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Monthly Archives: July 2011

Teaching Honestly

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All my teachers always told me I was a fabulous writer. I had a definite style, a flair, a way of sounding as if I am talking to you. I believed them. They were my teachers, they were teaching me, and if they approved of me, why should I not approve of myself. While my fellow grade mates struggled with an idea, then how to develop the idea, let alone sound intelligent while doing so, I coasted proudly through every writing assignment. My teacher’s had only praise, the only critique was that I did not write more, my prose was that enchanting.

 

When I got to college, I was really looking forward to Comp 1. Besides, for an easy A, I would enjoy it thoroughly. I mean, look at my transcripts, who would expect otherwise? I do not recall the first assignment; I recall the first grade, a C. To say devastated, to say mortified, to say mad, would not begin to cover it. At first my rage was aimed at my professor, did she not get my writing, my style, my brilliance Is she intimidated by my command of the English language that she feels the need to lower my grade and put me in my place? Then I got to reading her corrections; I made a million and half convention and style errors, and that number is being kind to me.

 

I started really listening, and really working in that class. I listened to my professor, and for the first time, REALLY learned grammar and was held accountable for it. It was the first time I was honestly critiqued and held accountable for my never-ending sentences, liberal use of commas, complete disregard of tenses and excessive use of the passive voice. Now I was mad at my previous teachers. One, why did they have me believe I was more than I was, yes, I had the potential, but I was not fit for the pedestal they put me on. Two, constructive criticism, development of a skill, work, is essential in mastering anything, why did my teacher’s not comment on my many errors, and why did they never really teach the rules in context?

School is supposed to prepare students for the real world, give them tools for success. Tools are not just content knowledge, but knowledge of yourself and your capabilities. My teacher’s did me a disservice. They probably had good intentions, to build my self-esteem and the like, and there is merit in that. However, there also needs to be honesty and truth, because I found out the truth and so will all other students, and where will that beautiful self-esteem go then?

It was a frustrating experience that first semester in college. I finished the course with a B, which is fair. My conventions and could still use a little help, but I am working on it. I did however take away an invaluable lesson that I use in my classroom all the time. Firstly, I give constructive criticism, yes, I compliment and praise too, but I let my students know where they can improve, to make themselves even better. I do not exclude the top students, if anything I address them more. Secondly, I do not excessively praise or give empty compliments just to pump a student up. I am very honest with my students, I will address their potential and let them know where they could be, but never give them the false impression that they are there already, and their work is done. Moreover, my students know this. They take praise from me seriously and with pride, and critiques as aspirations. When my students leave my classroom they know what they can do and where they can improve, which gives them focus and direction. I am doing for them, what I wish my teachers did for me.

 

 
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Posted by on July 26, 2011 in Teaching

 

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Student of the Weak

Betonwerksteinskulptur "Lehrer-Student&qu...

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Every 3rd grade teacher has a reward system to keep the little brats in line, mine had “Student of the Week”. Thursday’s Mrs. Landau would announce who the best behaved student was for the week, and the following week, they would hold the prized position of “Student of the Week”.

The Student of the week had a lot of privileges. First, she got to sit in the second row, first seat, close to the teacher and door. She also got to run all of Mrs. Landau’s errands: go the office to pick up photocopies, get Mrs. Landau a drink of water, pass out papers and the like. Looking back, we were all just vying to be her personal slave, but back then, there wasn’t anything we wanted more.

Best of all privileges, the Student of the Week got to wear a pin with ribbons on it that read “Student of the Week”. Worn every day, all the girls in the class, grade, and anyone she’d meet in the school during the duration of her reign would know of her accomplishment, of her status.

I wanted everyone to know how great and special I was. I wanted to be Student of the Week. But it was so hard. Every week something happened that I knew would take me out of the running. Once, I came in late for recess, another time I called out. Other times, I whispered in class for my friend to give me a pencil, and then sometime, I didn’t have the right books on the right day, even if she gave us a chart telling us what we needed when. There were also those weeks that I was ok, but other girls were better than me.

Patiently, I waited my turn, waiting for the day where the sun would shine on me, and I would be among the chosen glorious.

Mrs. Landau said that every girl would have the opportunity to be Student of the Week at least once, before anyone got a second chance. So I knew, that even if I wouldn’t earn it, I’d one day, by default come into respect.  I kept a secret class list, and carefully maintained records of who was student of the week, who was still left, and when could I possibly secure my place and validity.

