wotz da big deal cuz u kno wot i mean
March 4 is National Grammar Day in the United States….
End of the Semester Evaluations – of Me!
At the end of the semester, I always ask students to give me anonymous feedback about my course, my syllabus, and the goofy woman they have been staring at for nearly 400 hours….
Are There Alternatives to the College Experience?
Should everyone be expected go to college right out of high school? What else could kids who aren’t hard-wired to continue with formal education do rather than menial labor? Or do you believe that college is the only way to a better life?…
A Surprise Response
Yesterday I wrote about a student who surprised me by withdrawing himself late in the semester. During the course of the day I received a response….
A Letter To The Student Who Withdrew Himself
Not too long ago, a student who had been doing very well withdrew himself from my class. And I kind of freaked out….
The Gift of Off-Center
For the first two weeks I called him Jeff. By the time I got it straight, I realized that Mark Kelly was not the technology guy; neither was he the Athletic Director. He was the Middle School Principal, and he’d come to the English office to pay me a visit, to see how I was doing, if I needed anything. Little did I know that he was out to get me. …
We're #1… And I Feel Guilty
Newsweek recently posted its annual “500 Best High Schools” report followed by Buffalo Business First’s report of the best and worst schools in New York State. The district in which I live came in 1st place. And even though I can now wear a t-shirt that proudly proclaims that my child attends the #1 public school district in New York State, there’s something that is making it impossible for me to ride get on my magical unicorn and fly away….
This is an emergency.
The folks at the Modern Language Association have decided there is a proper way to cite a Tweet.
I’m sure there were extensive meetings about this.
Long meetings where people interrobanged and used interjections.
This is, of course, extremely important because students use lots of tweets in their papers.
Mostly, it’s important because the MLA realizes nothing new has happened lately in the world of grammar.
And booksellers like to sell updates to their many style manuals.
You know, to stay timely.
And students always need to have an up-to-date handbook to instruct them how to properly cite their research.
Now I suppose for certain types of papers, one might need to cite a tweet.
(Please, Lord, don’t let me get those kinds of papers.)
So this is good for me.
I have a heads up.
Now I can tell my students that tweets are not to be used in papers.
I can tell them they will need to go out into the world and actually interact with other human beings — even experts in their fields — and collect interviews.
And of course, I’m being snarky: I understand the MLA is acknowledging the fact that the Internet has changed the way everyone conducts research. Educators have to know how to cite everything from Facebook pages to PDF files to online video games. As teachers, we have to know how to cite all of these things properly because if we aren’t armed with the right tools, we open ourselves up to problems with plagiarism.
And that is the biggest pain in the butt.
So, um, like how do I cite a Facebook comment on someone’s Fan page?
Is there a rule for that yet?
Until I hear more on that, my work here is done.
What little nugget of information did you learn today? Does not have to be school related.
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• • •
I’m so excited to be at Jamie’s Rabbits today.
Jamie is so frickin’ cute I want to eat her up.
(Wait, maybe that’s chocolate…)
One thing I love about Jamie is that she is consistently hilarious.
In person, people tell me that I am funny, but I don’t think that I am a funny writer.
So I kind of freaked out when Jamie
demanded requested that my post be funny.
Like I’m so not funny.
Except when it happens to leak out accidentally, and even then, it isn’t always funny in a hahahahaha kind of way.
Anyway, if you head on over to Jamie’s Rabbits, you can read my piece “How Not To Study With Your Children” and decide for yourself.
I’m closing comments here today, but I promise I’ll respond to you from Alabama. 😉
Tomorrow is National Grammar Day in the United States.
I thought I would share some real examples of email communications that I have received over the last 12 months from first year college students.
Please know my intention is not to poke fun at my former students. I respect them and see so much growth during the course of one semester. But I am ashamed of our nation’s education system because I receive communications from students that are peppered with errors like this all of the time. It’s time to pay attention to our children. If we don’t teach our kids to be solid writers, if we don’t give them the skills they need to read and write masterfully, they aren’t going to be competitive in this world which is becoming increasingly reliant on professional international communications.
7 Things That Can Interrupt Solid Grammar
3: Pushing SEND too quickly.
6: Missing the bus.
Which one is your favorite? Do you think this is funny or sad? Do me a favor, will ya? Show me your grammar skills. Pick one of these messages and fix everything that’s wrong with it. Make it pretty. Please?
