Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Bandaid Shortage, Anyone?

One thing I have encountered in teaching is the overwhelming inclination for students to lie, often without any reason.

I'll try to recreate one such event for you.

Imagine students sitting in their desks, preparing to journal. One girl near the front calls me to her desk. Her face is turned up anxiously: "Do you have any bandaids?"

Ever the accommodating teacher, I kindly reply, "Yes, they're next to my desk. Go ahead and help yourself."

Her face scrunches up. " you happen to have cream? Because, you know, the nurse always puts cream on first, then the bandaid."

I can't dispense creams as well as bandaids! There's no time for cream in English class! "No, I don't happen to have cream," I try to say in a straight face. I must have left my pharmaceutical stash in my other classroom.

"Well, I really need cream on my finger first. I'll need to go to the nurse."

Resigned, I quietly say, "Fill out a pass for me to sign."

Five minutes later...

The student enters my room and wastes no time before declaring, "The nurse was out of bandaids. Can I have one of yours?"

I acquiesed, even as signals went off. Who ever heard of a nurse's office running out of bandaids?! More specifically, a nurse's office in a middle school? Surely 98% of the students who want to go to the nurse only want a bandaid for a minor cut. Is there any possible world where they would run out? That seems to be something they would closely monitor. However, I wasn't about to judge our nurse if she had, indeed, lost sight of her depleting stash.

During my prep hour, I was near the nurse's office, and, to satiate my curiosity, I stopped in.

"Did you happen to run out of bandaids?" I asked. I tried to sound genuinely concerned, but I couldn't keep my amusement out of my voice. After all, it was a pretty fishy excuse and I was skeptical.

The nurse looked at me quizzically, walked to her cupboards, and revealed a multitude of bandaid boxes that were holding thousands of bandaids in all imaginable sizes. I told my tale, the nurse was aware of said student, and had seen neither hide nor hair of her.

It gets better. As I talked with the student the following day (after she asked for another bandaid), I informed her that I was aware of her deception and that she was not allowed to leave my room again. If you know me, you know I am not all that intimidating; I was firm yet kind. She held resolutely to her tale that she had been to the nurse and then proceeded to write me and threaten that "if you wanna be that way fine you will be gettin a note from my mom. Signed, You Know Who." I doubt anything will materialize out of this. If something does, I'm not concerned. After all, I happen to know the nurse's office has plenty of bandaids.

The thing that gets me is that had she just returned to my room quietly and gone to her seat, I probably wouldn't have even noticed that she didn't have a bandaid on her finger, and none of this would have been revealed. Guilty consciences can make you say the silliest things. And they can make you write notes that are better suited to a peer than a teacher.

And the Offers Kept Rolling In...

The graduate schools have been furiously reviewing applications to get acceptance letters out. Two more schools have contacted Eric, both with offers.

Let's go back to this weekend. We heard through a reliable source Notre Dame was going to be calling people this Tuesday, so Eric's weekend was tense as he tried to push that from his mind. Monday morning at work, with a couple of his bosses nearby, his phone rang. Eric didn't recognize the number and ignored it, hoping that if it was legitimate, they would leave a message. No such luck. Googling the number, however, led him to realize that not only was it a South Bend number, it was a campus prefix. He came home from work and saw some online posts from students stating that they had received offers of admission from Notre Dame that day. We were optimistic, but didn't want to presume anything. After all, there was a slight possibility that it was the world's cruelest coincidence of a wrong number (only Eric believed that possibility, though).

Tuesday arrives, and as soon as Eric's phone rings, he bolts out of the room to take the call. Now it was finally official. He could be Fighting Irish if he so chose. That seems to be where we will be headed, as that was his top choice going into the application process.

But we're not done yet. Today Eric was offered admission to the University of Southern California. On top of his stipend, he was also awarded a Provost scholarship for two years. Must be rough to be so blessed! Only in his dreams was he imagining he would have so many options at this stage.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

I'm Such a Sucker for Words of Affirmation

Currently in my class we are reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. My students can be caught off guard with the language in the book, so sometimes in class I will read it aloud to them so as to ease the comprehension process and elaborate on significant points.

