Archive for high school

Presentation on bullying last night…

Posted in teaching with tags , , on June 24, 2012 by Mike

I’m sitting here in a t.u. dorm attending an ILPC workshop with the newspaper staff, my first official event as head adviser to the school’s paper.  Probably will have more to say on that at some point, but currently am thinking about a presentation made last night by Barbara Jane Paris on cyber-bullying.

Her presentation revolved around several kids who were bullied and took their lives after not finding any other way out of the crap they were dealing with daily.  She also included some of her own anecdotes as a principal here in Texas. Some of the vileness that these kids had thrown at them on a daily basis…it was hard to hear.  And the recurring theme kept coming back: if one kid had said something like “Hey, lay off, that’s not cool” or “Stop it”, just once, many of those kids might still be around. Graduated. Off to college or wherever and away from the shit that high school sometimes  is.

I tend not to reflect back on high school too much – I didn’t involve myself in it very much beyond the soccer team and a few AP classes.  I did take one semester of journalism which must have made enough of an impression to make me consider majoring in it (I didn’t), and I wrote for the creative writing magazine. I’ve always loved writing but apparently not enough to take the risk of actually devoting time to it.  A personal shortcoming that I kick myself for, but not yet to the point that I’m tired of the bruises.

I also faced a bit of bullying in high school.  And, of course, those memories tend to come back to me more often than the good stuff. Some crap in the cafeteria early on by two guys I didn’t know then but can still see their faces today. Then there was a time at a public pool where I got spit on by a kid trying to goad me into a fight.  I walked away – his friend stood right behind me and I thought I would get teamed up on. I regret walking away, though.

As I said above, it’s this kind of crap that stays with me, moreso than the better stuff. I now think back to participating in Powderpuff my senior year and a game of T.A.G. in the hallways (our rubber dart guns got confiscated pretty quickly), soccer road trips and graduation, but only now, when I’m deliberately thinking back to my high school days.  It’s the other stuff that comes back when I don’t want it to, the stuff that, even at 40, I’ve apparently not quite gotten over yet.  They’re scars.

And they’re the reason I can’t abide bullies.

To the Senior Class of 2011…

Posted in Entertainment, teaching with tags , , , , on May 19, 2011 by Mike

This year I wasn’t a candidate for graduation speaker (thank God), but I still have some words of wisdom I’d like to impart to this year’s A&M Consolidated graduates, and in fact to all high school graduates this year.  So for right now  go ahead and imagine me in a mortarboard cap and a long black gown stepping up to the podium to deliver your commencement address…For those of you who aren’t graduating this year, you’re invited to pretend that you’re a friend or loved one of one of the graduates…keep the babies quiet, please.


Mark Twain once said, “With great power comes great responsibility.”  He also said a lot of other things, most of which he actually didn’t say, but which are now attributed to him because the internet has no editors.

But I digress.

Responsibility is the word tonight.  It’s a word that’s thrown around in the presence of 17 and 18 year olds quite a bit, mainly after you’ve disappointed your parents in some way.  And, really, up until this point, your responsibilities have been rather minimal, unless you’re raising a kid or helping your family pay the bills by working two part-time jobs.  But for you others – the slackers who didn’t have kids while in high school – responsibility is now creeping up behind you with a sock full of nickels about to brain you.  And he won’t be charged with assault, either.

See, now that you’re legal adults, the world expects you to be accountable for your actions and decisions – unless you’re entering politics, when responsibility is at first a nice surprise, and then grounds for suspicion.  In high school, turning work in late would only lead to a point-deduction on your final grade. In the real world, late work results in pink slips and unemployment lines – unless you’re in politics, when deadlines just get extended because everyone’s scared you’d actually do something, anyway. In high school, planting a dead skunk in the school’s ventilation system is a “prank” and results in admiration from underclassmen.  In the real world, you’ve just committed an act of domestic terrorism and go to jail for 30 years. In high school, sending risqué pics to someone else’s smart phone is seen as juvenile and disgusting. In the real world, it’s still considered juvenile and disgusting, but standard behavior for Hall-of-Fame-bound quarterbacks.

But I digress.

As high school graduates, you now enter a world which will place expectations upon you to perform and achieve – unless you enter politics.  In other words, you have responsibility.  A responsibility to yourself to meet your potential, a responsibility to the parents and teachers who brought you to where you are today (figuratively, not literally – I know y’all can drive), a responsibility to society.  It’s that last responsibility I want to discuss here tonight, and by “discuss” I mean lecture at you since you’re supposed to be quiet and listen right now.  Which would be a first, judging by your behavior in my classes, but try anyway.

Sitting before me I see a wide variety of people with a diverse array of talents and interests.  It is these interests and talents that your parents, your teachers and I hope and pray you take out to the world to make it a better place, to show ingenuity and originality and integrity in the realms you choose to take on.  God knows we older generations have run out of ideas. Look at the state the world’s in – you’re seeing the best we can do, and isn’t that frightening? So it’s you we’re shifting our attention to, knowing that at some point we’re going to have to blame someone for all of this, and it’s damn sure not going to be us.  You’re younger and have less money, so you’re an easy target.  That’s how the world works.

