Wednesday, January 30, 2013

I Don't Want to Grade Anymore: An Open Letter to my Students

Before we get started, READ THIS*(It's short, I promise.)


Good. Now let's talk.

Ya know how I'm always saying that you are more than a number? That article up there is what I mean, only Paul Cancellieri said it better than I ever have. I'll tell you what; every student I teach from now on will be reading his article in the first week of school! They need to hear it.

I hope this helps you understand why I get so visibly tense when people ask things like, "is this gonna be on the final?" or "is this graded?" and other such questions. It's not that the questions annoy me, and it's nothing personal. I totally understand why you ask them, you have every right to do so. It's just that we're speaking two different languages. 

You see, for you (and I know this does not apply to ALL of you), it's difficult to see the value of an assignment beyond a grade. It's not your fault; it's the way you're built. I'm sure there's some brain research to support my argument, but all science aside, let's just take a look at the way things work around here. 

Like Cancellieri says, you have been incentivized for basically your whole lives (you're thinking about Dan Pink now, aren't you?), so of course that's what you value. But what you need to understand is that a grade can only do so much. Like swear words, grades only have any sort of meaning because we say they do. 

I didn't get a grade for doing this, but you'd
better believe I worked hard to be able to do it!
Now I'm not saying that you shouldn't receive some sort of communication to let you know how you're doing. I'm not even saying that there shouldn't be grades. We live in a society of competition, and I can see the value in that. I'm not all that competitive in general, but I totally get how it motivates people, and I'm not judging.

All I'm saying is that there are is (is? are? someone help; I'm having a sub-verb agreement dilemma!) more than one way to communicate to you how you are doing. A comment on your blog that tells you what you did well and sometimes gives you a friendly suggestion is still a form of assessment. A rubric with descriptions instead of numbers is another one. Even a quick conversation in the hallway can give us both important information about where you are and where you need to be. And I have news for you: you aren't perfect. And you're not expected to be.

If teachers were asking you to do something you already know how to do, it would a waste of everyone's time. What would you learn from that? Our real successes come through our failures, and we need to learn to be ok with that. So you didn't do as well as you wanted to on a test or quiz. So what? All that means is that you have more to learn. 

The fact of the matter is that you need practice at things before you're good at them. How odd would it be if I decided I wanted to play football, so I went right to the NFL and asked to try out? Don't you think I would need a little work before I'd make it to the big leagues? (Did I just mix my metaphors??) It's the same thing with school; you need time to process, develop skills, and reflect upon what you've learned. If you do just magically understand every concept presented to you right away, that's great, but the odds of that are slim to none. Don't be so hard on yourself because of some number that society deems to be meaningful. Your sleep, health, happiness, and twinkle in your step are not worth it. I know I say it too much already, but seriously, you are so much more than a number. 

Like Mr. Cancellieri says, a grade is a measurement, not an achievement. Of course you should be proud of yourself for your grades, but not because you GOT them...because you EARNED them. Reward yourself when you've done your best and worked hard. Give yourself a pat on the back when you have mastered a concept or skill, regardless if there's a number attached. Because guess what? If you just get out of your own way, the grades will follow anyway. 

*Shout-out to Em Kumo for being the one whose blog gave me the idea for starting off with making my readers do some work right away.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Humanities FTW!

I know, I know. It's a science school. I get it.

It's called BIOTECHNOLOGY High School, not Englishland or Writing World or escuela de ingles! I mean really, they have a whole other place called COMMUNICATIONS High School; can't they just stick to the reading and writing over there and leave us scientists alone? Right? 


When I read Michael Bérubé's post entitled "What will you do with an English Degree? Plenty," I found myself nodding, smiling, jumping up and down on my couch, and screaming things like "heck yeah!" and "I know, right?!" and "amen, brotha!" 

Needless to say, my cats were perplexed.

It's so true, though; I can't even tell you how many times I've heard the exact question to which Bérubé referred: "what in the world are you going to do with that?" I also got, "oh, you're an English major? I guess you'll teach English, then" quite a lot. They seemed underwhelmed. 

Even Biotech alums understand the value 
of a humanities background. Click to enlarge.
(Disclaimer: At the time, I was totally against teaching English, or teaching anything, for that matter. When people asked me if I was going to teach, I'd vehemently deny any possibility of it ever happening <Insert inane comment about irony here>.)

It's not the questions themselves that were upsetting (other than my aforementioned disdain for the notion that I might one day become a teacher); it was the implications that went along with them. As Bérubé notes, so many people believe "that degrees in the humanities are 'boutique' degrees, nice ornaments that serve no practical purpose in the real world." I'm so tired of hearing that line of thinking! Yes, technically speaking, you can cure cancer with science, not English. But let's just say you have this major breakthrough in your lab. You want to tell the world about it! Everyone's gonna be so excited! But when you write up your results, people don't react the way you expect. 

That journal you knew would be thrilled to publish your work? Rejected. The grant you applied for so you could fund further trials? Denied. The tweet you sent to reach a wide audience? No retweets. But why???

Listen to me. Any job, and I mean ANY JOB, will require some level of communication, and you need to be equipped with the ability to analyze complex material and convey your ideas in a clear manner. It ain't easy, and it takes practice, but I promise you, it is worth it. 

Just ask John Green: 

You need to be able to think and analyze. Does it matter if you remember exactly what it was that the Tralfamadorians thought about time? No, of course not! But going through the process of having your own ideas challenged will benefit you in so many ways. When you read, you think. When you write, you think some more. When you think about things, you understand the world in a different way, and having that understanding of the world will help you succeed in anything you do. 

Now get out there and pick up a book already!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Freebie week!

