03 March 2007

How I Earn My Summer: Reason #52

Let me preface this by saying: I love and adore my AP juniors this year. They are, as a whole, a sweet, funny, responsible group of kids. I actually look forward to seeing them in class; some mornings I am able to rouse myself out of bed (at five AM) for the sole purpose of teaching them.

However, they are perfectly awful readers, and after grading 100 timed essays over three days, my eyeballs are about to fall out of my head, and I am ready to leave both classes on a deserted island and never look back.

Maybe I'm being unreasonable. But the AP test is in two months, and my students are still making the same basic mistakes. I'm not just talking about their spelling and grammar (that is another post for another time). No, I'm talking about their general reading skills.

Take, for example, timed essay prompt #1. It is an argumentative prompt that notes the proliferation of public statements of opinion in this Information Age and asks the students to take a position on the value of these public statements of opinion and whether they foster democratic values.

Pretty simple, right? But over half of my students wrote essays about how the Democratic party uses the media to win voters/share its ideals/bash Bush.

Lesson the first, dear students: democratic (lower-case 'd') refers to general democracy (as in, America has a democratic government), whereas Democratic (capital 'D') refers to the more liberal political party that recently upset the Republican Congress. It's not a particularly subtle difference.

So what's a totally misread of the prompt going to get you on your essay? No higher than a 4 of 9.

Then there is timed essay prompt #2: an analysis of an excerpt from William Hazlitt's "On The Want Of Money." It asks the students to analyze the rhetorical devices Hazlitt uses to develop his position on money. (Not, by the way, how he persuades his audience, as two-thirds of my students aptly -- though incorrectly -- proved.)

Maybe not so simple, but still -- this is an essay on the want, or lack, of money. And yet, another misread; nearly everyone wrote essays about how Hazlitt believes our desire for money (that other "want") is bad/good/potentially life-destroying.

Bah! Misread! We want for money when we are poor and thus want to get some.

I get two months off in the summer (when I don't teach summer school). This is one of the many reasons why: so my head doesn't explode.

01 March 2007

In Praise of Heroes

Every once in a while, a television show comes along that I schedule my life around. A show that, if I absolutely cannot be on my couch for, I TiVo and ask three other people to TiVo on the off-chance mine doesn't work. A show that is truly appointment TV, as in I would skip any appointment (maybe even one with the hotness that is Matthew Macfadyen -- Liz says you're married, Matthew, but seriously -- call me!) to watch.

I am currently having this mad love affair with Heroes.

You know, I spent all summer seeing NBC's promos for Heroes -- ordinary people with extraordinary abilities, blah blah blah, whiny Jess from Gilmore Girls, blah blah blah -- and while the premise was intriguing, I certainly wasn't excited about its premiere. In fact, I think the only reason I watched the pilot was because it was on right before the show I was really looking forward to this season: Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.

Well, Studio 60? Big letdown. But Heroes? Loooooooove at first sight.

Not only is it clever and smart, it actually provides answers as the mysteries surrounding the plot and characters evolve. (You listening yet, Lost?) The characters are interesting, well-developed (well, with the exception of Simone, who was -- pretty shockingly, for me -- killed in last week's episode. Tim Kring, I salute you!), and layered with so many shades of grey that you don't really know who is good and who isn't (I mean, barring Sylar, who kills the other heroes and absorbs their powers by, um, eating their brains, it seems).

Even the character who has been set up as the villain since the pilot -- Horned Rim Glasses (HRG), played by the previously-so-far-off-my-radar Jack Coleman-- has shifted back and forth on the good-evil spectrum throughout, and this week brought me to tears when he had himself shot (not fatally, yay!) and had part of his memory erased to save his superpowered daughter from the mysterious company for which he works. Someone, please give Jack Coleman an Emmy for making HRG so lovable and sympathetic even he's when shooting tracking darts at scruffy, invisible Claude or erasing his wife's memory for the fifty billionth time.

And any show that has an appropriately "good or evil?" role for Adrian Pasdar -- did anyone else watch "Profit" when it was on way back in '96? 'Cause that was one twisted yet damn fine show -- wins major props from me.

That's probably enough Heroes love for tonight, although there are certainly many more reasons to worship at the altar of Kring and Co. Not the least of which? For making Mondays rock!

21 February 2007

But What's With All the Dead Fish?

As I mentioned previously, WS spent most of last week in San Diego at an education conference. Seriously, he has all the luck -- his principal takes him to warm, sunny, beachy California, while my principal took me and the other department chairs on a retreat in November to cold, dreary, rainy Harper's Ferry. His principal sets him up at a superfine spa where his room overlooks the seal and manatee pools; my principal takes us to Hill House, which is pretty cool, history-wise, but is unfortunately behind the times in many things, like heat. Yes, my room had no television, no phone, no heat. Neither did the conference room where we spent two days hashing out a critical reading plan for the school. When we asked the management to turn on the heat, the vents began to billow smoke, and the place had to be evacuated for ten minutes. Then -- they had to turn off the heat, leas the hotel burn down.


Anyway, WS enjoyed San Diego so much that he called a few times to crow about the gorgeous weather (we've just come off a week of snow, ice, and temperatures below twenty degrees) and texted a few pictures of the view from his room (blue skies and waters) and the beach (waves crashing on the rocks).

On Monday, he texts me a picture of what looks like several fish laying dead on the sand.

I text him back immediately: WS -- what's with all the dead fish?

WS: Not fish. Seals.

Me: But why are they DEAD?

WS: Not dead. LIVE seals.

I open the picture again. Honestly-- it still seems like a bunch of dead fish to me.

Anyway, WS got home safe and sound yesterday -- he took the redeye back and arrived at 6:30 in the morning. Then he went home, slept for two hours, and went into work for half a day. He's so very good. I wish I could be as eager to return to school when I'm out. As it is, the only reason I don't use more of my leave is because I really hate making sub plans.

Oh, and WS's principal? Totally taking WS to Orlando this summer for another conference! Bah!

19 February 2007

Returned to Life

Bah! I am horrifically embarassed about how long it has been since I last posted (er, four months, heavens!).

Would it make more sense if I said: my life is nothing noteworthy at this time?

I: go to work (or stay home with Q, curled on the couch watching entire seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, on snow days like... the last three workdays). I: plow through the pile of books now towering on my coffeetable. I: think about work and how my third quarter calendar is now irrevocably off-course. I: receive pictures on my cell from WS, who is enjoying San Diego and gorgeous 75-degree weather at the moment. I: think about work some more.

I: decide that, yes, I am an excellent teacher, but that I really hate being the department chair. And I think: maybe if I weren't chair, I would be happier. Or at least spend less time thinking about work and more time -- not thinking about work.

Oh, so melancholy! Only, I find it hard to put pen to page (fingers to keys?) when I feel emptied of all at the end of the day.

Blog, you have suffered. But no more! I am bound and determined to return to you to the bloglife you enjoyed before I settled in this winter haze.

And I'll start next time, because it's late and I have to be up at five-thirty.