Today was my first break from teaching since I started, so I think it's time I cataloged my victories and defeats for the year up until now.

Victory 1: I learned all the students' names within two weeks of class starting. This one was difficult, since I hadn't met any of the students before this year. I'll call a student by the wrong name once a week, but I'm going to chalk that up to faulty wiring rather than not knowing the actual names.

Victory 2: Students occasionally enjoy the warm-ups I prepare for them, and they tend to get invested in answering the questions correctly. I have become the master of warm-ups, and I really think it helps the students remember the material better than they would otherwise. Plus, it gives me a chance to assess what they know, what they don't know, and what the hell they think they know.

Victory 3: My spirit is intact. Back when I was working at Mackubin Consolidated Widgets, my spirit was nearly broken. While I've worked at the Wobegone International School of Culinary Arts, my students have punched, kicked, stomped, and electrocuted my spirit, but it has brushed off all assaults. The joy in seeing them do something correctly is a fine salve for any spiritual wound.

Defeat 1: The students still respect Frau Funkenhaus much, much more than I. I'm not entirely sure what I could do to change this, but I'm going to spend the rest of the year trying to figure that out.

Defeat 2: I'm still staring down the barrel of a test-passing rate of about 65%. Some of my brightest students get Ds on tests. How is that possible? Among the myriad reasons, the ESL problem and the "don't give a flying rodent's posterior" reasons seem to stick out. Motivation is key, and I can't figure out how to motivate them. Reading comprehension is key, and I can't teach them how to read.

While there have been more defeats, I'm going to keep the list at two because I want this webberly blog thing to be upbeat and happy. At this point, I'm rocking a 3-2 record, and that'll get me in the playoffs in the NFC North.


I just realized I haven't written for awhile. The following post is heretofore known as "Exarcly--The Returnne" The extra NE is to make it fancy, like the Malt Shoppe.

Last week was homecoming week, and that meant that my students were a little more than rowdy, a little less than respectful. By the end of the week, I was being told "It's HOME-coming! We're not going to do any WORK."

I pondered these two assertions, and I came to the conclusion that they were definitely non-sequiturs. The first statement, "It's HOME-coming!" had no bearing on the second, "We're not going to do any WORK." Sadly, the climate of work has been chilly for days now, and it doesn't seem like a warm front is coming through any time soon.

I don't yet know how to get these students motivated to the point where they'll do their work, and that is something that I'm really having a tough time wrapping my mind around. Where I came from, when a teacher assigned work, you did it. Or, if you didn't do it, you copied it from someone who did. In all honesty, I'd rather have the students copying the assignments from those who did it, since that would mean that someone would have done something.

Sadly, this is not the case.

Last week, we gave the students 2 1/2 days to work on review worksheets. I cut my instruction down to the first fifteen minutes in class, which gave them nearly 40 minutes to work on their assignments. These assignments were not particularly difficult, and if the students had actually paid attention in class (a vain hope, I know), they'd have been able to complete them in approximately forty minutes. This would have left 40-60 minutes of socializing time, considering that they had about 80-100 minutes of work time in class to do the assignments.

Instead of using their 80-100 minutes in class productively, however, they spent their time trying to figure out who they should give "shout outs" to in the yearbook. Instead of asking for assistance from their teacher or fellow students, they wallowed in self-pity, because the teachers were being unfair by forcing them to do work.

Now, I don't want to sound cynical. I'm not cynical yet, I'm just astonished. I'm astonished that other teachers have allowed these students to progress through the grade levels with such a lax work ethic. I'm astonished that the parents of these students don't have some sort of interest in their children's education. I'm astonished that I've yet to yell at a student in anger. I'm astonished that they think we as teachers are imposing too much work on them, when kids in the suburbs receive two or three times the amount of work.

In all this astonishment, I take solace in the fact that there must be at least one or two students in my class who actually want to learn. I take solace in the fact that I've taught at least a few that math is one of the most important things you can know. I take solace in the fact that these students are seniors, and I won't have to deal with them again next year. Just kidding. That's a little old-school snark for you haters out there.


I have a problem.

Well, my students have a problem.

Well, I have a problem, and my students have a problem.

Actually, even my problems have problems.

The problem is that I can't give problems to my students, because they have a problems solving problems.

Here's the deal: In order to do physics, you have to understand how math works. You and I and a billion Chinese people don't think math is all that hard, but these students couldn't be more confused if we were using Roman numerals.

Velocity equals distance divided by time. V = d/t. If that is true, then it is also true that distance equals time times velocity. d = V x t. Since we know that is true, then time equals distance divided by velocity. t = d/v. Why is all of this true? Because math works that way. I mean, it's not even something that can be argued.

If v = 10, and d = 20, then t = 2. And that works for every version of the equation. 10 = 20/2. 20 = 10 x 2. 2 = 20/10. It's math. It works. It doesn't just work some of the time, it works every time.