Sadly, most Americans are pretty ignorant about our history, especially when it comes to our presidents; however, if we think of former presidents as characters (and many of them were!), they really come to life.
While he was actually born on February 22, Presidents Day is celebrated on the third Monday of February in honor of our first President of the United States: George Washington. This year Presidents Day is today: February 20.
And while I am not a history teacher, I was feeling teacherishy, so I figured I’d give a little quiz to see what you might know about some of our former Heads of State.
• • •
Which President never lived in the White House?
Answer: George Washington. (It wasn’t finished being built yet. Duh!)
Yankee Doodle was born of the Fourth of July. Can you name 3 presidents who died on July 4th?
Answer: Thomas Jefferson and John Adams both kicked the bucket on July 4, 1826. (How weird is that?) James Monroe died in 1831.
Who was the first president to have a beard?
Answer: Abraham Lincoln. Did you know he was the one to declare the last Thursday in November as the official Thanksgiving Day? It’s true. This year, you can remember to thank Abe for the turkey.
Who was the first president to wear long pants?
Answer: James Madison. But it should be noted he was also the shortest president. Standing in bare feet at 5’ 4”, it’s possible that he was a little too small for his britches, and perhaps started the fashion trend.
Which president put a little Dick in his mouth?
Answer: Thomas Jefferson had a mockingbird named Dick that took food from Mr. President’s lips. (What did you think I meant, you pervs?!)
Other presidents born in February include Abraham Lincoln (February 12, 1809), William Harrison (February 9, 1773) & Ronald Reagan (February 6, 1911).
Which president was in office when you were born? What is your earliest memory involving a president?
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At the end of the semester, I always ask students to give me feedback about my course, my syllabus, and the skills of the
freakishly attractive woman they have been made to stare at for nearly 400 hours.
I ask them to type their answers so there is no chance of being identified by their handwriting.
That way I feel like they really do have a chance to give me honest feedback.
No marshmallowy-delicious coating necessary.
Basically, it is their opportunity to let me have it.
This semester, I started out with 27 students sitting at 27 desks.
In the end, I wound up with 13 warriors.
Not everyone earned A’s or B’s.
Some people failed.
But everyone who stayed until the end, showed a kind of tenaciousness that I feel certain will help them succeed in the future.
These people were not quitters.
• • •
Here is a sampling of the answers to the questions I asked.
Question 1: What were some of Professor Jacobson’s strengths?
- Professor Jacobson is exciting, energetic and up-beat.
So they liked my singing after all!
- She’s fun, nice to talk to, understanding, funny and helpful.
- Her personality makes class much more bearable.
Clearly there are many unbearable aspects to my class.
- She provides constructive criticism during essay writing and praise when appropriate.
- She always lets students know what’s going on and makes sure everyone is clear on everything.
I’m not positive, but I think this might have been a little snarky. One of the things I was worst at was sticking to my proposed syllabus. And I constantly revised it.
Question 2: What were some of Professor Jacobson’s weaknesses?
- She didn’t have any.
Oh come on? Really?
- I didn’t notice any.
Whaaat? This person must have been spell-bound by my dancing.
- She doesn’t know how to work the projector. At all.
There we go. Sad, but true. Technology is my enemy.
- She kept changing the syllabus around.
- I didn’t like her emphasis on citation.
Sorry. I’m trying to make it so you don’t get busted for stealing in the future.
- I thought the class was thought out well and the assignments were interesting.
- Few and far-between. Maybe a little favoritism. Clearly, X was her favorite student above anyone else, thought she did seem to like us all.
X was actually not my favorite student.
Question 3. Do you feel the expectations were appropriate for a Composition-101 class?
Woot! Got 9 of these. But maybe it’s easier to just write “absolutely” than have to elaborate. Hmmm.
- I thought she had high expectations for her students to become better writers and that’s what she got.
- At times, it felt like a lot because other teachers hand out a lot of work as well.
- I was expecting a more relaxed work load, but I won’t complain because writing this much made us stronger and weeded out the slackers.
Question 4: Did Professor Jacobson create an atmosphere of respect and cooperation? If so, where was this demonstrated? If no, how can she improve?
- The classroom setting was super comfortable.
- She promoted a lot of cooperation during peer review where we read each others’ papers. This was scary at first, but I eventually realized that we were all helping each other and realized no one would ever be cruel.
- She was a friend to all of us, but strict enough to command respect.
- She was respectful to us and expected us to be the same to her – and each other. Sometimes I have problems reading aloud, but I didn’t in this class because I knew no one would make a snide remark.
