help wanted

October 2, 2007

I have a wonderful (awesome, super duper) student who loves my class and does all his work in about 30 seconds. On Monday I’ll assign a project to be due Friday, and he’ll come in with it done on Tuesday. It will be totally A+ work, too. He spent the rest of the week helping other kids finish their projects and using his as a model (“No, miss, I don’t want your help, I want to see his project again! Can he come over and explain?”)

I’ve decided to give him extra credit; a book to read, which he can later write a book report about, or tell the class about, something for him to do when he’s already done everything for class. Only he’s a hard kid to match with a history book; he doesn’t like comics (that eliminates Maus and Persepolis, my go-to books), he likes “everything,” and he says he’d rather read non-fiction.  I think his reading is right about where it should be (9th grade) or maybe a little higher. Short of simply giving him Bauer’s Story of the World and telling him to learn everything… What should I give him? What would you give him?

In summary: Non-fiction, non-comic, any historical era, 9th grade, engaging enough for a student to read on his own. Suggestions needed!!


reading list

September 16, 2007

They asked about glaciers — repeatedly — so we’re going to read some of Bill Bryson’s A Short History Of Nearly Everything.

We’ll see how it goes.

first day

August 30, 2007

I have a tiny problem with being early, and that problem is I am always, always ridiculously early. I was supposed to be at school today at 8:30 for PD; I arrived at 7:50. Mind you the actually PD didn’t begin until 9; 8:30 was for the optional breakfast. When I was interviewing at schools I had to sit outside across the street for 45 minutes so I wouldn’t be freakishly early.

Other than my inability to judge time, today went well. I’ve never worked somewhere with procedures already in place. I am excited to set up my classroom (although, technically speaking, I don’t have anything to put up yet) and I’m sharing it with nice people. (If, in five months, this has changed to OMG GET OFF MY BLACKBOARD YOU HORRIBLE BITCH don’t be too stunned; sharing space makes people crazy.) Everyone is nice. I am suddenly co-teaching a US history class once a week. I gave all the other history teachers the hard sell on The Story of the World, the greatest supplemental history book of all time.

Now I’m going to kick back with my Friday Night Lights DVDs. Fictional high school is so much more fun than real high school.

coming up next

April 2, 2007

Oh, vacation. Lots of time to grade and plan and… well, honestly, nap, watch baseball, and go shopping. But still! All those things are terribly important to my sanity!

I teach global history, not English, but I try to use as many interesting reading sources as I can. Sometimes I use the Cartoon History of the Universe (I’m very excited about the new book coming out with modernish history!) and I also use Maus and a great book of children’s diaries from wartime. The next book I’m using is Persepolis, the graphic-novel diary of a young woman who came of age in Tehran during the Iranian Revolution. I’m not sure what we’re going to do with it; read selected chapters and write diaries? If my students were higher-level readers, we could read it and then write about the parallels between the fundamentalist regime in Iran and our own government. (Okay, yes, this is my agenda shining through again. But if you’re going to read about a country that arrests anyone who doesn’t support the war effort, why wouldn’t you also bring up the Patriot Act?) They probably won’t get that, though, since they’re going to have enough trouble just figuring out why women had to be veiled. It should be an interesting discussion with my belly-baring super-tight-jean wearing girls.

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!