Unfortunately, late last week I came down with a nasty cold that left my voice somewhat strained. It was weakened enough that if I was reading aloud, I couldn't go too far without needing to take a drink to keep from coughing. At one point, instead of reading silently with the remaining time, students in one class asked if we could continue reading aloud. My voice was too strained, so I asked if someone would like to take over and read in my stead. Three bright students raised their hands and were going to tag-team. The first girl came to the front and began. While an accomplished reader, she would periodically stumble over a word or be hesitant with her pacing. At one point, she blurted out, "Wow, this is a lot harder than it looks. Way to go, Mrs. H!" I was glad I made it seem easy, and appreciated the recognition, although I must say that I would have been saddened if students could show me up when they were not even familiar with the text.

Then today one girl came into class, wondering if we were reading the book again. I assented, clarifying that I was reading aloud, instead of them reading quietly. She brightened up, sincerely stating, "I love it when you read! You know, if you ever lose your job here, you could record yourself reading books and sell them; I think you're better than some people who read books on tape." I'll ignore the fact that she threw out the notion that I could be let go, as our district is facing huge budget cuts for a second year, and I am not tenured. She rarely speaks, so this honest word simply stated was profound. I was flattered, as I've received general praise from my students when I read aloud, but this was the first instance where it was specifically articulated.

So, the moral is that I swoon over thoughtful compliments. Oh, and if you need someone to read aloud to you, apparently I'm your woman. I come highly recommended.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Changes Ahead

Many of you may have already heard that Eric has decided graduate school in philosophy will be a good fit for him. We knew this Minnesota experience was a trial run; if either of us felt like we weren't content, we were going to relocate. Eric immensely enjoyed the Colorado philosophy seminar, and that was the catalyst he needed to begin filling out applications for schools.

As you may be thinking, positions are few for those holding advanced degrees in philosophy. That leaves teaching at the university level as the aim, which is his desire anyway. If he wants to have a competitive edge for a professorship, however, it would be necessary for him to attend a university recognized for its program.
Eric wasn't sure what his chances were for getting into a competitive PhD program even with his high qualifications, seeing as how he received his undergraduate degree from a university that isn't known for its philosophical pursuits (never let this be seen, however, as a degrading remark about our alma mater; we are ever so fond of that campus). Therefore, he applied to two terminal Masters programs; if he were rejected at every PhD institution, he would get his Masters and then transfer on for his PhD.

We knew it was bound to be a "hurry up and wait" situation. Eric finished all of his applications and sent them off before Christmas, and then we were to wait until the spring to begin receiving letters. That leaves a lot of uncertainty and trust for us, and that is difficult for an uber planner (cough*Eric*cough) to do. Eric knew he was going to graduate school in the fall, and I knew I was...moving. Call me an elitist, but if we ended up in Los Angeles, I'm not sure I would be a very effective teacher. All of my experiences teaching have been in districts where parental involvement and support are high, and classroom management issues were minor. It would be a culture shock of sorts to teach in a place so foreign to me. So, we were waiting for responses to begin to trickle in during the month of March, doing our best to be open to whatever was offered.

Nevertheless, we were pleasantly surprised to receive an acceptance letter from Eric's top fallback program a couple of weeks ago. Our first option before us was Northern Illinois University, where Eric would have the opportunity to pursue a terminal Masters. This was an encouraging sign, as now we knew Eric would get to delve into philosophy as he desired. Certainly they recognized that Eric has some potential, and we dared to hold out hope that other institutions would agree.

Then, just last night, Eric received an email from a professor, welcoming him to the philosophy program at Indiana University. They offered him a nice five-year package as he would work towards his PhD. So, cross off Northern Illinois and look forward to a relocation come summer. We are hoping to visit Indiana in March, ideally during my spring break so that I can tag along. If we have other PhD program offers, we may just be galavanting around the country, yours truly writing entries to trace our trip.

Amusing Student Typos and Writing Excerpts

While grading essays this weekend, I came across some ill-written phrases. This led me to jot them down and attempt to track down some other amusing lines I've come across in the last two years. This is a daunting task, as I generally jot them down on whatever scrap of paper is closest at the time, so I'm sure there will be further installments as I wade through my papers.

In one girl's journal, she writes that she overslept one morning and had about one minute to eat a "bowel of cereal." Hmm...I wonder where one goes to acquire that. And when I learn where, I will steer clear of said establishment.