- Professor Jacobson’s attitude is what made this section of English-101 a successful class. She displayed respect when she asked people to share their writing without pressuring anyone who didn’t want to.
- There was a lot of mutual respect.
I’m kind of big on respect.
Question 5: Do you feel your writing skills improved over the semester?
- Before this class I had never heard of MLA citation. I had never generated my own thesis statement. Now I know how to do both.
This. Is. A. Sin.
- My analysis defiantly (sic) became stronger. And my sentence structure has improved and become more varied.
- We were writing all the time, and the constant practice helped me improve.
- I actually know where to put my commas now.
- I learned to weed out unnecessary words.
- When I looked back at my first paper, there was so much purple all over the place. Now I am making fewer mistakes, and I am enjoying writing more.
I asked a few other questions, too. But you get the gist.
One comment has to be read in isolation. It was not written in paragraphs. It is what it is. It keeps me humble and reminds me that no matter how hard I try, I can’t reach everyone.
1. I have no idea what your strengths are as a teacher.
2. I have no idea what your weaknesses are as a teacher.
3. I guess your expectations were appropriate.
4. No comment.
5. My writing remains the same.
Have you ever been evaluated? What have people said about you? Or what do you think folks might say is your greatest strength and your biggest weakness?
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Over the last twenty years, societal attitudes have fostered an expectation that all students should go to college.
Currently, 71% of graduating high school students in the United States go directly from high school to college. And while financial aid has made college accessible for nearly everyone, not all students are ready for college (or the college experience).
Right now over 50% of incoming first-year students require some kind of remediation to help retroactively prepare them for college-level work.
So I am wondering: Are we putting too much emphasis on going to college? Is it possible that the pressure and increasing “requirement” that everyone go to college is an unjust expectation? Is it really necessary that everyone have a college degree? To get entry-level work? Or tradesman status? Because it seems like that’s where we are today. People are paying extraordinary amounts of money to attend college, only to find that upon graduation there are very few well-paying jobs.
Should everyone be expected go to college right out of high school? What else could kids who aren’t hard-wired to continue with formal education do rather than menial labor? Or do you believe that college is the only way to a better life?
Yesterday I wrote about a student who surprised me by withdrawing himself late in the semester. I am not one to take student disappearances personally, but this one spooked me because he was doing so well. And it is so very late in the semester.
During the course of the day I received a response.
No, it was not from him.
But it was from a former student, someone I have not seen with my own eyes for decades.
This person gave me permission to share.
So I am.
When my parents moved from my hometown, I wasn’t able to go home to look through my room, so they threw everything I owned in bags and boxes (mostly just opening the drawers and dumping the stuff in). They said I could look through it later.
That was almost ten years ago.
When I went to visit a few months ago, they told me I should look through everything and either move it or lose it. I spent hours looking through all the papers from preschool through high school. I found drawings I had made, essays I had written, and report cards.
And in the mix, I also found a very sad poem I had written.
And a note from you.
Since I work with teenagers, I worry all the time I will miss the signs — and hope that they feel as comfortable coming to me as I did to you.
It is scary when someone you know commits suicide; it can feel like you missed something.
But I cannot be the only person you have taught to say you have also caught the signs.
As a teen it would not have been easy, or even in my realm of thought, to say thank you.
But it is now.
And so I wanted to write and say thank you for caring, thank you for seeing signs that things were not right and especially thank you for simply taking the time to listen.
I cannot tell you what I might would have done in high school because I really don’t know, but I do know that I am grateful to you for being there.
The campaign says: “It gets better”. Well it does, and I am so grateful to be here to prove that saying true.
Much gratitude to the person who authored this letter.
It meant the world to me.
So much of teaching is about delayed gratification.
We teachers spend our days with these people — some of whom we come to care about — and then we set them free, and cross our fingers that everyone will land on his or her feet.
I’m so happy to know this person has.
@Tweet this Twit @rasjacobson
Back before the semester started, I lightheartedly joked that I would never be able to learn my new students’ names because there were so many duplicates on my roster. I quickly figured out who was who. While many of their names were the same, they were all so very unique. And it was good.
Not too long ago, a student who had been doing very well withdrew himself from my class.
I kind of freaked out.
One year, I had a student commit suicide while I taught him. I missed the signals. And I was among the last people he’d talked to before he very intentionally decided to wrap his car around a pole.
