partial success

February 28, 2007

I’ve had a lot of complaints from my students that Gandhi is “soft.” This is usually followed by something like “Yo, if that was me, I’d f— that n— up and take that gun and shoot that British n—- in the head, etc. etc.” (The language isn’t allowed in my classroom, but they get worked up and forget.)

Today we watched some of Gandhi (since I don’t have a week to show the whole thing, and they wouldn’t stay awake for it anyway). We caught all the highlights, and almost none of the philosophical disucssion — the massacre at the temple, the salt march, etc. Every few scenes I’d ask the kids “Who looks better in the news now; the British or the Indians?”

Eventually we got to the scene where Gandhi’s followers walk up to the salt mines being guarded by British soldiers. The Indians line up and calmly walk up to the soldiers, then get beaten with clubs and are carried away by women with bandages and water. Then the next line walks up. Then the next. Then the next. The students offered alternate strategies, like “I’d run through to the back really quick,” and “I’d wait to be at the end of the line, so they’d be too tired to hit me,” and “I’d wear a helmet.” But at the end we started talking about why those men were willing to get hit, and what it must have been like, knowing that a beating was coming and accepting that, without trying to defend yourself.

And finally, finally, students started saying things like “They’re not soft, you know? You got to be hard core to do that and not flinch.”

Boy, if I could only spend a couple of months on Gandhi, I bet I’d really have something.


new books

February 28, 2007

Even among my fellow teachers, I am known as a nerd. That’s why I’m willing to share this story with you. My reputation is already made.

Our textbooks at school are useless; filled with the wrong facts and totally dense writing that’s hard to follow. I never use them, unless I need a map or an illustration. Instead I use a series of books I found last year at the Bank Street Bookstore, called The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child. They’re designed to use for homeschooling middle schoolers, but I find they’re at just about the perfect reading level to be readable for my 9th and 10th graders, while still having a few vocabulary words they don’t know. There are four volumes, and the most ancient is written for younger children, in a very narrative way (i.e., “You are on a magic carpet, flying over the Roman Empire. What do you see? You see…”) while the fourth volume, which is mainly 20th century history, has lots of simple primary sources worked through the chapters.

I can’t say enough nice things about these books. The prose is clear and concise, while still covering everything I need to teach. Every single chapter includes a map — and often two — to help comprehension. Using these books has eliminated my need to rewrite entire chapters of history in my own words, which is how I spent most of my time last year. These books have saved me hours and hours of planning time, and I happily try to sell them to any social studies teacher who happens by. In fact, I read them for fun, and our English teachers use them to give the students background on whatever book they happen to be covering. (One caveat: they are, at times, a little bit eurocentric, but distinctly less so than the Regents exam.)

All this is to lead up to last night, when I was in a bookstore, and saw the name Susam Wise Bauer on a hardcover book in the “New in History” section. I gasped out loud. “Oh my god; she wrote one for grownups??” I demanded of no one in particular, and proceded to flip through the book while making noises I normally make when I eat ice cream, or watch The Princess Bride. Then I called two different people to tell them how excited I was about the book.

One of the facets of my nerdiness is that I am a fan girl of some non-fiction authors. Richard Dawkins, for example, takes up a full shelf in my living room. I check Simon Singh’s website for updates about new books. I haven’t gotten all of Barbara Tuchman’s books yet, but I’m working on it. You get the idea. And now my favorite history writer for kids has written a giant tome for adults, and I couldn’t be more excited. Why didn’t I know about this before vacation, when I could have spent several days doing nothing but reading?

I am so excited for this weekend!

and then I couldn’t be mad anymore

February 26, 2007

Well, 5th period has officially come up with the Best. Excuse. Ever. There’s a small group of boys at the front of the room who just never stop talking. Every time I turn my head — or even when I don’t, really — they start up again. Today, being just back from break, they were especially bad, whispering and giggling and being generally annoying as hell.

The first seven times I asked them to stop talking, they’d stop for ten or twenty seconds, and then start right back up again. The eighth time the class was meant to be working independently, and I finally snapped “GUYS. Stop TALKING ALL THE TIME.”

One of them blinked guilessly and said to me — in the most innocent voice I’ve ever heard — “Sorry, Miss. We were just talking about why we support Hillary Clinton.”

…and, frankly, if you’re going to be a talkative jerk in a social studies class, that’s just about the Platonic ideal of “The dog ate my homework.”