Now, my students don't seem to want to believe that math is unchanging. Perhaps it's a consequence of transient living, of not knowing where your next meal will come from, or from not knowing if you'll see your mom or dad any time in the next few weeks. Maybe it's a symptom of our fractured national identity. Maybe it's just that they don't care. Either way, they have to learn math. Math math math. It works, every time.


What to do?

My students took a test yesterday, and they failed. They failed so inexorably bad that I couldn't even berate them for it. There was no way that they could fail so horribly and I not share some of the blame.

I didn't do the arithmetic on the stats about their tests, but I'm guessing the median score was approx. 22/40, the average was 19/20 and the mode was 18.

When I finished grading them, my stomach felt as sick as a choleric prostitute in Mumbai (Yes, that's the simile I'm using. Just go with it). And, much like a choleric prostitue in Mumbai, I spent a lot of time staring at the ceiling wishing what had just happened was just the etching of a nightmare on the inside of my skull.

How could Frau Funkenhaus and I failed so miserably in our instruction? I was very careful to look over the entire test and certify that every question was something that we had previously covered in class. I have been working on all of the warm-ups (the problems on the board that students are supposed to work on immediately upon entering the room), and I was fastidious and fanatical about making sure they were relevant to exactly what we were supposed to be studying.

My warm-ups, in general, have between 2 and 5 questions. The first question is a review from the lesson two days previous. The second question is generally a synthesis of the previous two days' lessons. The final questions are review of the previous day. I am always sure to be building upon their knowledge and attempting to expand it beyond its current level.

For example: We studied the base units for the SI system in the chapter. So, my warm-up for every day after that was always in SI units. We then studied density, and I wrote warm-ups that incorporated density into the problems until the end of the chapter. After that, we studied experimental error/percent error. I wrote warm-ups using SI units, which had questions about density, and the densities determined through the problem were compared to the accepted value of densities of certain elements, which were then used to determine percent error. Finally, we studied accuracy and precision, for which I used SI-units in density problems that had to determine percent error based on accepted values of densities in order to figure out if the various answers for the density problems were precise or accurate. It was all quite involved.

So: What did this show me?

Problem 1: My students don't know how to take tests.

Many of them do not even attempt word problems, even though they are not all ELL. I can understand it (though not condone it) for ELL students, but students who speak English should never do this. They are just lazy. In addition: most of them don't know how to look for what the question is asking. They determine what they think the question is asking, then they guess, since most of the time their answer isn't actually on the page.

It was astonishing to see a number of students do absolutely no arithmetic on their tests, even though there were a number of problems that required mathematics.

After reading all of the tests, I came to the determination that some students don't believe that the tests will actually give you fair questions. We had one question that seemed simple. It went something like:

There are three trials for an experiment below, which one is the most accurate? The percent errors are given

Then below it, there was a heading that said Percent Error, and below that there were three choices:

Trial 1: .05
Trial 2: .02
Trial 3: .01

A majority of my students got this question wrong. Half of them did not answer it. It was as though they thought there was some trick to it, some sort of alchemical formula that they had to pull from their headspaces in order to answer it. The answer, of course, is Trial 3, since THE PERCENT ERROR IS EASILY THE LOWEST. It's not even tricky, yet they couldn't figure it out.

Problem 2: Students don't know what's important.

I've made it a policy to write all important notes on the board in black pen. Whenever I pick up a black pen, I ask the students, "Why am I picking up a black pen?" I will continue to ask this question until I am satisfied that every student knows how important the black pen is.

Having looked over their notes, however, I've come to realize that they just don't know what they're supposed to study. Too often, they focus their attention on minutia to the detriment of all other information. It's just insanity.

Problem 3: They don't feel embarrassed when they do poorly.

This is the saddest of all the problems, because it's one that I might not be able to help them work on. If students don't have any stake in their education, what point is there in learning? What point is there to anything, if they don't take pride in doing well and, conversely, feel shame at doing poorly? This is a systemic problem at my school, a one which I'm going to have to think about for a long time before I'll be able to come up with an even halfway-satisfactory answer.

First use of the "Choleric Prostitutes" tag

Ah, Youth

There are words we say at home. There are words we say at church. There are words we say in private.

We say some words with friends. We say some words with family. We say some words with colleagues.

All words have their time and place. And there are some words we shouldn't say.

One of my students said those words that we shouldn't say. We were in the midst of a lesson about SI Units, and I was failing to control the class effectively. Frau Funkenhausen was out of the classroom this day, so I was flying solo.

Much like a lone top gun pilot flying over the fruited plains of this fair country, I was at least 30% in control of what I was doing. And then this bashful little barn owl unleashed a wonderful expression that made me question exactly why I was teaching her in the first place.

My little owl wondered aloud at the mental state of her teacher. She helpfully questioned if her teacher was one of the faithful departed. Or, was freezing, dark-hearted. Fleeing the garden? Let's just say it started with a f, had a middle "ing" and ended with a tarded.

As it stands, students are not supposed to question the mental capacity of their teacher in such a coarse manner. I'm going to say that approximately 100% of teachers do not have a developmental disability that results in lowered brain function. That's just not good policy.

