Monday, November 18, 2013

There is Nothing Wrong With Being Average

I am very irked by this newfound idea that all students have to be AP students.

I recently received an e-mail from a very elated superintendent sharing our success as a school because of our high enrollment in AP classes and our high AP test scores. Bravo to us!

I also received a giant, freshly color printed brochure in the mail that was perhaps an advertisement for our school district, but was reminiscent of a proud mother's brag book.

Don't get me wrong; I am also very proud of my school district's accomplishments in the world of Advanced Placement (AP). But what I'm struggling with is the very notion of "AP" in itself.

Lately, I've noticed that students are basing most of their high school class choices on these designated AP classes. Students choose to take these AP classes by parental push or by general popularity, and not by genuine interest. They hear distant rumors that it "looks good on a college application" or that it will take the place of a college credit. Some students take the class to brag that they survived it; while others take it because they've heard it was an easy A.

I am not a college acceptance liaison, so I cannot pretend to speak for them here. Perhaps the two letters "A-P" next to a class title on a transcript truly impresses them to the point of acceptance, I can't say. What I can say is that many students take the AP class in high school, pass the test, and find that the credit is completely arbitrary in their college experience. Some colleges won't accept an AP credit in their own particular grand schemes, while other students find that the major they choose in college does not align with their past AP experiences, thus making their earned credit unnecessary.

My struggle is this: students are choosing to take AP classes because of a promised college reward, and not because of a genuine interest, passion or desire to extend themselves in that area. And the school district is OKAY with this. In fact, they encourage it. They brag about high levels of AP class enrollments. It is as if they are saying it's okay that we have 95 kids enrolled in AP classes who are apathetic about the subject and are only enrolled in order to gain some supposed "reward" because that looks better printed on a fancy color brochure than having only 35 kids enrolled.

So what does this do for those 35 students who truly do care about the subject and are actually academically capable of exploring it on a deeper level?

To me, this is reminiscent of the awful parenting idea that "every child is capable" and "every child should get a reward just for participating."

No. The fact is, some kids are smarter than others. Some kids are stronger at some subjects than others.  Some kids are more capable of academic rigor than others. And that's OKAY. By infusing our students with the idea that AP classes are necessary for future success, we are essentially leveling out our standards. We are making AP the "norm" rather than the exception, and this makes me sorry and sad for the students who have a genuine thirst for knowledge in the subject and a will to learn more about it.

Again, like I said, I am proud of my school district. I'm thankful to be teaching in an area where there is so much support for Advanced Placement classes. I just wish there was more realistic support for students. I wish parents, teachers, counselors would stop cramming the idea of the "star academic AP-college-bound student" in to kids' heads and start honing in on what kids are actually good at and how they can realistically be successful.

This all links back to the moral I have always adamantly stood by that, regardless of what every leader in academia tells you, college is not for everyone. The path to success is not such a one way, non-winding street.

It is our job as educators, to stop shoving these incredibly unique, gifted, individual students in to compact little mason jars of "AP college bound academic all-star" and start encouraging students to follow other paths.

If my toilet breaks, I would like a plumber who knows what he's doing to come fix it. I sure as hell don't care if he took any advanced placement classes in high school.

Note: Hats off to you, AP teachers. You do wonderful work and I truly admire what you do. This blog is written not to discredit your work by any means.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

4 Words I Just Don't Like

Hate's a strong word. So I'm not going to say that I hate these words, but I do cringe when I see them written and/or spoken.

Everyday - specifically, in a sentence such as this: "I bring a pencil to class everyday"

You can't just combine 2 words together whenever you want. There are RULES, people! You can only combine every and day when it is being used as an adjective, such as, "Students messing up the English language is an everyday occurrence in my life."


Really, the book was interesting? Tell me more! There are a hundred other words that are more specific than the word "interesting." To Kill a Mockingbird, for example, isn't interesting; it's a finely crafted, multi-faceted novel that exposes race relations in the United States. Twilight isn't interesting; it's a strange exploration in to the world of teenage vampire love. 50 Shades of Grey isn't interesting; it's a slightly uncomfortable, yet tantalizing view of the rarely discussed world of bondage and domination. Getting the point? The word interesting is the most non-interesting word you can choose to describe a novel...or anything, for that matter.