But we’re giving you a shot to fix things, because that’s what America is all about – reworking things when they don’t work out the first time.  Look at Thomas Edison – he created the light bulb only after a long series of failures, whereas any reasonable person would have given up after, say, three failed attempts.  Don’t be that reasonable person. Your responsibility, while you’re young and full of energy and optimism, is to keep failing until you succeed, or at least until you have a family to support.

Beyond this admittedly broad responsibility to not give up, you also have more individual responsibilities I’m going to set down, organized by the fields you may eventually enter. These responsibilities have been identified only after much consideration, and fulfilling them will lead to a prosperous, happy life (this is by no means a guarantee, however, as I cannot be held liable for the state of your life.  I’m part of the older generation – it’s not my fault).

We’ll start with those who want to go into the medical field.  You have a responsibility to not screw up.  Forget what I said about failing until you succeed – get it right the first time. No one wants a doctor for whom “Let’s see what happens when I do this…” is a mantra.

For those of you who want to be engineers, you have a responsibility to keep the trains from running into one another (I’m actually surprised at the number of students who tell me they want to be engineers – I would think that jobs would be scarce.  Maybe it’s those caps that are the draw.)

If you’re a writer, you have a responsibility never to use vampires in your fiction.  Also, forget about reworking a classic work from the point of view of a minor character in said work.  Find an original idea or go sell insurance.

Future psychology/art history/sociology majors, your responsibility is simple: keep working on that screenplay so you’ll be able to move out of your parents’ house before they die.

If you’re into computer animation, you have  a responsibility to get a job at Pixar and then, once there, crank out a turkey, b/c that damned company is making us all look bad with their success rate.

Keeping with the tech careers, if your plan is to go into IT, you have a responsibility to get Adobe to finally stop updating.

Future journalists: you’re responsible for the dissemination of information regarding the most important issues facing this country today, but Americans don’t want to read that crap. It’s probably the root cause of our political divisions – y’all keep dredging up political corruption and all that other “bad” stuff – no wonder our government can’t get anything done .  Instead, concentrate on celebrities and cute animal stories, throwing in the occasional cannibalism story to underscore just how horrible the world is.  The reunification of America is sure to follow.

If you’re a musician, you have a responsibility to stay the hell away from American Idol.  As AC/DC put it, “it’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock and roll”, and no one respects people who take short cuts, except damsels in distress who are tied to railroad tracks waiting for a hero to come rescue them (think about it, I swear it’s funny). Pay your dues in the clubs, get some groupies, get signed, and then write ironic songs about how the record company doesn’t care about your music while college students steal it from BitTorrent. Live the dream.

If business school is in your future…well, actually, responsibility (fiscal, societal) is something the attorneys can worry about.  Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!

Speaking of  those future lawyers, you have the responsibility to demonstrate integrity in selecting which cases you choose to take on, to consider the possible societal implications of the judgments you are arguing for, to view your clients as people and not as billable hours, to make arguments that are fair and rooted in objective truth, and, finally, to pursue truth zealously and honestly…in other words, you have a responsibility not to go into law.

If you plan on joining the noblest profession, my profession, teaching, you take on the vast responsibility of preparing our youth to become the leaders of tomorrow.  Molding young minds to think for themselves; putting in the extra time to provide genuine and helpful feedback on the assignments they turn in; counseling them in their times of need; preparing coherent and engaging lesson plans each day that reach a wide range of learning styles; modifying assignments and tests for students with various learning disabilities, leading them to be successful on state and national exams; being observant for any indications of alcohol or drug abuse; writing college recommendation letters for students whose names you’ve forgotten since the previous year; attending staff meetings; filling out discipline referrals as necessary to remind them there are consequences for setting fire to the sink in the bathroom down the hall; attending the extra-curricular activities your students participate in to show them that you care about them as people, not just as students…and if you’re still listening there’s still time to change your mind. Maybe business school has some openings.

And, finally, if your goal is to enter politics, to get elected to office and work for change that reflects the will of the people and betters society, you have a responsibility to do just that. We won’t hold our breath.

Congratulations to the class of 2011 – may we hear of your future accomplishments in all the proper publications.

/if you enjoyed this, I spent four or five days writing it when I could take breaks from my grading

//if you didn’t enjoy this, it was slapped together in 20 minutes by someone other than me and proofread by monkeys.

Do as I say, not as I do…

Posted in teaching with tags , , , , on October 14, 2010 by Mike

…seems to be our admin’s policy these days.  Not to complain too much here, but the admin. has lately made a few decisions regarding the daily running of the school that have been relatively unpopular among the staff.

