A veteran teacher turned coach shadows 2 students for 2 days – a sobering lesson learned

Teachers, do read this post. It has been eye-opening explanation of why our freshman students get to us in such a completely zombified state.

Granted, and...

The following account comes from a veteran HS teacher who just became a Coach in her building. Because her experience is so vivid and sobering I have kept her identity anonymous. But nothing she describes is any different than my own experience in sitting in HS classes for long periods of time. And this report of course accords fully with the results of our student surveys. 

I have made a terrible mistake.

I waited fourteen years to do something that I should have done my first year of teaching: shadow a student for a day. It was so eye-opening that I wish I could go back to every class of students I ever had right now and change a minimum of ten things – the layout, the lesson plan, the checks for understanding. Most of it!

This is the first year I am working in a school but not teaching…

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How to Write an Essay on Literature

In a private email, I was asked about the steps one needs to take to write a research article or essay on a work of literature. I have decided to share my procedure here. Of course, everybody has their own procedure but I invented this one when I was an undergrad and, since then, I have published 13 articles (+ 2 submitted for publication) and a book using this method. So the method has been proven to work. If people want to share their own procedures in the comments, I will be very interested in reading them.

1. First, choose a work of literature that when you read it disturbed you in some way. When you read a book and it stays with you, making you think about it, wondering, needing to discuss it with people, when a book left you with unanswered questions, this means you have found the primary source for your project.
2. Then you go back to the book, reread it, and underline everything that bothers you. The parts you underline are the ones that you feel are important. You don’t need to be able to articulate just yet why they are important. These parts should be like itches that you scratch by underlining them.
3. After you finish your second reading, look at the parts you underlined. What do they have in common? Is there a single question that unites them? This will be the question that your essay will answer. Write it out on a cue card and place where you can see it the entire time you will be writing. Every sentence in your essay should lead to answering this specific question and none other.
4. Now keep going over the quotes you have gathered from your primary source, looking for an answer to your question in them. At this point, abstain from consulting any external sources of information (called secondary sources.) It is still too early for them. Everything you need right now is located inside your primary source.
5. After you have found your answer, write it down in one complete sentence. 
6. Now create a plan of how you will construct the argument leading from your question to your answer. Each point in the plan should be supported by some of the quotes you have found. Remember, every reading of a text has a right to exist if it fulfills the following requirements:
a) It is based on the totality of textual evidence (meaning that you cannot pretend not to notice inconvenient quotes);
b) It is logically consistent;
c) You can support it with specific textual evidence.
7. Now is the time to see what other people have been saying about this book. Consult the MLA bibliography, WorldCat and JSTOR databases. Look at the most recent scholarship on the subject first.
8. If what you were going to say about the book has been said already, don’t panic. This only means you need to take your analysis one step further. Try to take your idea and turn it around. If everybody has been saying, for instance, that this is a novel that discusses religious intolerance, try to argue that it is not about religious intolerance (this was what I did in my first article, and it has been wildly successful.)
9. Remember that quotes from secondary sources only exist to support your argument or for you to argue with them.
10. Adjust your essay plan to include the secondary sources.
11. And now you are ready to write.

Midterm Time

It’s midterm time, and that means I’m completely exhausted. I work a lot harder during the administration of tests than I do during regular classes. Since I don’t believe in the punitive form of testing, I have to make sure that every test serves the goal for which the students gather in my classroom. Assigning grades cannot be that goal, of course. Sure enough, everybody’s teaching philosophy is different but people who use tests to catch students out in the greatest number of mistakes possible puzzle me.

So during tests (midterms, quizzes, final exams, etc.) I work with each student individually, pointing out mistakes and problematic areas, suggesting vocabulary or stylistic improvements. If a student forgets a term, I help her to remember it. If a student doesn’t know the Spanish translation for a word, I give it to him. Contrary to the training that the language teachers always get (“Just tell the students that you are not a dictionary!”), I always say, “I’m your dictionary, so feel free to ask me for translations.” My slogan that everybody knows me for is “Don’t suffer in silence.” The best test, in my opinion, is a dialogue between the student and the teacher.

Of course, all this means that I’m running around the classroom like a headless chicken during every exam, making sure that I approach every student at least half a dozen times during each test.

I also wanted to share a really nice moment that happened to me yesterday. My TA who is helping me run my Advanced Grammar course is a native speaker of Spanish (which I am obviously not). During class, she got confused on a grammar point and asked me to explain. And I did. This was a quiet exchange but the students noticed. And I felt very good about myself.