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Reading nerds: The Literature Draft

Posted in Entertainment, Novels, teaching, Vacation with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 1, 2014 by Mike

A few weeks ago I was watching the NFL draft waiting to see where Johnny Football would be drafted when I started thinking (it’s a problem – it usually leads to all sorts of work for me). My initial thought was what a literature draft would look like; that is, if a group of people were drafting works of literature, who would pick what first, and how would those choices be justified? I mean, James Joyce’s Ulysses is considered by many to be the single most important work of the 20th century, but I wouldn’t take it in a draft because it’s nigh-unreadable (I tried once). Okay, maybe that’s a little unfair to Joyce, but there are other novels higher on my list.

It was this thought that led me to, on a whim, post to my “Books” Facebook group (a cadre of English teachers who post about what they’ve been reading) the following:

Silly idea: let’s have a novel draft. We could use, say, Time’s Top 100 list (or something better) and compile our own squad of books, then read them (if we haven’t already).

This might have been the end of it, as it got only 4 “likes”, but then eLaffint commented with

Yes let’s do that. But please explain more.

So eLaffint forced me to think about this some more, and closer to the end of the school year I woke up one morning with the following rules in my head:

1) There’s a $10 entry fee – this will be important later.

2) We will each choose 4 works from one of two lists: either the AP title list or the “Top 100 Works in World Literature” (

3) The four works must include a) an American author b) a female author c) an author whose original language is not English and d) a play. None of the choices may be a work taught at the school or something you have already read (you’re on your honor).

4) The draft will be done by email – the order will be pre-determined and everyone in the group will “reply all” when it’s your turn. It doesn’t matter what order you “draft” your works, but no repeats are allowed.

5) Once your list (“team”) is complete, you have pretty much the rest of the year to read them.

6) Once finished, you must write a brief essay (3-5 pages) that reflects on what you’ve read. 10 point font, Times New Roman, double spaced.

7) These essays are due to me by December 12, 2014.

8) An independent panel of three judges (three people not in the draft) will read these essays and determine the winner. All essays will be published to this site, as well as to any blogs the participants might have, with the “winning” essay designated as such.

9) The winning essay’s writer will receive all the money collected from the entry fees. There is no second place. If we have 10 people enter, the winner will receive $100.

A couple notes: I decided on the AP list because it’s quality literature and diverse.  Selecting from that list could also benefit teachers who are looking for literature for their class libraries and want to branch out from young adult fiction and the more common works that most high schools already have on their reading lists (I’m looking at you, Gatsby).  Plus, it’s a pleasure to read. [bonus points for identifying the allusion]. The other list I found through Google, and thought it might help find works that help fulfill requirement “c” on number 3.

The essay requirement was a bit of a worry as I thought that might turn off possible participants, but I wanted something more to happen than “I read it, and it was _____” posts on Facebook. The opportunity to reflect on what you’ve read is an important part of the reading process, and I wanted to give everyone a chance to demonstrate their writing chops.  Hell, it’s something we ask of our students all the time, so, physician, heal thyself, IMO. Let’s put ourselves in our students’ shoes a bit, but also show off what we can do. We’re English teachers for a reason (okay, one of our group is not, but J-ROY’s a reader).

Eight of us decided to give this a shot.  We held our draft on Saturday, and, after a bit of delay due to J-ROY’s travelling, we each have our four works selected:

RAINY Invisible Man The Color Purple In the Time of Butterflies Glass Menagerie
E-E-RON House Made of Dawn When the Emperor was Divine History (Elsa Morante) Zoot Suit
JAX A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Handmaid’s Tale Purple Hibiscus Trifles
DEE-DEE Love Medicine Alias Grace A Thousand Splendid Suns Hamlet
eLaffint Cat on A Hot Tin Roof Wide Sargasso Sea Lysistrata Equus
J-ROY All the Pretty Horses Cat’s Eye The Trial Mother Courage and Her Children
BRP In the Lake of the Woods Member of the Wedding Gargantua and Pantagruel No Exit
ME Old School – Wolff God of Small Things Blindness Doctor Faustus

I think we’re all looking forward to reading our selections, but I’m particularly anxious to read their essays.

I’ll periodically post on my progress here.