I’m not too upset about the lesson plans they have us submit each week – I (now) think that lesson plans can be valuable, though I often find myself diverging from them by the end of the week due to the fluid nature of English lectures/discussions.  If I (or the students) want to spend more time discussing a particular idea about The Tempest, I should have that ability to adjust the schedule.  It happens, and, without sounding arrogant, I hope, it happens all the time in “good” classrooms.

But then there’s the attendance issue.  We take attendance on the computer, which involves clicking “PRE” or “U” beside each student’s name.  We USED to have an “ALL PRESENT” button, but the admin. took it away b/c some teachers weren’t taking time to actually take roll (which blows my mind, honestly – HEY,  IT’S PART OF YOUR JOB), which resulted in some students being counted present for two weeks when, in fact, they had never set foot on campus.  So we’re all being punished for that.

The admin. also decided that all classes should have a minimum number of grades by the time three week reports come around and then a min. number of grades when the six weeks ends.  They decided upon 5 and 12, respectively.  Four of those have to be major, er, excuse me, “academic achievement” grades (another decision by the admin to change the terminology) as opposed to “academic practice” grades (once known as daily grades).  It doesn’t work too well for English classes because we like to have our students write, and grading writing in a meaningful way takes time.  It also doesn’t help that the six weeks periods this semester are actually “five point two” weeks due to a desire to have finals completed before Christmas.  Less time, more grading.  Yay.

Another decision made by the admin. concerns their attempts to curtail fighting at our school (it seems it’s a problem this year, though I don’t recall as many fights in previous years compared to the numbers that we’ve had this year).  The admin. has attempted to bribe the student body with off-campus lunch if we have no fights for a certain number of days (I think it’s 30 –  a fight resets the countdown).  Hasn’t happened yet – I think the longest fightless span we’ve had is eight days (could be wrong here).  Something about the futility of not thinking about a blue-eyed polar bear occurs to me at this point.

Of course, like many school districts, we have a “zero tolerance” policy w/ regard to drugs and weapons.  However, this policy often leads to  ridiculousness extremes, as evidenced by a kid who brought a toy gun to school and was expelled for a year, and another nine year old girl who brought a small swiss army knife with her sewing kit (for the scissors) and was narc-ed on by a little boy who will probably go dateless through high school.  Zero tolerance allows for no room/trust for a teacher’s discretion, allowing legal liability to commandeer common sense.

The point – that I’m admittedly incredibly slow in getting to – is this, raised beautifully by my classroom neighbor and fellow newspaper advisor: “If we are expected to differentiate and modify and motivate the unmotivated so that a ‘one size fits all’ education in our classes isn’t acceptable, why doesn’t the administration have this same standard for themselves?”

Those who can’t…?

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on February 26, 2010 by Mike

There are many times I feel like I’m not a very effective teacher.  I don’t feel I’m particularly innovative – I tend to stick to what I’m comfortable with rather than try more “creative” approaches, particularly when I roll my eyes at these ideas that are suggested at conferences or staff days.  Many times I’ll think an idea’s too cheesy, too touchy-feely, maybe too “non-academic”, and I rationalize that my students would see right through me and not buy into something I’m not buying into.  And there’s probably some truth to that (still rationalizing), but also there’s the thought in the back of my mind that perhaps I’m short-changing my students by not venturing outside my comfort zone.

I’ve often wondered why students connect with me.  It hits me how little I know about my students outside of my classroom, and it makes me wonder how much I actually care about them.  I mean, I feel like I care about them, but then I find I’d be hard-pressed to find a student in my AP class I KNOW is involved in, say, band.  I don’t go to most extra-curricular activities – an occasional soccer or volleyball game, but never football, never dances, though I do enjoy being at the after-prom bash – so I’m a teacher in a room, to be honest.  But then there’s this: I don’t envy the teachers who do all those other things, but I sure as hell admire ’em for it.  It’s just not for me, is my attitude.  And sometimes I think that’s a terrible attitude for me to take.

So why do I teach?  I love reading and talking about literature.  I love writing (but find every reason under the sun not to write – making me wonder how much I really love writing).  Developing a passion for reading and writing among my students has been my stated goal ever since I decided to pursue it.  Everything else about high school, for me, is secondary. It’s trivial.  End of story.  And I have fun doing what I do, and I think most of the time my students are having fun, too.

But many days I wonder if what I do in my classroom is actually teaching.

I’m scared to death that what I’ve got going on here is more a “cult of personality” rather than teaching. I’m the eccentric English teacher who collects action figures and has the well-decorated  classroom. I’m the guy who bucked the system and wore a jacket with jeans on days other than Fridays. I’m the guy who tells them how much of a joke the TAKS test actually is, and that they shouldn’t worry about it. Yes, my students are having fun in here, and they’re doing well on the AP exams and their TAKS tests, but how much can really be attributed to me, and how much am I dependent upon my students’ teachers who came before me?

I don’t know that I want to know the answer to that one.