In Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, Juliet laments that she cannot be with Romeo largely because of their last names. Their families are enemies and neither would ever accept the other into their homes. Standing on her balcony, unaware that he’s listening, she rejects the idea that names could be so important. Why should it matter what you’re called if you’re as awesome as Romeo - at least in Juliet’s eyes?
Don’t get excited – I’m not diving into current events or anything. (I’m far too demure for such things.) In fact, I’m intentionally avoiding the subject at the moment because any effort I make to write rationally about what we’ve become ends up as a spittle-spewing, obscenity-laden rant and, worse, totally off-brand.
This is something I lifted from Rhonda Johnson who used to teach with me in Tulsa and who’s still kicking young minds towards greatness there. Rhonda is one of the most entertaining and intellectually challenging people I’ve ever known, and I appreciate her agreeing to let me sponge off of her in this way.
Then again, why should this be any different than anything else I’ve borrowed from her over the years?
I started using variations of what I’ve come to simply think of as “Those Circle Things” in workshops, in class, and sometimes just to annoy friends at parties. They make great bellringers, discussion-starters, and I’ve even used them as informal assessments.
They’re also pretty easy to use with Google Slides or Pear Deck or whatever technological platform makes you tingle, and work equally well for synchronous or asynchronous discussion. They're especially useful when you need ideas for "e-learning" on snow days, or when you’re huddled at home hiding from the coronavirus and wondering if you’ll have to throw out the bottled water and granola bars you left in your desk three months ago when you assumed we’d be back in a few weeks and god I need a haircut...
For English or Social Studies teachers (especially those frothy AP types), the Holy Hand Grenade of rapport-killers is the Five Paragraph Essay. Come out in favor, come out opposed, or simply mention it in passing, and off the rest of us will go. Only Wikipedia and Teach For America have achieved similar infamy for their ability to produce pseudo-intellectual chaos and mutual hostility, online or in the teachers’ lounge.
Honestly, you’d be better off bringing up religion, immigration, or abortion. Fewer emotions or deeply entrenched convictions in play that way.
In the same way your memory of an event will gradually evolve to fit the way you tell it over the years, I respectfully suggest we’ve been told the same few lies about public schools – then as much as now – often enough that we’ve started to buy into the clichés. Unless we stop and question it, at least with ourselves, we become one more purveyor of the same sort of shibboleth – thoughtless, foundationless folderol of the sort we mock when we recognize it from others.
We’re exactly two weeks into the new school year, and things in AP World and AP U.S. History have started off about as well as one might expect, given the many interruptions and the wide variety of skill levels and content-knowledge gathered together in each section.
They may be talented teenagers, but they’re still, you know… teenagers.
My school is on trimesters, so coming back wasn’t a new start so much as picking up where we left off. Still, having two weeks to regroup and get a jump on some of the planning for this month was, well… it may have saved my life. At least emotionally.
I always swore I’d never be one of those teachers. You know the type – frustrated and hostile, blaming their kids, and longing for the “good ol’ days.” To be honest, I’ve often kinda looked down on that flavor of educator – wondering why they’re still in the classroom, and hoping they find somewhere else to work out their issues.
Several years ago, I had a sub who went a bit above and beyond. She not only took up whatever assignment I’d left for that day – she organized the papers and completion-graded them. In other words, she noted who’d finished and seemed to have taken the work seriously. She didn’t give them a number or a letter grade, of course – that would have been bold. But she did give each paper meeting her requirements a sticker.