Nervous, I called Student Services to let them know I was concerned about this student’s sudden disappearance. A woman assured me someone would contact him.
In the meantime, I sent him an email:
Dear Student X:
I noticed that you have been out a few days, but I assumed you were just sick.
I intended to call you today if you weren’t in class — and then I was poking around for your phone number when I saw that you had withdrawn yourself from class.
Are you okay?
I’m worried about you.
Oddly, that day in the hall, when I saw you expertly rolling a cigarette, licking the paper, and sliding it behind your ear, I wondered if something was going on.
I had a weird feeling.
And then you never came back.
You were doing really well.
Was it the research paper that spooked you?
I wish you had come to talk to me. Or emailed. Or called.
Because you are a very good writer, so I hope you left because you didn’t like my teaching style or something.
Because that I can handle.
But I’d hate to think you dropped the course because you thought you weren’t succeeding when you were.
Or that you are in a dark place not feeling good about yourself.
Can you let me know you are okay?
At week 12, the leaves have fallen off the trees. My class roster is down over 50%. Maybe more. I have lost all my Ashleighs, and I am down to one Ashley. My remaining students don’t seem to notice. Or, if they do, they don’t say anything. But they must see that there are more available seats around them, that there are fewer backpacks over which to trip, that there are fewer heads obstructing their view. They must recognize there is more room to move, more air to breathe. But maybe they don’t.
When I was in college, I don’t think I noticed when people disappeared.
Sometimes I blink back tears. Because I wonder about the disappeared ones. I wonder if they are okay. I wonder if they have landed in soft places where people are helpful and offering hands with palms up. People tell me not to worry so much, that I can’t possibly save them all.
I know that. But I don’t have to like it. Right?
What would you do if someone in your life suddenly dropped out of it? What if Student X were your child, away at college for the first time? What would you want a college professor to do?
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It was my third week at Metairie Park Country Day School, and I could barely distinguish the administration building from the science building. I didn’t know where the nearest bathroom was, who to call about the broken desk in my classroom, or how to make the copier stop jamming.
For the first two weeks I called him Jeff. By the time I got it straight, I realized that Mark Kelly was not the technology guy; neither was he the Athletic Director. He was the Middle School Principal, and he’d come to the English office to pay me a visit, to see how I was doing, if I needed anything. How nice, I thought, how friendly the folks are around these parts. Little did I know that he was out to get me. Little did I know that I’d come face to face with the meanest practical joker east of the Mississippi. I made the mistake of sounding secure.
“Everything is great,” I said, trying to sound confident.
“Have you been to the Lower School?” he asked.
“Been there.” I said, feigning a yawn.
“What about the library?”
“Pu-leeze,” I lied.
“So you know what you’re doing?” he said, raising his eyebrow. “You have it all together?”
I nodded my head, snapped my fingers two times for effect, and headed off to class. Later, after school ended and I had erased the blackboard, reorganized the desks in a circle, and collected my mail, I returned to the English office. I saw it from all the way across the room; my desk had been cleared.
Everything was gone.
Realizing the gravity of the situation, I gasped aloud: “My grade book!” It held all my students’ grades, all my attendance records. I think I vomited a little in my mouth.
Sitting behind me, looking calm, was Mark Kelly. He smiled, arms crossed over his chest.
“Where is it? What have you done with it?!” I squeaked.
“It’s around,” he said coolly.
Suffice it to say that Mr. Kelly sent me on quite a scavenger hunt. During my journey, I located the Lower School atrium, the Upper School attendance office, the library – and I met fabulous folks all along the way. In the end, it turned out that Mr. Kelly had stashed all my goods in an empty file cabinet drawer right there in the English office, about two steps away from my desk. I pulled all my belongings out of the drawer, unharmed, and set about reorganizing.
Mr. Kelly gurgled and chortled behind me.
Truth be told, I miss the way Mark Kelly batted me around the way some giant cat might play with a mouse or a bird. I miss hearing his booming laugh behind me at school plays; I miss his multi-colored Tabasco ties; I miss his wit, his charm, his teasing, and his teaching. Mark put a little bounce in my step. He taught me to stay on my toes.
Mr. Kelly taught me never to brag about being done with something early. He taught me how order in the world is artificial and how easy it is to lose control. He made me explore, go out and meet people, go into unfamiliar territory, and find answers. It is so easy to get stuck in our own little comfort zones.
I like to think that this little Grasshopper has become like her master and that I instill in my students the same thrill for exploration and the same joy at being slightly off-center.