The actual definition of awesome is this: "inspiring an overwhelming feeling of reverence." Isn't that such a beautiful definition? Reverence, in case you didn't know, means admiration. We categorize a lot of things as awesome, when they might just be kind of, well...neat. It's time we brought the word "awesome" back to it's roots. Let's attempt to only use this word when we truly feel awed by something. For example, I am planning on going to Ireland with my boyfriend and his family over Spring Break, I expect the landscapes of the country to be truly awesome.


These words are synonymous when they simply mean "I didn't like it." Aren't we past 1998? Don't we realize that this is a derogatory term that should be categorized right up there with the n-word? I don't care if you are the least homophobic/most accepting person in the world. If you use the word "gay" to describe something you don't like, you are using it in a derogatory term. Get a dictionary. Or, hey, even cheaper, get a dictionary app on your phone. There are plenty of other words to choose from.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Top 10 Things That Will Forever Baffle Me About Teenagers no logical order...

10. They use the excuse "I didn't know it was due" regardless of the fact that I told them the due date multiple times, wrote it on the white board in 2 places, typed it on the assignment sheet, posted it on the high school's class pages website, and sent a Remind 101 text directly to their phones the night before.

9. Somehow they have "no time" for homework on the weekends because of overbooked schedules, yet they can complete an entire season of [insert TV show here] on Netflix on that SAME weekend.

8. They choose the best time to sharpen pencils, blow noses, throw away tiny pieces of trash, or hand me a late pass usually in the middle of a lecture I am giving to a class. (also, on a side note, according to a teenager, the BEST way to throw away a piece of paper is to a crumple it in to a ball and pretend they are making their pro basketball debut with the trash can as the basket. 9/10 times they miss and make an embarrassing excuse for their lack of paper-basketball skills)

7. The best time to ask "I was gone yesterday, what did I miss?" is in the middle of my lecture as well. I especially love when they raise their hand, and thinking they are going to add a bit of intelligent input I call on them, only to hear, "What'd I miss yesterday?"

6. They think I don't know when I am being derailed from the day's lesson. Trust me, kids, when I get on a rant about something (like a funny personal high school story) it's usually because I know the lesson plan I have for the day won't cover the whole class period.

5. They ask for extra credit when they have literally done the bare minimum that was asked of them, i.e, "I turned my homework in on time, do I get extra credit?"

4. The likeliness that their computer/printer will "break" or "won't work" the night before a paper is due is 10 times that of the average person (for some strange reason).

3. On a more light-hearted note, no matter what age--freshmen through seniors--they are completely motivated by an arbitrary system I have created called "cool points" where, if I deem something a student does as "cool" they can write their name on the "cool point board." That's it. No extra credit. No candy. Just their name on a board:

2. They try ridiculous schemes in order to hide their cell phones from me. There's the old "backpack on the desk" to hide the cellphone in their hand, or the phone in their giant text books which they just happen to be reading with the textbook propped vertically on the table, and of course, the classic cellphone in the lap. The best is "my mom is texting me, can I text back?"

1.  Regardless of the grade, they will forever be confused and transfixed by the idea of the paragraph. "How many sentences is a paragraph, Miss B?" They are convinced that the amount of sentences has increased since middle school.  It doesn't matter what the assignment is, I must always set specific sentence guidelines.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Top 10 Musings

10. It is October 23rd and 35 degrees out yet I refuse to wear a jacket outside just because it is only October 23rd. I'm not sure what this is proving or why I feel I have to smite the weather, when really I am the only one who suffers. But it's the principle, people, the principle.

9. My 6th grade teacher gave my mom a Halloween story I had written in her class. I read it aloud to my sophomores and they thought I had written it in high school. That right there has to be some proof that I was destined to be a writer, right? Although, in the "About Me" on the back of the book (which I'm pretty sure wasn't even part of the assignment) I wrote that I wanted to be a singer and an actress when I grew up.

