10 October 2004


(grading papers)

Q: What is the difference between direct characterization and indirect characterization?
A: One you get told they are mean and the other its that they throw cats in the water.

Q: In what part of the story does the climax usually occur?
A: The climax usually occurs 15 minutes into a story.

Q: What is the narrative POINT OF VIEW (P.O.V.) of this story?
A: Yes.

Q: What is the difference between direct characterization and indirect characterization?
A: Direct is when your saying "she is tall with brown eyes." Indirect is when your saying "he is pudgy with rock nerd skin."

Q: How do you know if a story is being told in first, second, or third person narrative Point Of View (P.O.V.)?
A: Because if they use "I was there when I kissed my boyfriend."

Q: Give an example of direct characterization:
A: They were singing!


6th period.

-- You're such a teacher's pet.
-- Who, ME?
-- Um.... yeah! You're a teacher's pet, Ms. Backes.
-- No, I'm the TEACHER.

2nd period.

-- Why do we have to do free writing?? (whine whine)
-- Because you have to practice writing sometimes.
-- I don't! It says in my IEP that I can type instead of write!
-- Okay. But one day you'll have to take the SAT, which requires a handwritten essay. And on that day, you'll want to have practice behind you of just writing.
-- What does SAT stand for?
-- Standard.... test.
-- Standardized achievement test. Aptitude? Aptitude.
-- Aptitude, I think.
-- I think the T should stand for Tetris.
-- Standardized Aptitude Tetris?
-- Yeah!
-- Oooh, I got it: Standard Atari Tetris!
-- Well, that would be an interesting test, I guess.
-- Standard Atari Tetris? I would do so good on that. I would totally get into Harvard!

-- Ms. Backes, do you have to write essays a lot?
-- What? Me, personally?
-- No, like, are there a lot of tests with essays?
-- Oh yeah, sure there are. A few years ago I had to take a test where I had to write twelve essays in something like two hours!
-- Twelve?? How long did they have to be?
-- Well... there wasn't a required length, but you wanted to cram as much information as you could into each. A page or two each, I guess.
-- In two hours?
-- Yeah.
-- Did you have fun?
-- What? No! It was terrible! By the end my hand was just aching, and it totally stressed me out. It wasn't fun at all.
-- Yeah, but you had college professor brains when you were in 8th grade, Ms. Backes!

-- Did you write a lot, Ms. Backes?
-- Sure. In high school, I always had a journal that I'd pull out whenever there was a slow moment, if I finished a test early or we had to watch a movie in class or something. I was always writing.
-- Yeah, but those were the old days. Kids today would probably just be doodling or drawing little pictures.
-- The old days?
-- Yeah.
-- I went to high school in the nineties! Not that much has changed in the last ten years!
-- See, ten years ago. That's the old days. Like, when I was a baby!

1st period.

-- What's this?
-- It's a NEWSPAPER. They print it every morning, and it has NEWS in it, which means that you can learn what's happening in our town....
-- No, I meant, what's this headline about?? (lightbulb) Ms. Backes, are you messing with me?
-- Never.

Today's teaching rant....

Last night my mother was telling me that I'm ethically responsible for the things that my team-teacher tells his classes (not just our joint class, but all his classes). That when he tells them about the end of the world and shows them Young Guns to show them what it's like to do peyote (an accurate portrayal, I'm sure) and teaches them that the alien-dna theory is just as viable as creationism or evolution, he is damaging their little brains and planting the seeds of evil. "You're planting the seeds of tolerance and creativity and critical thinking, and I'm proud of you, but he's planting the seeds of evil." And honestly, I do take responsibility, and I do feel that I will somehow be held accountable when one of the children tries to smoke a cactus and says it was the teacher's influence.

But. A couple of things: one, I'm a girl. I hate to say that, but the whole third wave passed right by this school, and the good ol'boys get away with pretty much anything (especially if they're coaches!) and really, it's not my place to correct a male colleague of mine. I try to do so sneakily of course, but he gets salty with me even so, like the time I insisted that not all kids who grow up in India are taught that white people come from Mars. He was rather irritated that I would try to correct him on that, even though it's preposterous and bizarre. Anyhow. This is a school where the principal describes my team teaching as a "shot-gun wedding," where my next-door-neighbor teacher literally kicks his students and tells me I'll "get everything but a venereal disease from these kids," etc etc. And I have to teach with this man for the rest of the year, so I don't really want to make an enemy of him by ratting him out or over-correcting him in front of the kids.....

