much of our literature (I see hubris everywhere!). That reading a postmodern novel can be like unraveling a mystery. You have to pay attention! That when you’re really writing, your characters can surprise you; they can take you in directions you weren’t expecting.

So what’s my message? What do I believe so strongly that it will naturally come out in my teaching from time to time, little gems of wisdom that the kids hang on to.

  • “I can’t” is an excuse. You are capable of just about anything.
  • You don’t have to love everything you read. What do you love to read? What do you love learning about?
  • Being yourself is all you can be. And that’s awesome!
  • Nobody remembers the followers. It’s the leaders, the people who stepped out of the shadows and said “NO!” to something that was wrong, or who did or said something totally different from what everyone else was doing or saying. They didn’t apologize for being different. Talk about the geniuses, the revolutionaries, and the free thinkers who stepped away from the pack and did something amazing that we still study today.
  • Knowledge is the great equalizer. It’s a democracy: free to anyone and power for all. And it’s here, it’s on the Internet, it’s all around! Take your power, your position in the world, by taking in knowledge and becoming educated.

Are those messages totally cliche and cheesy, or do kids need to know those things? I think we have to be conscious of the messages our behavior and teaching communicate, and convey these messages both overtly and subtley.

My quest

Posted in Uncategorized at 2:47 pm by mrsmauck

A good teacher is like a candle – it consumes itself to light the way for others. (Author unknown)

That’s what I’m going to do, I know it: be consumed with teaching. I’m scared that I’ll be so consumed I’ll leave my writing dreams behind, instead sacrificing myself at the altar of education.

I never wanted to be a teacher. I’ve wanted to be a writer ever since I experienced the lucid feeling of writing a story about characters who are surprising you and endearing you as you write. But last year, I was teaching a Bible study for women, and realized that I could see knowledge and communicate with a passion and clarity that was enlightening for the precious girls, and intoxicating for me. I love finding truth and beauty in literature, and the idea of helping others see how that hidden treasure can enrich their lives is alluring and exciting. I’m not sure what all God has in store for me professionally on this earth, but I know He’s given me a love of and talent for teaching, so I’m going to pursue that with all my heart, mind, body, and soul. As far as writing, I hope that my students can teach me what it it’s like to be an adolescent, so that I can write young adult fiction. That’s what Anna Meyers did. I heard her speak at a writers conference last year, and I don’t think it was any accident that I did. I’m not going to suppose any of God’s plans until they’ve unfolded, but I know God’s also give me a passion and talent for writing, and I won’t bury that talent.