8. Pumpkin spice everything is amazing. It's common knowledge. I will buy a $4.50 Grande Pumpkin Spice Latte with Skim at Starbucks once a week minimum.  But the actual pumpkin spice itself is $5.99 for a tiny jar at Target. A price I refuse to pay. I'm realizing now how messed up my financial priorities are.

7. On the note of finances, I have saved exactly $127 for my trip to Ireland over spring break. This is a major accomplishment for me.

6. This is the first year I have a firm handle on my teaching and a mediocre grip on my classroom management. And it feels. so. good.

5. I am currently very obsessed with Mindy Kaling and devoured her autobiography in one day. I get these weird obsessions where I truly believe I am a kindred spirit with someone I don't even know. Her thoughts and actions are mirror images of my own. I've even thought about dedicating an entire blog entry to her but I feared it was too soon. It will happen. One day I will explain to you all the reasons why she is my kindred spirit and an amazing woman, but today is not that day.

4. I don't think I can watch another teenager take another selfie during class work time without throwing their phone at the window. I just can't.

3. I'm making myself write this list simply so I write something. I want to be a reflective person even on the days I don't feel like reflecting. Tonight was one of those nights. So I thought about what I make my students do when they don't feel like writing and I tell them to make a list instead. This is my not-really-in-the-mood-to-write list.

2. I'm very happy about the "relaunch" of my blog, but very sad that somehow a lot of my old blog pics went missing. Oh well, at least the words are still there.

1. Tomorrow I will wake up, and it will be Thursday. What a lovely thought.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Me and Shakespeare

I love Shakespeare.

But I didn't always.

When I was in 9th grade english class we had to read Romeo & Juliet. We read the parts aloud. Our teacher listened as we botched the language, giggled any time a character said "ho" and stumbled over the poetic verses. On days I was feeling especially chipper and daring, I would volunteer to read a part. But on most days, I just listened and hoped my eyes would stay open and my mind would stay focused. While Juliet compared Romeo to the starry night sky, I daydreamed about what my Homecoming dress would look like and what hairstyle options might match it.

I had no idea what was going on.

All I knew was that Romeo was an 18 year old dude who wanted to get with a 13 year old chick. That was like a senior getting with an 8th grader. Gross.

Later in high school we read Julius Caeser, and even later, MacBeth, but as a lover of English class and the beauty of words and language, I could not embrace old man Willy. No. I despised it. Nothing Shakespeare wrote made sense to me. Nothing sparked that sense of wonder and awe that I felt when reading my other favorite authors.

I thought I'd be done with him when high school was over. I felt like I had "done my time." I knew the basic premise of a few Shakespearean plays, I could hold my own whenever the "Shakespeare" category came up in a trivia game, and I understood that a rose by any other name would, indeed, smell as sweet.

But then came college.

The guy just kept coming back into my life.

In my senior year, I enrolled, not by choice but by requirement, in a class called simply "Shakespeare." I was a little nervous, but at least I knew the professor. I had gotten a B+ in an introductory literature course I took with her as a sophomore (a rare occasion when I got a B in an english class--I was not a fan of "Faustus"). She was a young, vibrant redhead who, unlike most English professors, had a wardrobe that actually followed some fashion trends, but a scholarly air that made her respected by her students. According to the boys in class (I think there were 4) she could even be categorized as "hot." For some reason because she was young and fashionably sensible, I felt I could immediately connect with her. Here was a smart woman with the ability to pick out a cute outfit. Who knew that was possible?

But her fashion savvy was trumped by her absolute passion for Shakespeare. This woman gushed about him. It wasn't in a crazy way, it was more in way that told me she really knew her stuff and she was determined to make me leave the class with at least an ounce more of appreciation for the guy.

We read the Henriad (3 plays, mind you) and King Lear. I wrote a bunch of 2 page essays that were harder than any 10 page essay I ever had to write. She wanted me to dissect the tiniest portion of each play. She wanted me to be succinct and precise. She didn't care about some creative, attention-grabbing, cheesy introduction; it was all about getting to the point. That meant actually thinking about the words Shakespeare wrote rather than just regurgitating a few theme statements that sounded smart, but were actually just vacant cliches.

