It’s the last day of school. It’s the last day of final exams.
How did we get here?
Not to sound lame, but I’m mostly sad about this. Although I’m relieved that the end of grading is in sight, I know that in two weeks or so I will be bored out of my mind and ready to get back in the classroom.
Speaking of grading.
The more tired I get, the more snarky my comments seem to become.
Whoah there, Ms. Shea.
But really. Some of these illogical assumptions are starting to get to me.
Don’t worry. They know I’m not completely evil. Witness this gem from… let’s call him Jimmy*. This is part of his Reading Strategies booklet.
Let’s just say he was an example I gave in class while I was trying to explain to them that Dante’s love-from-afar for Beatrice is not creepy.
So this whole Dante unit has made me really excited for next year. And although I think it was a good idea to save him for last few weeks for these kids, I’m beginning to wonder if I shouldn’t start off with Dante right off the bat.
The text is so challenging that students really have only two choices: actually USE the reading strategies I teach them and try and try and try and try… or give up and fail.
It sort of puts school into starker terms.
Maybe that would be too much of a baptism by fire in August, but it would be a great vehicle to teach the future sophomores HOW to read right away. Then, when they encounter “less-challenging” texts like Antigone and Julius Caesar later in the year, they will know what to do.
Either way, I’m going to go pretty heavy on the reading strategies at the beginning of the year. And I think I will ask my friend and the junior English teacher if I can borrow some of my former students so they can do some presentations on reading strategies for my new kids.
Some of those kids did such an AMAZING job with their Reading Strategies booklets. They explained things far better than I could (or did).
Adam*, in particular, really impressed me with his sensitivity to his audience. He knew exactly the “type” of student he was speaking to (read: every type) and he did a lovely job addressing their fears and frustrations.
Look at how he made copies of Longfellow’s translation of Dante and then demonstrated what annotating looks like.
Sorry, high school moms.
I suppose I’m pretty much letting my kids write this blog post for me. But I’m so proud of them. So I’m going to keep doing it.
And Adam insists you should be “sassy” with the text. It helps to prevent you from getting bored as you read tough material:
Sarah* has some advice for you on the difference between “good” and “bad” annotations:
Okay, I guess I should go back to grading my final exams now.
Happy weekend everyone! And happy end to the school year!
And for any students who may be reading this – past or present – this woman knew how to write. She knew what it means.
Aren’t the extraordinary events of your life very hard for the rest of us to identify with?
Oh my God, I’ve lived a very simple life! You can say, Oh yes, at thirteen this happened to me and at fourteen . . . But those are facts. But the facts can obscure the truth, what it really felt like. Every human being has paid the earth to grow up. Most people don’t grow up. It’s too damn difficult. What happens is most people get older. That’s the truth of it. They honor their credit cards, they find parking spaces, they marry, they have the nerve to have children, but they don’t grow up. Not really. They get older. But to grow up costs the earth, the earth. It means you take responsibility for the time you take up, for the space you occupy. It’s serious business. And you find out what it costs us to love and to lose, to dare and to fail. And maybe even more, to succeed. What it costs, in truth. Not superficial costs—anybody can have that—I mean in truth. That’s what I write. What it really is like. I’m just telling a very simple story. (Maya Angelou via Paris Review)
So Tom asked me what the highlight of my day was yesterday.
I have two:
1) During Maria’s 7th hour class, which is pretty huge, I got to walk around and help some of the kids. These are current sophomores, so I never taught them when I was at this school, but they seemed to accept the fact that I knew what I was talking about. So when I knelt by their desks when they raised their hands, their surprise was quickly replaced with matter-of-fact questions. “Yes ma’am, I don’t get this.” “Thank you, ma’am.” “Can you come see?”
In Colorado, some of them (especially the boys) call me “Miss.” “Yes, miss.” “Okay, miss.”
2) After the Mass last night, we stood outside the church talking to one of the parents. Most people had left by then. All of a sudden, the door opened and one of the graduating seniors walked up to me, gave me a quick hug, and left almost before I had time to say hello to him. He had not come up to me earlier when most of the others had. In fact, I haven’t talked to him much since his sophomore year when he and the “three musketeers” used to hang out in my classroom using my trashcan for paper basketball.
