I was tempted to post in the Faculty Lounge – for about a hot minute. However, I reminded myself that I’m letting my colleagues put their own work in. I’m on permanent hiatus from doing the work for them. Instead, I’ll post it near my desk, as a personal reminder/enforcer for me.
Last Friday afternoon was my bi-weekly manicure appointment, and should have marked the end of a challenging but good week, and the beginning of a ten-day Christmas vacation. However, I had to do battle with a most ignorant woman who was grossly misinformed on so many aspects of American history.
Unfortunately, this woman is typical of the American citizenry: neither well-read nor well-educated, much of what she does know is based on stereotypes and miseducation passed down in her family, and has lived a pretty isolated existence. Her “knowledge” of Others is superficial.
As my nails dried under the nail dryer, and as the woman in question was receiving a pedicure – we share the same aesthetician, who, by the way, is a LOVE, it began. First, the woman in question said something re: the holidays, eating too much, and needing to watch her diet. Then, she mentioned something re: how her husband brings the leftovers from home, and deposits them in the teachers’ lounge. She seemed proud of the fact that her husband does this. I remarked that the amount of food in the teachers’ lounge is out-of-control, that teachers need to monitor their intake, and that the eating is spurred by stress. I remarked further that teachers experience LOTS of stress. Moreover, unless one knows a teacher on a personal level, they have NO IDEA as to how stressful the work is. The woman in question then said something re: how teachers drink a lot as well. I reminded her of the stress component to teaching, and, that, I myself, am a teetotaler. She then said something re: teachers have a tough job – especially today. That led to remarks from her re: Sandy Hook/Newtown, Adam Lanza, guns and gun control. She didn’t know how Nancy Lanza, Adam Lanza’s mother, was allowed to own an assault weapon. Apparently, this woman has not read the CT gun laws. Thus the reason Nancy Lanza was able to purchase them, and legally. In fact, I can walk in to my local neighborhood Cabella’s and purchase the guns that Adam Lanza used in his murder-suicide rampage.
I remarked that the United States culture has a strange fetish with guns, and that the very nature of the country’s genesis and history have been largely rooted in violence, i.e. atrocities committed against American Indians and African Americans. The woman in question disagreed, although was unable to say why. She then said that American Indians perpetrated violence, which, in her mind, seemed to justify the violence perpetrated against them – a typical response. We then arrived at the S word: slavery. The woman in question said that slavery existed everywhere. Of course it did. And, still does, in many places. However, what made American slavery unique was it was based on the importation of people who were deemed less than human, for the sole purpose of free labor, i.e. chattel slavery. This in turn made the United States very wealthy in a very short period of time and very early in its history. The woman in question then said: “Slaves sold slaves”. Huh?!? What?!? Those two things don’t even go together. First, slaves weren’t American citizens. Rather, they were counted as 3/5 for voting representation purposes. As a result, slaves weren’t allowed to own property. Think about it: If it were illegal for African slaves to read, then how in Hell could they own property?!? The woman in question was correct about one thing: African chieftains sold Africans to the White slave traders. However, she didn’t seem to understand why: They were war captives of war. As a means of depleting the enemy, African chieftains sold their captives to the White slave traders.
The slaves sold slaves comment was fascinating. So much so, I asked the woman in question to cite her source. Of course, she couldn’t remember. They never can. At that point, she gave up the fight. But, before completely giving it up, she added the atrocities committed by Saddam Hussein and the Holocaust. We won’t even go there, except to say that the woman in question was ignorant and grossly misinformed on these issues as well.
Unfortunately, I have met and know people like this woman. It makes me woefully sad that Americans have such a pitiful understanding of their own history. In fact, it’s embarrassing when people from so-called Third World countries not only know their history, but also ours, to the point that they are able to talk proverbial circles around us.
As I got up to leave before the woman in question did, she said, “Enjoy your holidays.” I responded, “You, too”, and departed, shaking my head.
One thing that tends to be a problem is scheduled absences from class. These absences include anything from doctor’s appointments to early starts to vacations to late arrivals for sleeping in. I’m not joking. In one instance, a student has missed five Spanish classes to-date for dentist appointments and a day trip to Plimoth Plantation for her social studies project. So, when students miss class for scheduled absences, they must meet with me to make up the class work they missed. I began this practice just recently, and it is proving effective in holding the students accountable.
Related to the aforementioned is homework. When students inform me that they are going to miss class, they need to submit the assignment due. For example, two students are getting early starts on their vacations, and won’t be in school tomorrow. They were informed that the assignment due tomorrow needed to be completed and turned in prior to their departure. Again, it’s another way to hold the students accountable.
I don’t know what it is about independent schools, but having taught at four, there is something that they all share: Chatty, overly-social students. Interestingly, this same pattern of behavior proliferates amongst the faculty and staff as well. In any event, I’m going to establish firmer guidelines for classroom behavior. I’m even thinking of going as far as creating large posters to hang on the walls of my classroom.
Last is the issue of retaking quizzes. For most students, it isn’t about learning the material better. Rather, it’s about getting a higher grade. I personally don’t like retakes. They inflate the grade, and are not necessarily strong indicators of improved knowledge and understanding. When I allow a student to retake a quiz, I give a different quiz. Therefore, I don’t average tithe scores. But, perhaps I should average the scores, so as to minimize the grade inflation. In the past, I’ve allowed students to correct errors for an opportunity to improve their understanding and their scores. However, this practice has met with mixed results. Some students make effective corrections; others don’t. Consequently, those that don’t make effective corrections don’t improve their score very much. It’s also a lot of work. It’s like correcting the quizzes all over again, and no es bueno.
