The McManual

Blogging my little heart out in poetry and prose.

Tag: teaching high school

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


ROY G. BIV is Wrecking the Rainbow

Children gaze with lazy imprecision
At the results of a thousand years
Since the first discovery of a prism.

Locked inside, warm dreams are lost
in the cold distance of stars in space.
A poster lays bare human knowledge,
painstakingly gathered in stolen glances.

Once thought to be a gift from God
a rainbow shimmer on the horizon
kept the dream alive.

Roy is a lonely explorer
sputtering his useless seed over the sea of
seventeen-year-olds no longer able to explore new lands.
Forced to act as though they are curious,
and please teachers by attempting to explore and make new
something that was captured for them in kindergarten.

“forget everything you know.”

Forget Roy.
Nothing so beautiful should be reduced to a short-hand memory device
to be vomited at a teacher’s convenience.
Forget Roy.

Forget IQ.
Your intelligence is not a number
to be belched out by a machine after it consumes you.
Your intelligence is no one else’s accomplishment.
Your rainbow is not a secret key locked in you and you are no prism.
Don’t let anyone steal what is yours by shining a light through you.
You are the rainbow.
You are the refraction of everything around you, and you are your own;
Your own order and your own beauty.

Rainbows are all basically the same, they just occur in different settings.  What if we, a chemical composition, are as consistent as the prism in our output, what if that proves some consistent human emotion, some order to us, simply by how we’re made.  Does blue feel green being so close to yellow’s brightness, yet so far away, a border uncrossed in history?

These questions never occurred to me in astronomy class. I partly blame myself for being unable to see the obvious beauty contained in the experiments, but I forgive myself, too, because the beauty was so well hidden between the lines of lab notes.

– McMahon C 2003

Balancing emotions with academics at school

Hi. I thought I’d throw in a quick one.  The dog is outside doing his business, it’s three am, and I haven’t written for two days.  It was a busy day at school, we threw a holiday party for the students, it was fun and it went well.  I like planning days like today.  There was a little chaos, but I don’t think anything untoward happened, and it’s good for the students to have some fun together at school.

It’s so hard to keep a balance between having fun, learning, being nice to each other, and moving forward academically.  I will have to explore  that one later, when I feel up to it, not on a fly by night entry – but I will confess that I find it very difficult sometimes to balance everything.  Either I get all about academics, which makes me too uptight, or all about emotions, which makes me maybe too relaxed about academics.  But I do believe that you can’t learn at all if your emotions are raging out of control.  And one emotion that students have is stress – maybe a little stress is good, but I am constantly seeing kids “stress out” about school, and when they are in that state, are they actually learning?  I doubt it.

Anyway, it’s late, the dog is finally in, and if I don’t get as much sleep as I can at this point, I’m liable to be grumpy in class, and that wouldn’t be good on the last day before the holiday break.  I should tell you my theory about how much teacher can accomplish when they are stressed out… but I don’t want this to be a lesson in irony, so good night to you!  🙂 Sheila

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