“Jacket Trumps Jeans” is kaput…

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on February 17, 2010 by Mike

I had written on a previous blog (now deleted) about the creation of “Jacket Trumps Jeans Thursday”; the post is reproduced here to give some background for today’s comments:

At every school I’ve ever taught (three, for those keeping track), the faculty dress code has stated that jeans are only to be worn on Fridays. Something about being professionals, yada yada yada. This means the other four days I’d be stuck wearing khakis and either a knit shirt or long sleeve button down, and most of the time here in Texas it’s too damn hot/humid to wear the long sleeve shirts, and even if I wear one it means that the shirt will have to be ironed before it gets worn again (I don’t actually iron – I take my shirts to the cleaners). Lately, though, I’ve been lazy: since I’ve accumulated enough staff shirts of a variety of colors, I’ve just been picking out a pair of khakis and one of the shirts and, voila, I’m set for work.

But dammit if that didn’t make me feel like a slacker. And my khaki pants were constantly getting worn out because I hate trying to match shirts with non-khaki colored pants, and I’m always confused as to what color shoes should be worn with navy slacks.

But then, a few years ago, my father-in-law gave me a tan corduroy jacket for Christmas (you know, the kind with patches on the elbows that your English professors in college wore). I loved it, but rarely wore it because 1) the heat and 2) I didn’t want to wear it with khaki pants – too much khaki color.

But it looks great with jeans.

So last year I occasionally wore the jacket with jeans on days other than Fridays. No one said a word, unless it was a compliment on how dashing the jacket made me look. This started the wheels a-spinning and some other teachers at the school would go for the same look (and they DID look dashing!).

This year, though, those same colleagues and I have made it official: we all (okay, there’s about 5 of us, but the group is growing) have decided to wear jackets with jeans on Thursdays, under the belief that the jacket makes up for the informality of the jeans, and anyone looking at us would only see the rakish and dashing figure in front of him/her and not the slacker in jeans bending the rules.

Jacket trumps jeans, people. Join us.

Now, however, the powers-that-be here at the school have redressed our dress, they’ve put the kibosh on our habberdashery, they’ve stilted our style.  In other words, they sent out a politely-worded email reminding the staff that jeans are to be worn on Fridays only (and other designated days).

I am a bit disappointed.

Yes, I know we were breaking the rules as they are stated in the faculty handbook:

Teachers are expected to dress in a professional manner. Friday is a designated spirit day where casual attire is appropriate.  Blue jeans and staff shirts are acceptable and the staff is encouraged to participate in school spirit days as well.

…though, honestly, the above is not the most precisely written bit of prohibition ever produced (yeah, I  like alliteration – and parenthetical comments).  The expectation of “professionalism” is there, but the explanation of “professional” is not.

So the principals’ email (and my subsequent complaining to the English department) eventually led me to send another email to my compadres on the English staff attempting to initiate a discussion of what the expectations are of “professional dress” here at the school.  Jeans, it appears, are considered unprofessional attire.  But then again, we’re allowed to wear them on Fridays with staff shirts.  So we’re willing to forego a little professionalism in favor of comfort at the end of the week.

We’ve also traditionally been allowed to wear jeans on any day we happen to be giving school-wide exams, whether they’re final exams or the  TAKS test or the PSAT. So we can sacrifice appearance while we’re sitting at our desks bored to te- er, excuse me, actively monitoring the potential cheaters.  Also, the school encourages donations to a wide variety of charities throughout the year by offering the opportunity to wear jeans for a minimal pledge.  I often donate the money without taking them up on the jeans opportunity (an AP prompt – Question 3 – back in 2007 led me to this practice).

Combine these unofficial policies with the school’s acceptance of wind-pants  as allowable classroom attire for coaches  (and I’m not saying coaches shouldn’t be allowed to wear such clothing; it would be a hassle to have to change clothes from one period to the next), and the handbook’s policy with regard to jeans is, in my opinion, questionable.

I suppose my real beef is the thought that jeans are inherently informal.  To illustrate, while in college I knew of professors who occasionally wore jeans while instructing their classes (many English instructors seem to be big believers of the “Jacket Trumps Jeans” idea, in fact).  Didn’t effect my learning.  Also, most Sundays I see men at church dressed in jeans, and the idea that it is improper never crosses my mind.  Probably not God’s, either.  I suppose one might argue that the parishioner is not in a leadership role (i.e., the pastor) and therefore it’s not the same, but I’d argue that the respective ethos (ethii?) of a pastor and teacher and the relationship between those leaders and their adherents is also not the same.  Whoa, digression.

Then again, maybe my real beef is that the policy is an unnecessary rule for adults who are professionals.  Can we not trust teachers to show some discernment in what they choose to wear in the classroom? And can we agree that the high school classroom is not the same arena as a law office, a doctor’s office, or even a paper supply company? The clothes we wear can affect our credibility; I understand this.  But I’m not arguing that we should be allowed to wear jeans willy-nilly.  I am arguing, however, that how we present ourselves to our students goes well beyond what type of pants we have on.