The weeks went by, and my name wasn’t called, but it was ok, there was still time. And then came the week where I knew I would have to be crowned, everyone else had had their moment in the sun. I behaved extra well that week, I wanted to deserve it, even though I knew it was coming to me. I kept myself in check. I didn’t push in line, I didn’t lose my place reading, I kept my desk neat, and none of my pencils rolled noisily off my desk. And on Thursday I waited for the inevitable confirmation.

It didn’t come.  

Mrs. Landau started off saying how excited she was to call this girl’s name, what a model student she was and how beautiful she conducted herself all week, and we should all learn from her. I leaned forward in my seat expectantly, so proud that I had really done it right. But then she said,

“Chani Green, come up!”

She called a different girl’s name, not mine. Not Brenda Stein. She called up a girl who had a chance early on in the year. A naturally sweet, angelic, organized, well-behaved girl. A girl who would have won have won every week if she were in the running. Won it without breaking a sweat, or giving a thought.

I slid down in my seat, embarrassed. She didn’t call me, she had ignored me, and all my efforts, passed me over. I had tried so hard, this was supposed to be my moment, but now it was another to enjoy, again. I was heartbroken, and hurt, I didn’t understand how this could have happened. I calculated correctly, there was no error, this title was supposed to be mine, except it wasn’t.

The next week, Chani Green took my seat in the second row, first seat. And she performed all of my duties. I didn’t try anymore. There was no effort to participate, to listen, to behave, to be. I was cheated out of my 3rd grade dream with no explanation.

The next year, I vowed to start fresh. I would behave, participate, be organized. I had a rough start the first week, but I was determined to make it work. On Monday of the second week of school, there was knock on my classroom door. A small girl with frizzy red hair popped her head in and requested that I come out. Puzzled, I exited the classroom, and when I looked at her, I didn’t see her large flaming hair, put was drawn to the pin on her chest, Mrs. Landau’s “Student of the Week” pin.

Mrs. Landau wanted me to erase my name that I had written in pencil (no pens allowed until 5th grade) in the back of several of my textbooks, the Student of the Week explained. She led me to stack of books and handed me an eraser.

The back staircase was cold on my bottom, where I sat erasing my name. There were other names of previous students written of the white canvas, but she called me. I was a failure of a student, I could never be a “Student of the Week” under any teacher. Having her current prized pupil pull me out of class and reprimand me on her behalf, was a slap in the face letting me know my worth.

There went my year.

And other teacher’s tried. They had their systems, their rewards, their different titles, but they were all the same to me – I never tried to be a Student of the Week again.

 
5 Comments

Posted by on July 17, 2011 in Memoir

 

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Making A Mark

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I was a bit of a trouble maker in my younger years, and if I wasn’t making trouble, I found some already made to get caught in. In this story, I made it though.

I didn’t like Mrs. Smith, my second grade English teacher. She was smelly, had long thin white fingers and there were rumors that she wore a diaper (I may have started that rumor, I’m not sure). There are more stories involving Mrs. Smith and her supposed diapers, but that’s not this story.

In this story, I took a math test, and on a whim (yes, you can have whims when you’re 7), I wrote in big block letters in the back,

I HATE MRS. SMITH

I knew it was wrong, and stupid. I showed it to a few girls lining up to hand their papers in. Their eyes got wide in horror, but then excitement, “Do it, do it!” they said. (Hey, all the fun and none of the risk, I’d probably egg someone else on too) I remember the adrenaline rush as first I hesitated to put my paper on top of the stack on her desk, then plunged the paper down, and scampered off.

By the time I walked off the school bus and my mother was asking about my day, I had totally forgotten my mischief.

A few days later, Mrs. Smith announced that she was handing back our tests. Bolting upright in my seat, I remembered my impishness. The desk started to feel very hard and uncomfortable; I didn’t want to face my stupidity. Mrs. Smith was already calling out names for girls to come collect their papers. Soon it would be mine.

“Brenda Stein”

She called my name like everyone else’s. Like I had done nothing wrong. Was this a trick? Slowly I removed myself from my desk and in opposition to what I felt like doing, which was hanging my head low, and shuffling along, I brazenly perked my head up, smiled big and sauntered to the front of the classroom. Mrs. Smith looked at me briefly, and then at my paper, and handed it to me. Her eyes didn’t say anything. I was a little disappointed. Nothing?