So great. I’m so blessed to have known these kids.
Myriad conversations with students I had here in LA and in CO have come to mind when I read this really great article from a college professor’s perspective on the ridiculously challenging art of grading. It’s very applicable to secondary (and, I’m guessing elementary) school as well.
Where did students get the gumption to treat a grade as the opening move in a set of negotiations? As a professor, there is little worse than spending an entire semester attempting to connect about a subject you find both interesting and important, only to have them ignore everything you do until the moment their GPA is affected. And then, of course, it’s war. (Schuman)
Schuman admits that she inflates her grades, and explains why she feels she has to do this. When I first started teaching I was determined not to do this.
And then I realized life is a bit more complicated.
This is what I think grades “mean”:
A = Demonstrates exceptional mastery
B = Exceeds expectations
C = Meets expectations; that is, achieves the lesson goal.
D = Does not meet expectations; that is, does not demonstrate ability to do what I taught them to do.
F = Earns failing grade.
This is also the description I put on all my rubrics and the description whispering in my mind as I grade all my tests.
But then there is also this:
A = Demonstrates exceptional mastery for this student.
B = Exceeds expectations for this student.
C = Meets expectations / demonstrates achievement of lesson goal – at the level this student is capable of.
D = Does not meet expectations / This student does not adequately use whatever gifts she has been given to demonstrate achievement of the goal.
F = Earns failing grade / This student demonstrates profound lack of understanding of lesson plan goal or profound negligence. Basically, he did not really try.
Because, you know, Honors Student A writes an “A” essay that looks VERY different from ELL struggling student B — and yet Student B may have “demonstrated exceptional mastery” with the lesson goal within the context of her particular challenges and current skills.
“Ms. Shea, Teacher X doesn’t teach writing like you did. She says ‘A is B because of 123’ is too basic, middle school stuff.”
“Yeah but I still used it!”
“And I used the format you taught us anyway but she took points off!”
Yes, I know ‘A is B because of 123’ is the basic middle-school formula for thesis statements. But I teach it to my high school kids as a starting point because they need it. You have to learn to walk before you can learn to run, people.
Once they master that version, I try to get them to leave it behind as soon as possible. “You don’t need this formula any more. I want you to write a thesis statement without using it. Change the words.”
I think that’s one of the downfalls of one teacher having the same kids 2 years in a row. They got used to me, and no matter how many times I told them “this is just ONE right way to write an essay. There are others,” they seem to believe that their new teacher (the third this year) is wrong and I am right.
I encountered this a lot during my first year. “But Ms. X always said…” “We never did it this way before…” “We used to listen to music every Friday, can’t we go back to that?”
One of the things you have to teach students is how to be a student. For better or for worse, that means being flexible enough to adapt to different teachers different expectations.
Maria is doing something really cool right now.
It’s a simple idea, but I’ve actually never done it.
I’m totally stealing this from her.
She has a series of questions on the board. The kids are answering them in groups. But here’s the catch:
They have to receive teacher approval on their answer to every question before the assignment is considered complete.
So this is what happens:
They work in their groups. One of them brings up the paper. “Ms. Lynch, is this right?” She will look at it and say, “Try again. Look at the second part of your answer.”
This starts to happen more and more.
“Good job, you got it!”
The groups begin to feel competitive. They begin to walk more quickly to Ms. Lynch. Then they run.
“Ms. Lynch, Ms. Lynch! Is this it?”
“Almost. Try again!”
They run back to their groups and scribble furiously. They laugh in frustration.
I love it.
This is the song I sang before I came to teach in Louisiana:
Actually, it’s also the song I sing before I do anything scary – like when I went to college, flew to Italy, began ACE, moved to Colorado…
Look. It’s me and my guitar. And the bag I bring with me when I move all around the country.