Even teachers need a little balance in their lives. This is my freebie week for marking period 2. :D

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

We Jersey Girls Have Got to Stick Together (PB)

I apologize in advance for what I'm about to tell you. I am well aware that this will make you do things like roll your eyes, chuckle to express your derision, and shake your head and think, "and I'm supposed to trust THIS lady with my education?!" Nonetheless, I can't hide it anymore.

I am in love with Jerseylicious.

It's true; I really just can't help it! Seriously, it's one of my favorite shows, despite the hundreds of other options on the plethora of networks available these days. I could be watching Breaking Bad, Walking Dead, or Game of Thrones, which all sound like they'd have way more substance and style. But you know what? Sometimes I don't need substance and style! Sometimes I just want to watch the claws come out.

I know there are those who love the show for the drama between Olivia and Tracy, but that's not it for me. It's not even because Gayle's salon is called The Gatsby! (no relation, as far as I can glean.) If I'm being honest, I really don't know what it is about the show that makes me so happy to check my DVR on Sunday nights. I just catch myself looking forward to each episode so I can find out what happens next. Even as I write, I'm getting more and more happy because I just checked the show's page on Style's site and saw that the new season starts January 28! Woo hoo! This is especially exciting, considering that the spinoff Glam Fairy just ended this past week (I like that one almost as much).

These colors aren't the best for an
everyday look, but I did enjoy
them for Halloween.
Maybe it's just that, despite the fact that I almost never wear any to school, I love makeup. I still don't know how to do the perfect smoky eye, but I get by when I need to. Recently I've watched a couple of Alexa's tutorials, but she she is a little much for me. I don't know how these girls manage with all the bronzer and lashes; that would require waking up earlier, and we all know that isn't happening for me!

So anyway, back to Jerseylicious. I think that the real reason I love the show so much is that I feel like I know the people on it. Would I want to cross paths with Tracy in a dark alleyway? Probably not. Would I borrow an outfit from Olivia? Definitely not. But for some reason, I am so connected to the people on the show. I beamed with joy when Tracy and Olivia joined forces against their assistants in the last season, and my heart broke with Gigi's when she and Frankie broke up (again).

Jersey Shore, you can have your Snookie and Situation. I'll take my smokey eye and leopard print any day of the week!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

youz kneads gud grammar (CRR)

A while back, I read this article and immediately posted it on my class Facebook page. If I remember correctly, it generated a good deal of discussion about grammar, although some people seemed to like it more for the fact that the URL ended with "poo." But then again, who wouldn't?

This morning, I was scanning through my Twitter feed, and I saw a link to this follow-up article on the Huffington Post. At first, I thought that Kyle Wiens, CEO of iFixit, was being a little harsh when he remarked that not knowing the difference between "two" and "to" makes someone "fundamentally incompetent." It's no secret that I'm a bit of a grammar snob (I think it even says so over there on the right-hand side of this page!), but even I think that's a bit much.

But then he made it about values, and it all made sense to me.

Wiens noted that "[they] need a serious commitment to attention to detail. [Their] grammar test shows [them] the early warning signs that a person doesn't have the same values [they] have." If you think about it, it makes sense. If someone submits a cover letter or résumé with typos, it doesn't mean that she is stupid. Even I can admit that. It does, however, demonstrate that either A. she doesn't care enough to take the time to do things right, B. she doesn't know how to use resources like the Internet or a friend to check her work, or C. the way she presents herself simply doesn't matter to her. I know that I'll never be a CEO, but if I were, I surely would only want to hire someone who would fall under D: none of the above.

Companies have values, and when they hire people, they look for employees whose values are in line with their own. If a company is known for its ability to get a job done, and get it done well, hiring managers will look to find people who care enough to be diligent and dedicated. They want someone who will be a representative of their brand. If an applicant doesn't even take the time to represent herself well, why would an employer think that she'd represent the brand any better?

I get it. We live in a world of abbreviations, acronyms, and emoticons, and sometimes it's easy to be lax when we speak and write. And there's nothing wrong with that, so long as it's the right time and place. I'm the first one to forget about capital letters or go overboard with abbreviations when I'm chatting or texting, but I also know well enough to keep that type of writing where it belongs. When it's something that could determine my future, you'd better believe I'll make sure it's write!

(see what I did their they're there?)

Monday, November 26, 2012

Make Good Art (SSR)

Students (and parents) always ask me why we read so much dark literature in class. My response is usually that when people are happy and in love, they're not sitting home writing about it; they're out being happy and in love! I definitely think that has something to do with it, but John J. Ross, MD says it better in his blog post entitled "10 Writers' Mental and Physical Maladies." Ross brings his medical background to the table as he discusses the likely causes of the unusual behavior that classic authors exhibited. Did syphilis beget Shakespeare's shaky signature? Did Hawthorne's undiagnosed social anxiety disorder eventually lead to his demise? Ross seems to think so.

So how did the emotional and physical issues authors had contribute to the dark nature of their work? Are they unhappy because they write, or do they write because they're unhappy? I know that I for one tend to write in my diary only when I'm upset; if you read that thing, you'd think I'm a hot mess! It's all doom and gloom, gloom and doom. But that doesn't necessarily mean that I'm ALWAYS bawling my eyes out, obviously. Just like anyone else, I have good days and bad days, and when I'm having a good day, I feel much less of a need for catharsis, which accounts for the lack of puppy dogs and rainbows in my margins.

Ross posits that "literary genius is more likely to arise from disappointment and chagrin than comfort and complacency; the wealthy and content have no need of imagination." Makes sense, doesn't it? Just ask Oscar Wilde. It's when we face our greatest challenges that we find the motivation to come up with solutions to our problems, wouldn't you say?

A wise man once said that pain demands to be felt. That's part of being a human being. So when pain starts throwing a hissy fit and trying to knock you down, when life is hard, when things go wrong, there's sometimes only one thing left to do: make good art.