I’ve had this conversation more than once

February 24, 2007

“Miss, do you have a MySpace?”

“Good lord, no.”

“You should get one.”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“But we all have them! You have to have one! Miss!”

“Guys, I’m not interested. I’m really, really not going to get one.”

“But Miss! You… Oh, you could put our homework up on your MySpace, and then we could go home and see what it was!”

“…Or, you could write it down before you leave my room.

“Miss, you don’t understand technology at all.”


February 21, 2007

Vacation is wonderful. It’s really awesomely great and amazing and fabulous. So far I’ve watched a lot of TV and shopped, and then I took some naps and lost my keys for a while, and then I napped some more and called people I haven’t talked to in weeks. Vacation rules.

When people say things like “Teachers have it so easy. You get so much vacation!” I want to scream and break things. I’m a second-year teacher, and until two weeks ago I had two preps and every class was 34 kids. Things are a little better now, but that just means I get to leave school around 5 instead of 7, and I get half of my weekend back because I’ve finally worked out a system for grading that seems to function. (I am not by nature an organized person. My first semester of teaching I lost homeworks that students had handed in over and over again. My second semester I stole a system that a friend had adapted; that worked pretty well, but it let me be lazy and only grade every few weeks, which kept the kids from panicking properly. Last semester I was just too overwhelmed with all my classes to do anything but grade every night, and my 9th grade classes really suffered because of it. This semester — cross your fingers — I’m doing okay so far; we’ve had two weeks of classes and I’ve handed out progress reports. The kids who have me 1st period and have never shown up were awfully suprised when I tracked them down in the hallway and handed them a paper with a big fat F on it.)

What was I talking about? Oh, yes; free time. I don’t have any. Luckily all my friends are also teachers, so when I don’t call for two weeks and then leave an exhausted voicemail that says “Sorry… Melt down at school… Two preps and midterm essays… See you next month?” they are sympathetic. And that’s why vacation is so wonderfully awesomely amazing. Yes, tomorrow I’m going to start lesson planning for my next unit. (I’ve said that every day of vacation so far.) But right now I’m thinking about how glorious naps are, and how much I miss them the rest of the year.


JD2718 (I typed that wrong three times; I am totally numerically dyslexic) mentioned me as a blogger who thinks! I am flattered. Most of my thinking during the school year devolves in to “Grrr! Arrrrrgh!” I’m glad to know it doesn’t all sound like that to other people. If you haven’t given yourself a headache yet trying to figure out his math challenges, go check it out now.

unforseen consequences of teaching

February 20, 2007

I hear myself saying the strangest things, sometimes. For example, right now we’re studying India and Pakistan, and the causes of tension between the two. (Sample student response: “Who cares? Let ’em blow each other up, and then we don’t have to worry anymore.” Me: “OH MY GOD STOP SAYING THAT.”)

I was listening to NPR this morning and heard the story about the train blowing up on its way to Pakistan. The first thing out of my mouth? “Oh, good! That’ll be great for class.”

I would like to stress that I am not a lunatic who is pleased by the deaths of 66 innocent people. I am a victim of my own never-ending quest for relevance in class.

well past time for a nap

February 17, 2007

Hi. I’m not dead, and I’m still teaching and everything. It just got a little crazy around here, and people came to visit from out of town, and instead of turning on my computer for three days, I mostly went to bed.

Friday, only two kids (in a class of 24) turned in their homework. So the other 22 got to write an impromptu essay entitled “Why We Are Assigned Homework And How I Will Change So That In The Future It Gets Done.” Otherwise I have mostly spent the last few days of teaching A) arguing that no, Gandhi is not a “jerk” or a “wimp” because he didn’t use guns, B) explaining that the Long March (Mao) and the Salt March (Gandhi) were not, in fact, the same thing, and C) trying to find 8 1/2 x 11 inch paper for the teacher’s lounge. At my school, you might as well ask for the moon, but I just snapped on Thursday (when, after spending months using orange paper, then shiny paper, then legal-sized paper) the teachers were given two cases of legal paper “to use up” while the office had normal sized paper. So I put it out in the hallway with a note that says “WE WILL NOT USE THIS” and then smilingly yelled at the AP and the principal and the secretaries and generally acted like a lunatic until it was understood that the teachers (by which I mean me) will no longer put up with that crap. It was amazingly satisfying, and also probably not very politic of me. But I DON’T CARE. I spent a whole day yelling about paper; thank god it’s break.