My bashful little barn owl's claim about my mental fitness for educatifying was a real weight on my mind. I mean, if a girl who's so smart--I mean, she did use a swear word in a class in a school that frowns upon such things--calls me something -arded, I am going to worry. She's, what, 17 years old...she must know everything, as all teenagers do. Yes, her calling me such words was devastating to my ego. I had to slink around the classroom for the rest of the day (sans my little owl, of course, since she was definitely on her way to ISS). I was forced to contemplate my own intelligence, as any student who is smart enough to mouth off is obviously a good judge of character. In the end, I went home and ate gallons of ice cream to soothe the pain. Sadly sadly sadly.

Oddly enough, my bashful little barn owl has been wonderfully sweet and jovial the last few days.

Days of Awe

I haven't been entirely honest with you.

While I say that I'm a teacher, I am in fact a co-teacher. I do not have my own classroom; instead, I'm one-half of a two-headed monster of educatifying. We're like Cerebus after a terrible guillotine accident, but less barking and more teaching.

This co-teacher of mine has been at WISoCA for more years than I have fingers and toes, so I'm in a sort of master-apprentice relationship. This has led to me learning a lot about the classroom, but it has also led to a number of problems.

Problem 1: Though I am a fully licensed teacher, students may be under the impression that I am merely a student teacher. We tried to nip this in the bud early, but it's not always easy to convince students of such things. They never have co-teachers, so they try to put the relationship within a framework they know, and the only framework they know is the teacher-student teacher.

Problem 2: Since it's not my classroom, I don't know the correct procedures for how the class should do things. I know how I would want things done, but I don't want to step on my co-teacher, Frau Funkenhaus's, toes. Frau has certain ways of doing things, and those ways are completely and totally acceptable. However, those are not the ways I would do things, and as such I'm always at a disadvantage when talking to students. Furthermore, as I don't have the sort of organic knowledge of processes necessary to talk candidly with students, I'm forced to send worried glances to Frau in order to get information about where we want students to write their names on their papers.

Problem 3: If I were running a classroom, it would basically be run completely different from how I am currently running it. While this may be a good way for me to see different teaching styles and to practice getting outside of my comfort zone, it will not prepare me for my own classroom (hopefully) next year. This is the big problem right now. Boo-hoo.


I've never considered myself racist.  The last week in school, however, made me start hating one particular race of students: white kids.

Of course, I am white myself, which makes this bit of racism all the more troubling.  Ought I to start making snide comments about myself to myself behind my own back?  Should I grab my girl and pull her tightly to me when I see myself walk by a window and I catch a glimpse of myself in it?  Would it be wrong for me to burn a cross on my own yard?  Should I call myself a credit to my own race, or am I an Uncle Tom for caring about how whites present themselves in school?

Ridiculously premised, grandstanding jokes notwithstanding, there is a serious undercurrent to all of this that I picked up on at the end of last week.  Most of my classes have, at most 2 white kids.  The Wobegon International School of Culinary Arts is quite a diverse campus, so it's not at all odd to have a melting pot of different races represented in each classroom.  About this, I have no qualms.  In fact, I really enjoy the diversity of the school, and I think that being in an environment like that is going to make me grow as a person.


One of my classes has a higher-than-average number of white kids in it, and they are the brattiest, most unrepentant snots this world has ever seen.  These curmudgeonly little koalas (yes, I realize I changed consonants, but it's the alliteration that matters...) are unproductive, verbally abusive, ridiculously entitled young men and women.  I have never had a group of students who felt that they were better than the instructor.  It's not that I think I'm better than them, but I do believe that we should respect one another, and that one should respect his/her teacher.

The little koalas talk back, refuse to do work, and generally decide not to devote any energy to class.  The saddest part about all of it, though, is that these are supposed to be the best students in the school.  My little koalas are tops of their class, are in all of the advanced classes, yet they can't manage to spend forty-five minutes staying on task, treating one another with respect, and taking an interest in their own education.

When I got into this teaching thing, I was told a lot of things re: the different races of students within my fair inner-city district.  The first week has completely blown these expectations out of the water.

Please realize that my semi-offensive statements earlier about my racism were not intended solely for humor's sake.  One of the things that Caucasians tend to ignore, either wilfully or not, is that we are privileged.  The fact that I'm saying this about this group of students didn't make my fellow white readers out there believe that all white kids are like that.  Instead, they figured that I just happen to have an annoying group of kids in one room.

What if I had told the same story and said that the students were black?  Would those of you out there who dismissed the little koalas as an anomalous group of spoiled kids have instead been unsurprised?  Would it merely have confirmed your prejudices, however latent?

The nice thing about being white, as many people have previously pointed out, is that your actions as a white person do not reflect upon your race as a whole.  Since we are the dominant culture, we get to set the expectations for everyone.  If a member of the dominant culture falls short, it is overlooked.  Woe to those in the minority, however, who make a mistake, since their mistake only confirms the internalized prejudices of those who notice.