Friday, September 30, 2005

Required: Deductive/Inductive

I love inductive teaching. I love forcing students to reason and to think ahead of me. I like giving them clay and watching them sculpt. Unfortunately, this seems damn near impossible right now. I can’t be the teacher I want to be because I have to be the teacher they most need. And what they need is spoon-fed information (I think – isn’t this exactly the problem though! We bore them with “information they need”?), constant checking for understanding, review, review, review, and many, many repetitions.

Here we confront my teaching philosophy. I’ve long-thought that inductive teaching would be the best way to re-enforce a lesson – not least because it requires the student to own the material in a highly personal way. BUT, my doubts now arise from prerequisite skills and time management. To start with the latter: we have nine months to cover several years of never-learned material. Every second seems of the utmost importance, and so I micro-manage, focusing on efficiency and productivity at every turn. Straight-forward deductive teaching is “faster.” God, I hate that justification, but it’s true. I’m in the rat race despite myself!

“Prerequisite skill” is a tougher quandary.

Firstly, is it “necessary”? Does “inductive learning” require any “prerequisite skill”? Probably not. I imagine that a good, experienced (I occasionally use the two synonymously, though I ought to know better…) teacher could teach anyone, anything inductively. But, what about a classroom of 30? Doubtful. At the very least, it requires a degree of classroom management and student trust/rapport that I have yet to command – well on my way though I may be.

Deductive teaching is a quick, direct onslaught of knowledge. A functional teacher ought to be able to teach a moving lesson, re-enforce it with examples, and then let the children loose on individual or group work. The experience should be fun, engaging, and “to the point.” Unfortunately, too many seasoned BAD teachers use this tool to bore children to death, period after period, year upon year. These are the Charlie Brown Teachers of America. Too many of us have had CBTAs that have scared us straight into “inductive teaching or bust” land. But I don’t have a sufficient repertoire of tricks to sustain day upon day of inductive genius. Plus I have too many students. Plus they need everything spoon-fed. They don’t trust me enough, and, unfortunately, they hardly trust themselves enough to recognize when a pencil needs sharpening – let alone to recognize their inner (Emersonian) genius.

In conclusion: there are three ways to teach. (1) Give your students raisins, until they are full; be careful they don’t puke on your shoes. (2) Hide the raisins before your students enter the classroom, and then spend the hour leading students from raisin to raisin. (3) Before your students enter, close your eyes and throw the raisins into the air. Then, spend the hour hunting for raisins with your students. I hope to be the third; I am loath to be the first. I believe I am currently the second.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Running on Empty

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Philip Roth, Herman Wouk – kissing the literature and penning the proper nouns soothes me to everything. How I love a bookstore! I need to make time to disappear into one more often – even if this means buying less gas for the week! Ahhhh…

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Their Choice

I can tell I’m teaching because I’m butting up against the cultural divide – against the very factors (the ingrained factors) that are holding these kids back. They complain, “It’s too hard (actually, they say “its to hard”), Mr. Khaki Pants. We give up.” And I give them quizzes/tests/quests. Over and over again; and they’re starting to try – to push themselves beyond. Some classes have got it – almost. Others have a 61% average. But I promise them: there’ll be another quiz on this same material tomorrow! Until you know it; until you take responsibility for your actions, step up, do the work, and study. I will be happy to discuss literature with you, but you have to read it. Or fail. Their choice.


[Unwinding while reading disciplinary essays] Wow! The attitude on these kids… Even the smart ones – hell, they’re probably the worst, thinking that they’re a know-it-all because they’ve never met another semi-competent person since they left the hospital! Wholly inarticulate, completely incoherent, meaningless babble. Rude, disrespectful, sassing. These kids whine and nag and complain! As if they were laboring.

The universe revolves around them and what they’re saying at any given moment. No matter what, they will not listen to anyone else or be anywhere but in their own world. Rude, rude, rude. They interrupt, shout, demand, and dogmatize. Thankfully, there’s ZS. She is the reason I became a teacher; the reason I came here. She and AS and ST and HW and RI and JW. These diamonds in the rough: so brilliant – who need but a bearded white rag to dust them clean and help them gleam. Six names I expect to see at the top of every honor roll. These kids will think. Will dig. Will outdo their peers, themselves, and me. I teach for these kids.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Right-hand man!

Apparently the only thing that concerns middle-school English teachers in Mississippi is making sure that the children do not write beyond the right-hand margin on a page of looseleaf. Their grammar is atrocious, their spelling ungodly, their structure, paragraphing, and argumentation garbled, but – thankfully! – they’ve all got a nice straight column of words running vertically down the right-hand side of the (middle! [of the]) page.