…And this is what I said after my first day of school here in Louisiana:
(and, let’s be honest, almost every day after that):
“Week before last I went to Wesleyan and read “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.” After it I went to one of the classes where I was asked questions. There were a couple of young teachers there and one of them, an earnest type, started asking the questions. “Miss O’Connor,” he said, “why was the Misfit’s hat black?” I said most countrymen in Georgia wore black hats. He looked pretty disappointed. Then he said, “Miss O’Connor, the Misfit represents Christ, does he not?” “He does not,” I said. He looked crushed. “Well, Miss O’Connor,” he said, “what is the significance of the Misfit’s hat?” I said it was to cover his head; and after that he left me alone. Anyway, that’s what’s happening to the teaching of literature.” (Flannery O’Connor, The Habit of Being)
I’m sitting in my friend’s classroom. I can’t sit in my old classroom because there is a new teacher there and she has a class right now. But I peeked in and saw that she had done a lovely job decorating the walls, the bulletin boards, even the whiteboard. There is a really nifty sign that looks like a piece of paper on which she gave the kids a model for how they should head all of their papers – she even included a visual example of MLA formatting. I’m so copying her.
She is the third English teacher they have had this year. I can’t imagine how challenging it would be to come in after TWO teachers had left before you.
“Hey Ms… — Ms. Shea! You’re back!”
So many double-takes. At first I felt a little bit like a ghost. Tom said he felt the same.
My friend Tom and I, who both taught here during our ACE years, have come to see our students graduate high school. I taught the current graduating seniors English for two years. It’s surprising how strong their accents are – they always spoke this way, but out in Colorado I guess I had forgotten a little.
I’ve only seen two of them so far today. “We miss you, Ms. Shea. You shoulda seen our research papers!”
But I’ve seen almost all my former sophomores (now juniors)!
It’s kind of awkward, I guess. But it has been really lovely, too.
10 bucks says I cry a little during Baccalaureate Mass tonight.
The BEST THING happened to me the other day at school.
You know, it’s the end of the year. Everyone’s tired. Burnt out. Ready for summer. The kids are struggling through hell… Dante’s hell, that is… and I have been so proud of them for working so hard with such a challenging work.
We had a fishbowl discussion the other day in class. Two students raised their hands and asked me, “Hey, Ms. Shea. Are we going to be reading The Purgatorio and The Paradiso?”
“Sadly, no,” I said. “But I love The Purgatorio. It’s my favorite part of Dante’s poem.”
“Man,” one of them sighed. “I really want to know what happens next!”
“Yeah. So, if we buy a copy of those two books and read them this summer, and we email you with questions, would you email us back?”
I was so happy I almost fell off the desk I was sitting on. AND THESE WERE NOT MY HONORS STUDENTS. These were not my “I love to read” students. These were my struggling kids, who used to say The Inferno was way too hard… but who had decided to try. Sticky notes and annotations colored the pages of their books. They had come in for extra help a few times — completely voluntarily.
And now they want to read The Purgatorio and The Paradiso this summer… well, just because.
Psh. Who says teaching kids skills and reading strategies and how to “interact with challenging text” Common Core style cannot also, at the same time, encourage a love for goodness, truth and beauty?
“Yes!” I said. “Yes!”
So, I may or may not have played this video in all of my sophomore classes today…
My friend Katie, also a UD grad, has a great post for Teacher Appreciation Week (yes, that was this week!):
[…] here we are, two years into my unexpected teaching career and 165 students call me “Miss Prejean” every day and I’m slowly learning the ups and downs of the job. Here’s what I’ve figured out: I hate being a teacher. I love teaching.
Go read the rest!
So I have been trying to pray St. Ignatius’ Examen every night before bed, and I had a really strange experience with it.
For those of you who don’t know, the steps of the Examen are roughly these:
1. Place yourself in God’s presence.
2. Think of the ways, both big and small, that He has been present to you. Thank Him for these gifts of the day.
3. Review your day slowly from beginning to end. Think about the ways that you loved God and others or failed to.
4. Ask for forgiveness / Act of Contrition.
5. Make resolutions and ask for help tomorrow.
On Tuesday I was having one of those not-so-great days. I wasn’t feeling very good about myself. I did not feel like praying. But I tried anyway. And I was a little shocked by the fact that as I tried to review my day for the gifts God had given me, and the ways that He had been present to me, I keep feeling worse and worse.