Another honestly admitted, "I don’t like to talk in conformation class." That's right, you don't! You'll stay silent and unnoticed like everyone else! No one is to stand out...uniformity is the aim or we will bark intimidatingly at you until you slink back into your seats!

Another poetically stated, "I was a minuet away from death." If only it hadn't been a spelling error that Microsoft Word overlooked...

It's a struggle for some students to wrap their minds around the idea of theme. How are they to distance themselves enough to come up with a motif instead of trying to reiterate the plot? This student didn't figure it out, but sure tried. "The moral of this story is when you go to the gas station and leave your car (and you have kids), either lock the door behind you and take the keys out of the car, or just take your kids inside with you." Whew!

Another student struggled with determinining themes in her book. She did fairly well in penning universal statements until this one: "Get milk instead of Fritos."

Another one was commenting on the plot in her book. This gives us an insight to what we already knew were the rankings of importance in a teenager's life. "When Lara is diagnosed with her disease, her 'friends' get rid of her, and her mom and dad get divorced, and worst of all, her boyfriend breaks up with her."

Harry Potter is ever popular at any age. One student, after having read one of J.K. Rowling's books, had an amusing typo when describing the setting of the series: "Another [setting] is 24 Privet Drive; that is where Harry and his mean aunt, uncle, and cosine live." I think something shady is going on there. Can you really count a mathematical term as a dependent? Someone from the IRS should look into that.

This last one may not resonate with many of you, as I have a dry sense of humor, but I hope this gives some a smile as they spot the irony. The student is praising his natural genius at tutoring others: "In order to be a teacher you have to be a intellectual like me." I wonder if, in order to qualify as "a intellectual," you must misuse your articles

Saturday, February 04, 2006

A New Twist on Spam

Tonight Eric and I met another couple for dinner. I had first met the wife in Iowa when she was in my college small group, but she moved to Minnesota and we only periodically wrote, thus losing touch. We bumped into each other suddenly this summer when we were placed in the same discussion group where we met her husband for the first time, and have since tried to be a little more deliberate in meeting for dinner to catch up.

One amusing conversation from the evening revolved around spam (the unsolicited email, not the delightful luncheon meat). The husband has recently learned that "there are a lot of people in Africa having difficulty accessing their money." He has since begun responding to them, not with banking information, but with the gospel. Certainly one disadvantage of this is that they now receive even more spam than before, since they now know there's a warm body on the other end of that email address, but it throws the spammers for a loop. I thought this was a creative use of apologetics. Once he had composed the initial email, it didn't take any more investment of time from him, besides hitting the 'Reply' key. And the email was tailored to these people; at one point, for instance, he shared God's perspective on money. Very clever. It reminded me of someone who used to share the gospel with telemarketers after they politely listened to the spiel.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Life as an English teacher

As an initial post, I thought it only appropriate to share some of the more memorable quotations I've encountered while teaching English. Teaching consumes plenty of my time, and it's not unusual to have humor bordering on the absurd lighten what could have been a mundane day. I must add, though, that if I have a day that ends without some surprise, I would have to resign on the spot!

Last week in study hall, I had a student working on a FACS assignment. She approached me with questions on her homework, since an English teacher is bound to know the nuances of any subject, or so she thought. Luckily, I could handle this. She wondered if a slicing knife's more accurate term was a "futility knife." Alas, what is this world coming to when even our knives are feeling useless and experiencing depression!

Our school piloted a program where twice a week teachers could be in a smaller setting with students who opted into specific activities. From a young man with furrowed brow, intent on his task during my knitting activity period: "Knitting's a lot harder than cross stitch." That's right, tear down those stereotypes!

I'm saddened to say that I heard this from a sophomore student who is more familiar with the text-messaging language than her native tongue. In response to a journal entry written on the board: "Why does OK have an -ay at the end?"

Continuing in the vein of spelling humor, I had a student ask me the following during an American Lit final: "Mrs. H, I just had a brain fart. How do you spell 'learn'?"

One male student, shocked that we were continually encountering primary texts in an American Lit class, had this to say, prefaced with a huge, put-upon sigh: "Is there EVER going to be a week we DON'T have to read?" Unfortunately this attitude appears to be a growing trend.

More school-related quotes are sure to follow. Our profession brings out the strange and unfettered as we do our best to mold young minds!