In other words, I was forced to examine Shakespeare with such a microscopic lens that I actually started understanding what made the guy so awesome. I started to get it.  I learned that he was a genius at manipulating words. That he created a bunch of popular phrases that we still use today. That he was a master at puns. That he dotted most of his plays with sexual innuendo and dirty jokes. That he created intentionally dynamic characters with complicated lives and even more complicated internal struggles. That he modeled his plots after major historical events but gave life to people who would have just been names in a textbook. And most importantly, that he set a standard for what literature, what words and writing, could truly be. His works display the limitless power of language.

I left the class a Shakespeare believer.

And now, I get to teach Shakespeare every single year. People always ask me "what is your favorite thing to teach?" and without hesitation, I always say Romeo & Juliet. I take the subject as seriously as my professor did when she taught my class. It is my craft. I am proud of it and I am dorkily eager to share it. I take it as a challenge, every spring, to turn my 9th graders in to believers.

 I walk them step-by-step through the play. I show them every translated movie version available. I put foam dollar store swords in their hands and tell them to reenact every dramatic Montague vs. Capulet brawl. I giggle immaturely and encourage them to giggle at the hidden dirty jokes--like every time the phrase "my naked sword is out" pops up in Act I. I challenge them to question Juliet. I allow them to be annoyed at Romeo. I ask them to question fate. I get them to think.

I'm not saying I work wonders on every freshman. Kids will still hate Shakespeare, because it's hard to read and difficult to relate to, but I do think every kid I teach at least understands that Romeo & Juliet is more than just a play about a creepy 18 year-old hitting on an 8th grader.

Every time I read the play I learn something new; I become more amazed at its construction and more awestruck by its depth. Maybe I am fooling myself into thinking I can actually make my students become Shakespeare "believers" but that's okay. I'm still grateful I get the opportunity every Spring to share my love and somewhat newly-found passion for him.

And that's my story about me and Shakespeare.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Spring Break Revival

I haven't written since September.

And to be honest, I barely remember writing in September.

Tonight, I am feeling very inspired. Inspired by myself. This might be very narcissistic, or it could be the purest form of inspiration possible. Either way, I felt compelled to fire up the old blog again.

I read my post in September (the most recent one...scroll down) and felt very proud of my own wisdom. I don't believe at the time I felt superior to that wisdom though. I know that I wasn't really writing that to the "new teacher Maddie," I was writing that to the current Maddie. It was a reaffirmation of what I know and what I constantly need to remind myself in order to keep on doing what I am doing every day.

I fear lately that I have lost my purpose in my job. I have become bogged down by the politics...the drama...the everyday nuances and pet peeves that force me to become a crabby, unforgiving, non-respecting teacher. I have begun to see my students as a names on a roster I have to "check off" then send in to the attendance lady. Nothing more. Nothing less.

It could be because this is March. It is one of the most difficult times to trudge on as a teacher. Students are comfortable with you so they are whiney and teachers have cabin fever so they are fussy. I begin my day in the darkness of a pre-sunrise morning. I teach in four walls of hard, cement, windowless brick. I end my day in the post-sunset emptiness of the night. It's a dark existence. Seeing sunshine is an energizing experience, albeit a very rare one. My point is very easy to become depressed and hopeless.

Perhaps I wasn't even feeling depressed, though, until I realized how positive and optimistic I used to be about teaching. This was not very long ago. At one time the power of putting a book into a child's hand and changing their lives was enough to keep me waking up every day. The thrill of seeing a student's face light up when they contributed something meaningful and thoughtful to a conversation was enough to keep me going. I want to go back there; no, I need to go back there. I need to remember what it is that I love about teaching and what inspires me to do what I love.

So this is a cheers to my spring break, and a promise to myself that I will rediscover the beauty and wonderment of my job. Because I do love it. It is an amazingly rewarding profession. It is something I want to dedicate myself to for the rest of my life. And I am absolutely sure of that.