I don’t recall my grade, knowing my history, probably better off not remembering so I can retain some self-esteem. This was the paper I had written those cries for attention on, wasn’t it? There hadn’t been any other test; I wasn’t confusing it with another. Quickly, I flipped to the back of the test to examine my profound  commentary.

It was still written there, bold and brash as ever.

I HATE MRS. SMITH.

But wait, there was something. I looked closely, and then again. She added an “s” and a period. Apparently, in my haste to make a fool of myself, I left off the “s” to Mrs., and left it reading, “I hate Mr Smith.”

She just corrected me, in her red pen, marking an error I made.

An error I never made again.

 

 

 
2 Comments

Posted by on July 11, 2011 in Memoir

 

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In Stitches

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I wrote this piece about 6 years ago as a sample for teachers in a writing curriculum I was developing for 3-5 grade boys, hence the perspective, subject matter, and style.

I never got stitches in my life. Every boy I know got stitches at least once. Some girls even got stitches. The best is when you can see the scar so everyone knows you got stitches. It’s not that I don’t fall, scrape my knee or do stupid things, I just don’t get hurt enough to get stitches.

The closest I ever got to getting stitches was when I tried to pop a wheelie on my bike. I ended up falling backward and banging my head. All I got was a concussion and three butterfly Band-Aids.

The best time to get stitches is over the summer. That’s cuz when you go back to school the teacher always makes you write what you did during your summer. and then read it in front of the class. Nobody pays attention when I read about my salamander collection, or about how I won a lot of relay races. I don’t blame them.

The stories everyone listens to is when a boy gets stitches. He gets to show everyone his scar, tell all the gory details, and best of all gross out the girls. I always wanted to tell such a story. I’m good at making scary, eewy faces.

I was so excited to go to school this year, cuz this summer I finally got stitches.  I was going to have the best story for the first day. All the girls were gonna throw up! I even wrote the story before I came to school so I’d have it ready to read the second the teacher would ask for volunteers.

Of course, everything changed when I got to school. First in yard I saw Timothy. He was in a wheelchair cuz he broke his ENTIRE foot rock climbing. He was gonna have a better story than me. Then I saw a bunch of guys around Randy. He was telling everyone how he split his tongue in two over the summer. He stuck his tongue out and I could see a thin line going down the middle. He had a WAY cooler story and scar than me.

I was getting upset as I walked to class, but I still had my story all written up, so I could read mine first, and everyone will think it’s cool. At least until Timothy and Randy tell their story. The teacher walked in and she looked nice enough, but had too many teeth.

She started teaching all the boring stuff like multiplication, George Washington, and something call the inverment, and how we should all be green. I was going crazy till finally she told us to take out a piece of paper. I started reaching for my story when she said.

“Instead of doing what you do every year,….”

 Instead? What did she mean instead?! Did that mean we weren’t writing about vacation?

“…We’re going to write about each other…”

What??!!! Each other?! What for?!

“…..the person sitting next to you..”

Next to me? Oh G-d eww it’s Fatty Patty, disgusting!! I think it just might be worth stapling my hand again. I’ll get out of writing and get stitches, AGAIN.

“…remember to only write nice things.”

Nice things?!! I can’t believe this is happening! I have my whole story written out. Why can’t I just give it to her?! I described everything so good. How the blood spurted and the staple came out the other end of my finger. How my sister started crying when she saw it, and that my mother almost fainted. I wrote how I watched the doctor stitch my finger, and he didn’t even have to numb me. IT IS SUCH A COOL STORY!!!

And now I’m stuck writing about Fatty Patty. Maybe I should write that her fingers are twice as big as mine, and if she wanted to stitches a stapler wouldn’t help cuz their so big. That’s a nice thing about her, right? She’s safe from staples.

I hate new teachers who try to be original. Who do they think they’re impressing. Anyway I better start writing, Teacher is coming up and down the rows watching us….

            The teacher just sent me to the principals office cuz I started my paper with the sentence; Fatty Patty doesn’t look so fat when she’s far away. Almost like a picture, when you look tiny, and your whole body is in the picture. She said it was milishis, and I didn’t listen to instructions.

            I don’t know what milishis means, but I know how to listen to instructions. That was nice. Now Fatty Patty will know to stand far away from everyone if she wants to look smaller. I don’t what the teacher is talking about. I don’t like her. Fire her.

            Anyway, so this is the whole reason and story I was sent to you Mr. Principal. Please don’t tell my mom I stapled my hand on purpose.

 
1 Comment

Posted by on July 5, 2011 in Writing

 

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