When is the last time someone made you feel a little off-balance – in a good way? What’s the best practical joke someone ever pulled on you? Or you pulled on someone else?
Newsweek posted its annual “500 Best High Schools” report.** Immediately after the list was published, my local district posted the results in its Fall 2011 Newsletter which indicated that one high school in the district ranked #73 and the other high school came in at #99.
That day, I went to the grocery store. And as I shopped, I ran into folks who were all in a tizzy. Here’s a sampling of what I heard:
How did our school drop from last year? And why is their school better/worse than the other school? And why didn’t our school make the list?
Meanwhile, I kept my head low and kept pushing my cart.
While other people griped, I was content. I mean both high schools in my district made the top 100 list in Newsweek.
Last week, my entire district was just ranked #1 in the State by this report that came out on October 27, 2011.
But I’ve been thinking about these lists.
About what they do to us.
How they make us anxious/frustrated/furious/complacent/content.
They get our attention, get us to react, get us to blame, point fingers, worry, obsess, gloat.
And even though I can now wear a t-shirt that proudly proclaims that my child attends the #1 public school district in New York State, there’s something that is making it impossible for me to ride get on my magical unicorn and fly away.
The district deemed “worst” in New York State is also right here in Rochester; The Rochester Public City School District, a District that serves over 32,000 children, came in dead last at #431.
Never has there been such disparity between the haves and the have-nots.
At my nephew’s graduation back in June, the administrators noted that the Class of 2011 was exceptional. Graduating seniors had received astronomical numbers of dollars in academic scholarships. It was surreal. Collectively, their SAT scores were redinkadonk. Sitting in that huge field-house surrounded by well-dressed, well-fed, financially secure families, I felt hopeful. I think everyone did.
In September 2011, The Wall Street Journal reported:
The results from the  college-entrance exam, taken by about 1.6 million students… revealed that only 43% of students posted a score high enough to indicate they were ready to succeed in college, according to the College Board, the nonprofit that administers the exam.
When I read that report, I read its inversion: 57% of students are not prepared for college level work.
And I knew who they were talking about.
On the second day of this semester, I administered a written diagnostic to my Composition-101 class designed to determine if students could write a basic essay on-demand.
About thirty percent of the class failed the exam.
What’s the big deal?
I’m glad you asked!
In the last four years that I have worked at my local community college, I have learned a lot about the demographic of my students. Most of these students are not as fortunate as the children in my home district.
Many did not graduate high school. Some do not have money for breakfast or lunch and eat out of vending machines. I have had homeless students; one admitted to me that he had been hiding and sleeping in Wal-Mart right before he was caught and arrested. I have students who look down at their shoes when asked to read aloud because they can barely read. I have had students whose mothers are abusive and whose fathers are in prison.
Some students are civilian veterans; folks who have served in the United States military and are now returning to the classroom to try to focus on academics after multiple overseas deployments. Some claim some kind of disability status; and for others, English is not to primary language spoken in the home. Too many come from families whose annual median income fell below the poverty line.
So what do these lists tell us?
They tell us what we already know.
That students who come from an environment where parents encourage education will value education. They will come to school with full bellies, having slept in a bed they can call their own. They come with backpacks stuffed with all the required materials and minds that are ready to learn.
Children who grow up with some kind of interference — whether it be emotional, cultural or fiscal — will have to work harder to get where they want to go. It’s not impossible, but it’s harder.
I hate this enormous social disparity.
Pointing out the disparity in reports and newsletters doesn’t seem productive, nor does it seem to result in changes for the people who need them the most.
Here is what I can tell you:
Colleges are spending millions on remedial courses to prepare high school graduates for college-level work.
Businesses are having to invest time and money teaching employees basic skills they did not learn in school.
Well-intentioned (but misguided) initiatives like No Child Left Behind as well as our over-emphasis on standardized testing in the core subjects have sent us in the wrong direction. Instead of teaching students to think across the disciplines, administrators have chosen to “cut the fat” — programs like music and art and drama — which are considered esoteric and unnecessary.
And no matter how much I may I want to, I can’t fix students in 15 weeks: not when 12 years of school has failed them.
** Did you see the Newsweek report?
Go ahead and look at it.
You know you want to.
America’s Best High Schools: The List – Newsweek.
What do you think about these lists? Do they get you worked up? Or do they make you feel helpless?
Tweet this Twit @ rasjacobson