I’ve never even noticed this right-hand margin before – never thought twice about running my words and my thoughts to the edge of the page. These kids fit four words per line! Mind boggling. A one-page essay starts on line twelve and ends after fifty words…

Sunday, September 25, 2005

"Stop The World And Let Me Off"

[listening to Kenny Chesney & Kid Rock cover Waylon Jennings's "Luckenbach, Texas"]

An extremely difficult personal adjustment: I’m a natural minimalist, desiring little beyond love and necessity, appreciating a sunset more than a mini-disc; meaningful conversation more than spacious rooms or flashy rims.

Now I find myself immersed in a student body craving material possession – the very opulence I’ve rejected for five years, eight years, who knows how many years… These kids want money, money, money. Justifiable because they’re essentially living on food stamps now. (The only people talking about the evils of money have it and never had a “Welfare Christmas.”) But how do I – in good conscience – push these kids into life with such an attitude, when I’ve seen the damage wrought by the rat race? When I’d rather communicate meaning and understanding?

Am I wrong? Surely, these children need job skills to better their station on the capitalist ladder, but aren’t I the wrong individual to push a unified, national, corporate, take-one-for-the-team agenda? How could I push a kid into the Pizza Hut Management Program? How?

Yes, it’s better than pushing dope or serving time, but – here’s the real question: How do I tell these kids, teach these kids, that money does not matter, that it ruins lives, when they are the very people who go without on Christmas, who starve if not for social programs, who pretend they have money by buying just-released sneakers, overpriced sodas, and flashy jewelry. Show me a kid without “diamond studs” or $100 in his pocket. Show me a kid not in debt already. Façade, façade, everywhere! And the school’s just as guilty, with its double-talk and unrealistic understanding of success. (“We’ll be 95% proficient this year.” No we won’t. We’ll be 40% proficient this year, if we’re lucky.)

The Question: What won’t an Emersonian disciple sacrifice for his underserved students? Should he even be here at all? With love so far away? With life on hold for this futile pursuit. Perhaps one student will “make it.” Will it have been “worth it”? Flush go the years; try not to pinch your nose too hard – your face will stick.

Friday, September 23, 2005

"Not a hint of (situational) irony"

Though I may not have been recounting Gilligan’s Island episodes on the final days of school while grooving to Alice Cooper, I found myself without a lesson plan. Without a shred of preparedness – without a clue as to how I’d spend even the “Do Now” first 25 minutes of our 90 minute period.

So I taught. I improvised. I sparked with the spark that stirs children to life. And mixed metaphors. A devisive prompt: “Last year, only one IB student earned an IB diploma.” Add two parts Edgar Allan Poe: “I can scarcely look over this little cliff without getting giddy.” “So deeply was I excited by the perilous position of my companion that I fell.” Heat with adverbs until warm, cool with a vocabulary quiz, add a spice of discussion and inductive instruction. Then, discipline the entire class, motivate with ACT handouts & classroom questions, assign a book report summary, and smile as the bell rings at the perfect moment.

But the wonderful feeling of an empty classroom after students have perused dictionaries, internalized grammar, and smiled at the language. Then some rummaging through “official documentation” with two Assistant Principals.

My backpack collects paperclips – from stacks of papers that should have been graded weeks ago. And when exactly does a teacher really get to sit down with a student and talk – one on one, the way an administrator can? Football practice, the bus, other classes, a million activities more…

P.S. Pop Reading Quiz on Tuesday!

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Dazed & Confused

87 parent-teacher conferences in 8 hours. And, at some point, I ate lunch. I had resigned myself into accepting that this is what life had become: life was simply a series of conferences – a never-ending loop of conferences. There had never been a “before;” nor would there be an “after.” Just conferences. And then, suddenly, it stopped. Silence, stillness, 6:30pm. Where had the day gone? What about the hours I thought I’d have to prepare lessons and sit idle? Why was I so tired and hungry? Wow; this workingman’s world sucks…

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Delight! Delight! Delight!

Delight! Delight! Delight! Our objectives:

Grammar: Applying the comma

Organization: Assess Binders

Literature: Interacting with text (poetry & prose)

Complete Learning Styles Survey

Review Anne Moody (plot, setting, characters)

HW: (1) Bk Rprt Summary

(2) Finish “Interacting” with “Maelstrom”

(3) Review, Review, Review…

Today, I pretended that this was a school and that I was a teacher. AND IT WORKED! HA!!