The McManual

Blogging my little heart out in poetry and prose.

Category: teaching

Goodnight, Ert and Jim.


In the last ten days, I have lost my dear father-in-law and my mentor from high school and college.  It has been an emotional time, there have been a funeral and a memorial, lots of connections with people I had, until this week, lost touch with, and lots of new connections with family members I had never met before this.

If you knew these two people, it would probably seem strange to read me writing about them both in the same essay as they were so very different from each other in what they did for a living – one was a teacher, and the other was a man of many hats, but generally a salesman.  They came from different generations, and had different takes on most things, but I’m sure they would have gotten along tremendously.

One thing that they had in common was that they both were larger than life.  They knew what they had – that life is precious.  The could both tell stories for hours and make you laugh and laugh.  They were both mesmerizing.  And they both were universally loved.

What I loved about each of them is that I always felt like I was seen.  I was an interesting person to them.  My ideas mattered, and I was more able to articulate them through knowing them.  Ert, especially, helped me with this.  I was in his Speech class in high school, and I took it so, so seriously.  I remember writing and rewriting my speeches.  I wanted them to be perfect, to strike the right tone, to say the right things.  I never took any of my other assignments in high school so seriously.  Any of them.  Never.

Now I am probably taking this blog too seriously.  I have started it several times over the past two days – it seems impossible to strike the right tone and tell you exactly why I loved these two people so much.  But maybe it’s not important that it be perfect, maybe I have only to say that I did love them both, and that both of them have shaped my life in ways that they will never know, and that I will try to be as natural and wonderful and loving as they both were.

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9/30 – NaBloPoMo09 Teaching in America


Howdy. So I have been asked by a Brazilian educator to write about what it’s like to teach high school in the United States.

I’ll try. I don’t think my experience is typical – I have taught Drama in Florida, Drama and Reading in Chicago, Illinois, and Drama, Reading and English in Minnesota. I worked in large schools (2,000 kids or so) for the first 6 years; one year as a substitute. The past 4 years I have worked as the only English teacher in a very small school – with an average of 75 students.

I think that if a student here knows about the different options, he would be able to find a school that suits him. Of course, that depends on where he lives, too. We have something called ‘school choice’ here, which means that if a student doesn’t want to go to their neighborhood school, he can go to another school. Usually there is transportation for those students. A lot of people have widely differing opinions about school choice – some argue that it’s great because it helps students integrate racially and stay away from situations where a poor neighborhood has a correspondingly poor neighborhood school. Others claim it is a way for white parents to send their kids to less integrated schools.  This is a very complicated and controversial topic that perhaps I will research and try to go into in more depth at a later date.

Personally, I think school choice is good if it helps students voice their opinion about their neighborhood school. If the kids get a say (with their parents) about which school they will attend, it’s almost like a vote. Competition to be a better school and attract students seems to help ensure better schools for the kids. And that’s what it should all be about.

There are some people who also think that we should be working to make sure that all high schools are offering the ‘same’ education across the country. This is not happening. Each state has standards that their Board of Education writes up and publishes, but the standards are left to local interpretation. I think this is a double edged sword. I believe strongly in ‘teacher autonomy’ – that a teacher should have the power to make decisions in the classroom for his or her students. But I wish there was some sort of a consensus, too, officially, about what might be ideal.

Now maybe I’m just belying my ignorance here, but I have never seen a national resource for curriculum that could be used at the high school level – at least not for Engish/Language Arts. Instead, it seems that I have worked to interpret the Minnesota standards on my own and implement them into a curriculum. This also leads to me repeating bits and pieces of what I was taught in high school and making up new curriculum myself. I’m fine with doing that, but I would love to be able to check myself against a true standard.

I think a lot of the problem with that is there are a lot of companies that want to write and sell curriculum. If the government put together a really good resource, I suppose they would be limiting free enterprise’s chances to make money.  Again, I think that the needs of the students should be the most important.

Well, I think I introduced some rough ideas about a lot of interrelated topics in this post.  I will try to refine my thinking and continue to write on the topic.  As always, I would love to see this turn into a discussion so if you have any comments or questions, please be sure to post them.  Sheila

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