So, during the Christmas vacation, I’ll be doing a bit of retooling.
For the past two years, I have boycotted the People of Color Conference (PoCC), sponsored by the National Association of Independent Schools (N.A.I.S.). Historically, the conference began as a place and a space for African American teachers and administrators in independent schools to get nurtured, supported, and re-directed in their work as people of color in independent schools. Over the years, however, the PoCC has moved away from its original intent and mission to become more inclusive. So much so, that, at least for me, supporting and nurturing African American teachers and administrators is no longer the priority. In fact, it’s more like one, big, two-day diversity 101 conference, and therefore, in my opinion, should no longer be called the PoCC. It should be called, “The Diversity 101 Conference.”
What has occurred to the PoCC is indicative of what happens when an organization, or, in this case, a conference, attempts to become all things to all people. Everyone gets served, and then nobody gets served. It seems that in its attempt to become the proverbial all things to all people, the group that the PoCC was originally created to serve has increasingly received the least benefit over the course of the past ten or so years, despite its efforts to return to its original mission and intent. Once the African American baby was thrown out with the bath water, it signaled the death of a conference by us and for us.
While generalized diversity 101 conferences are important and necessary for a myriad of reasons, I regret that this fate has befallen the PoCC. Unlike many of my POC workplace colleagues, I remember the PoCC before its diversity 101 conversion. Which is perhaps an indication that we as African American teachers and administrators need to continue carving out places and spaces for our own support, uplift and advancement, because, corporate entities like N.A.I.S. aren’t going to do it for us.
This week was a mixed week. On the one hand, I was pleased with the work my high school Spanish 1 students did as we wrap up the current lesson, and prepare for the test next week. In particular, the students did a bit of research in small groups on three different U.S. cities: Miami, San Antonio, and Los Angeles. In groups of three – I teach a small class – the students located the following information about their assigned city:
• Tell where the majority of the population comes from, e.g. Miami – Cuba
• Describe any cultural practices and/or typical foods that can be found in the community
• Imagine they live in their assigned city, and describe three things they would do there in their free time.
The aforementioned mini-research project is part of the Avancemos Level One curriculum for Unit 1, Lesson 1. In my effort to engage the students in substantive ways with the cultural aspects of what they are learning, I thought a mini-research project on the Spanish-speaking influences of their assigned city would prove interesting, engaging, and enriching. The students not only found the research on their assigned city enriching, but also what they learned from the other groups.
So, that was the good.
The not-so-good? Six of the nine students didn’t complete today’s homework. The topic of homework has become a prickly topic in recent years. For me, in addition to the practice and enrichment that homework provides, it also represents a process of following instructions, and completing the work. Given that the assignment was a pre-test assessment, the students in question missed an opportunity to practice and review. They were given zeros. The opportunity is gone. Besides, we’re at the end of the lesson. Accepting the assignment after-the-fact, in my mind, is moot.
Although homework in my classroom represents ten percent of the trimester grade, it does count, and therefore, there is an accountability factor. Not holding students accountable for work not completed seems counter-intuitive to me. Especially when the assignments contribute to a significant degree to the development of content mastery and skill proficiency.
We are in the last days of the Fall Trimester. The end-of-chapter assessments have been administered, which means that there isn’t much point to beginning a new chapter at this point. So, I decided to teach/review/practice Spanish question words with my Spanish 1-7 students. But how? Beyond a good slide presentation, what else can I do?
Following a slide show presentation using the Spanish question words pictures, the students worked in pairs and individually, defining the words Spanish to English and English to Spanish. The students then played Tic-Tac-Toe, and then finally Flyswatter.
The students were actively engaged, having fun, and learning.
There are many thoughts filling my head at the moment. However, the thought which is foremost is about the recent parent-teacher conferences. Each year, parent-teacher conferences occupy approximately one and a half-days of 13-minute slots. Day One consists of a half-day of classes, lunch, and then six hours of parent-teacher conferences. Day Two consists of nine hours of parent-teacher conferences. To say that I was tired when the entire process had concluded would be a proverbial understatement. That said, perhaps for the first time in eight years at my current place of employ, and, in fact, for the first time in my almost-nineteen years of teaching, I felt: 1. Confident; and 2. Well-prepared and well-rested. I cannot place the proverbial finger on either of the aforementioned. Except to say that key stressors that have existed in the past were strangely albeit pleasantly absent. I won’t waste the writing space mentioning them. However, I will say that I have let go many things about which I worried far too much in the past.
My parent-teacher conferences were grounded in what another teacher called, the sandwich approach, which is: something positive, something which needs work, and then something positive. Perhaps my approach was more like an open-face sandwich: Something positive, something which needs work, and then strategies for how to improve. The aforementioned approach seemed to work for the parents with whom I spoke. It gave them meaningful and applicable ways to assist their children. As I said to the parents, it’s not all about the content that I teach. It’s also about teaching the kids how to learn, and, about getting them ready for life.
I posted the following on Facebook on last Friday. I think it’s a nice way to conclude this post:
“Perhaps I have arrived to the proverbial game late. However, teaching is one-third content, one-third study skills, and one-third life skills.”