I thought of my students, and how I love them, and immediately two students came to mind who have not been getting along, and I realized how negligent I had been. I hadn’t even moved their seats away from each other. I was just letting the comments and the annoying interruptions continue. One of the students has a lot of emotional issues, and the other student bullies him because it is easy. The former student has begun saying really concerning things under his breath. And I have done nothing about it. I am a horrible teacher. How can I say I really love them when I let something like that continue? What if something happens? What if they get into a fight — or one of them seeks revenge in some way? And I could have stopped it?
I felt horrible.
I thought about lots of other gifts too – good things sprinkled throughout my day – but each time, I immediately thought about a way I had failed.
I stopped in the middle of prayer and was like, “Whoah. This isn’t supposed to be happening, is it?”
I tried again. But it happened again, almost immediately.
After a while, I finally said, “Okay, God. I’m sorry. I’m going to just go to sleep now.”
It was strange and kind of disturbing.
A few days later, during our bimonthly bible study, I brought this up to my friends. One of them came up to me right before leaving and said the exact same thing has happened to her while trying to pray the Examen. And she said quite simply, “That’s not God, Maura. That’s the Accuser.”
The Accuser? Oh yeah, right. The devil. Really?
She continued, “God is gentleman, and he is very kind with us. Often I just say, ‘Lord, please show me where I could have served you better today. Where do you want me to improve?’ It’s often in places I never expected. And he is always gentle. That other feeling — that does not come from Him. Discouragement, despair — that’s not God.”
Her words were so helpful to me. I prayed that night, and the same thing started happening again, but then I just redirected my attention to God. “God, you are a gentleman, and you are much more merciful to me than I could ever be.” It was kind of a struggle, but it helped to realize that some of those thoughts weren’t coming from God.
Funny how I’m teaching my students about The Inferno, and yet forgetting that the evil one is real and wants to sabotage our efforts and discourage us.
Pope Francis says the same. All the time. He’s always referring to the devil and how tricky he is. None of our bad, self-abasing thoughts come from God. Many of them may come from ourselves. But sometimes they come from the outside.
On that note:
That night I couldn’t (or didn’t) finish my Examen, I picked up a book to get my mind off of it.
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson.
I finished it that night because I couldn’t sleep.
It’s so good. So, so good. Please do yourself a favor and read it.
I wish I could leave you certain of the images in my mind, because they are so beautiful that I hate to think they will be extinguished when I am. Well, but again, this life has its own mortal loveliness. And memory is not strictly mortal in its nature, either. It is a strange thing, after all, to be able to return to a moment, when it can hardly be said to have any reality at all, even in its passing. A moment is such a slight thing. I mean, that its abiding is a most gracious reprieve. (Robinson, Gilead)
“A man can know his father, or his son, and there might still be nothing between them but loyalty and love and mutual incomprehension.” (Ibid)
Lastly, a great article over at Ignatius Insight about suffering and art:
You can read the issue for free, or choose to contribute a $3.00 donation to support the wonderful things they are starting there.
A taste from my article on my FAVORITE rosary mystery:
The mutual confiding between these two women of the mystery of new life hidden within them profoundly illustrates theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar’s description of the proper human disposition toward truth. Balthsar talks about how truth is very much expressed in relationship: it requires “unveiling” and “receptivity” (cf. Balthasar Theo-Logic). Mary certainly unveils her special relationship with God to Elizabeth, as being “the mother of the Lord”—a truth that perhaps has not yet been revealed even to her betrothed Joseph. And Elizabeth is actually able to intuit this as soon as Mary greets her at the door! (Shea, “The Visitation: A Reflection” Spiritual Uprising Magazine May 2014)
For more information on the Spiritual Uprising publication and Up Ministries, check out the website: