Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Looking for Cultural Relativity in All the Wrong Places

Every Monday and Friday, we started our time together in second block by writing for six minutes. I was lucky enough to get a document camera half way through the year in order to project my own writing so I could model for students just how cluttered and unfocused this warm up could be. After the six minutes were up, we shared our writing and talked about some of the issues brought up in the writing.

While I always strive to be developmentally appropriate with students, I also strive to show my authentic self in my writing with them. This means that I wrote relatively freely about my year of dating disasters and my on-going questioning about whether or not I want to have kids. One of the great joys about that eleventh grade class was that we could talk about these subjects to create a classroom community which in turn led to students really opening up in their writing (and for those of you who think this all sounds too touchy-feely to be of use, I have to say that I have observed that a student who feels valued and safe writes much better than a student who is merely trying to please a rigid requirement).

My students continually surprised me with their forward thinking on some issues that really bogged me down personally in the past year. I once wrote about a dream I had in which I decided to append my mother's unmarried name to my father's last name. I wrote about how the idea to do that stuck with me. I wondered if I should follow through since I do believe that our surnames should reflect as much equity as possible. But I wrote that I knew it would be a lot of clerical work and that people would find it really strange.

"Do it, Ms. T!" B told me enthusiastically when we got to sharing time. She told us how she planned to change her last name to her mother's when she turned eighteen to reflect the fact that her mother had worked so hard to raise her right while he father had never really been in the picture.

Another time I wrote about how I really loved kids but worried about being able to balance caring for them while also dedicating myself to improving public education. I also wrote about my worry that I, like many people of my income and education level, wouldn't marry until very late in childbearing years, rendering my balance concerns moot.

The answers to these problems were so simple to my students.

"Just adopt a baby when you're ready," K told me, "and figure out the balance as you go along." But wouldn't adopting before I had a partner make it harder to meet someone in the long run?

The classroom full of children of single parents told me I was wrong. They explained how their parents had known that a boyfriend or girlfriend was for real only when he or she was willing to really invest in their kids.

Duh, Ms. T.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

It Isn't Over till it's Over, UVA

I stood in the crowd and sang the Good Ol' Song as I was glad that Pres. Sullivan had been reinstated. She was doing a fine job with the tough hand she had been dealt before the events of the last sixteen days. To want that job back after what she's been through speaks to her honor, grace, and determination -- all solid Virginia values.

But I don't think this episode can be over yet. The University is still under investigation from our accrediting agency given the underhanded way in which Pres. Sullivan was originally asked to leave. The person who orchestrated the whole opaque scheme remains in her position as rector. Gov. McDonnell has the choice to reappoint her by Friday.

I am a Christian. I believe in forgiveness. I do believe that Ms. Dragas thought she was acting in the best interests of the University. But I also believe in stewardship. The people of Virginia have asked Ms. Dragas to be a steward of the University and she mismanaged that stewardship. Admitting a mistake is not enough to correct it. Until Ms. Dragas leaves the Board of Visitors, we have no real reason to believe that the Board of Visitors has learned anything about the value of transparency and community buy-in.

I think this situation has given us an opportunity to talk about a lot of things -- the political nature of the make-up of the Board of Visitors, the need for a voting faculty member (and perhaps a voting student, as well), and just what FOIA laws mean in terms of closed meetings (note that there was room to make a personnel decision in front of everyone today). Before those conversations can continue, however, the University needs to be healed as a community. I do not see how that can happen until Ms. Dragas leaves.

If the board's vote of support for Ms. Dragas was a kind way to let her save face until she steps down on Friday, they have done something civil. If the vote signals an intention to allow someone capable of such mismanagement to remain in power for another two years, I cannot in good faith donate to the University until Ms. Dragas is gone and more sensible leadership installed. If you feel the same way, I encourage you to let Gov. McDonnell know. I reckon we'll see what happens later this week!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Summer Reading List

As I finish up with my yearly re-reading of Cold Mountain, it's time for the summer reading list! This summer's list is going to be much smaller in than in years past. Hopefully, I can get through these few great titles.

River of Earth - James Still (suggested by many great people at the writers' conference I attended; still not sure how I haven't gotten to it yet)
East of Eden - John Steinbeck (because it's finally time)

The Happiness Project - Gretchen Rubin (an Easter present from Mama that I still haven't read)
The Defining Decade: why your twenties matter and how to make the most of them - Meg Jay (She's a UVA professor who I've heard talking about this book on NPR. Plus I've only got four and a half years left in my twenties)
The Political Brain - Drew Westen (started but never finished)

Young Adult Literature
Looking for Alaska - John Green (because Dr. Matthews-Meth said so)
Wonder - RJ Palacio (because Kate said so)

I'm still looking for one other YAL book to round this group out. Any ideas, y'all? Also, I'm purposefully staying away from teacher books this summer. I've read so many since starting grad school in 2009, I think my brain needs a break to process all the ideas floating around up there and make them my own.  

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Guest Blogging

I wanted to take a moment and thank all the great folks who have had me as a guest blogger lately. My lovely first-year RA Ann studies best practices in data collection and use. She was kind enough to ask me to write about how teachers should and shouldn't evaluate (and by evaluated by) data. Her blog on evaluation provides an important voice for those trying to balance qualitative and quantitative measures of success.

The amazing Kristen just finished up at Curry and is traveling the globe seeking an international teaching job. She's so brave and awesome. She also helps run a blog for teachers in the Curry community called Curryed Away and asked me to write a little bit more about my search for my own classroom management strategy.

Jessica is working on a project about Faithful Democrats. While I try to keep my faith and my politics out of the classroom, both did inform my decision to become a teacher and I will have a post a little bit about that on her blog in the future.

Please add these lovely blogs to your reading lists!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

How I'm Spending My Summer Vacation

Hello friends! In case you were wondering, I do plan to update the blog over the summer. Today is just the first day that I've gotten a little breathing room to do so. I went immediately from the end-of-year teacher work day to a two-week writers' conference at Radford University. This conference not only gave me a lot of wonderful ideas about prompts in the classroom and helped me work on my own writing, I'm now only one class away from being able to teach dual enrollment English!

My first weekday back in town, I headed over to the new school where I'm working to meet with the twelfth grade curriculum team. I went back the next day to put the finishing touches on my first week plans and continue to get a feel for the space (I anticipate having to ask students for directions a lot in the first couple of weeks). Now, I'm spending most of my mornings planning because I have two completely new-to-me classes next year. In the afternoons, I volunteer at a campaign office. It's not hiking the AT, but as far as summer goes, it'll do.

I think I'd be remiss to talk about how this isn't really a vacation. I have work to do every day. I'm trying to plan through my first unit for tenth and twelfth grade so I can take most of July off to rejuvenate and be ready to go when I start my new teacher orientation in the first week of August. This is the first break I've had where I haven't had grading or reading to do. And before you think "Oh, Maggie is my friend and she's a hard worker. What about all those other lazy teachers?" let me tell you that one of the science teachers at my old school just took the SADD club to a national conference for her start to the summer, one of my curriculum teammates was headed to a conference on how to make the senior year English curriculum align best to the worlds of work and college, and a lot of my teacher friends have found summer jobs in the service industry to supplement what they make during the year.

My favorite part of the summer so far is being able to go to the ladies' room whenever I need to without getting someone to cover for me. My second favorite part will be catching up with all of y'all I missed during my crazy first year. Drop me a note so we can hang out!