But here's the real thing: One could argue that what I teach my students is just as controversial and perhaps just as inappropriate as what my team-teacher says. He talks about drugs in the classroom, I talk about gays as if they were no big deal. He teaches about aliens, I teach about tolerance for other religions and other ethnicities. ("Yes, but you're right," says my mother.) I think that every argument that could be made against what my team-teacher does could also be made against what I do, and I'm not really eager to bring that level of scrutiny into my own teaching, because I have a feeling that all my tolerance and creativity and love-thy-neighbor lessons would be nixed in favor of worksheets from the textbook.

And yet.... and yet. Where's the ethical line, folks? Ethics in teaching seemed so cut-and-dry when we were in college. Don't sleep with the students, don't share your weed, don't buy them beer, and you'll be fine. Somehow it's not that easy anymore....


Today we played "Social Norming BINGO" (with credit and thanks to Whitney Davidson for the idea). Homework tonight is to go home and watch TV for 20-30 minutes, recording every single person they see, and deciding whether or not that person fits a common stereotype. These are lessons I developed back in Iowa, and there's nothing better than the day that I get to say, "Your homework tonight is to go home and watch TV!"

7th period.

Me: Your homework tonight is to go home and watch television....
Gary: Oh man, I have been waiting my whole LIFE to hear someone say those words!

On the classroom management front, today went extremely well, which is interesting considering I had terrible laryngitis and literally could not talk. (I was so sick, I actually stayed home yesterday.) My class-from-hell was SOOOO good today! I gave them a new seating chart, which seemed to help (they asked for one), and told them that starting tomorrow we'd do a warning/call home/referral plan. Plus, everyone who was working hard got stickers, which will translate into extra credit in a week. A couple of kids (like the kid I threw out of my class twice last week) still had a hard time today, and with those kids I'm going to do some sort of agreement or contract.... yay, behaviorism.

Also, I talked to the school psychologist, who's been a friend of mine for almost as long as I've been in New Mexico (he and I actually ran a bully-proofing workshop together last autumn), and apparently all the psychologists and counselors went to a violence-prevention workshop last year and are excited about piloting this new program in the schools, and were actually thinking about asking me to be the pilot classroom for the year, even before I showed up and asked if someone could do some violence prevention and/or anger management training in my classroom.

So things are looking up, y'all.


7th period.

This area's been battered by severe thunderstorms and hail in the last two days. Last night my neighborhood got 6 inches of hail, and this morning I had to leave 25 minutes early just to get to school on time (because New Mexicans can't drive in "weather"). Then this afternoon, the storm over Moriarty was so bad that we were forced to keep the students in our classrooms for an extra half-hour at the end of the day! The announcement comes at about 2:45, and I just start laughing, because I'm sick, I've almost totally lost my voice, and my kids are already rowdy. But then, one of my students starts to hyperventilate, and a couple other kids around her start waving to me to come over. So I walk over and this girl explains to me that Summer had a dream the other night that it rained so hard that everyone had to stay at school, and then... well, basically, then everyone in the whole school died. So Summer's a little freaked out right now. So I send Amanda and Summer out into the hallway to calm down and valiantly try to keep on with my lesson. Of course, the news -- how we're all going to die -- spreads through the class like, well, middle school gossip, and pretty soon the whole class is freaking out. FREAKING OUT. These kids are convinced that we are going to die. And honestly, the storm was really very spooky, because the rain was just beating down and the thunder was directly over us and the lightning just kept flashing and it was really dark and cold. So I'm trying to keep everyone calm, because after all we still have another forty minutes to be together, but to tell the truth, **I'm** starting to get a little freaked out. I mean, there's nothing like 28 middle schoolers in the middle of a big scary storm all telling you that you're about to die. Nothing. And did I mention that I have literally no voice at this point? No voice. So I can't even calm their fears, I just keep kind of waving at them like I'm trying to land a plane or something, or like they're a big, hormonal, superstitious choir, and I'm the director. Things stay pretty tense like that for a while, the kids trembling in the dark and screaming with every thunder clap, me shaking my head and making shusshing noises, and the sound of the rain drowning out everything else. But eventually, the rain slows, and a rainbow appears over the high school, and Summer calms down, and the kids go back to flirting and fighting and jumping off chairs and drawing on my chalkboard and generally just being the hyper, hilarious, and very non-dead kids I've come to know and love so well.

6th period.

-- Wait, Ms. Backes! Wonderfullest isn't a word!
-- It's called poetic license. I'm a poet, so I can make stuff up.
-- You have to have a LICENSE to be a poet???

5th period.

-- You should hit us more!
-- See, I was raised by counselor-therapist-social worker types. Hitting isn't even in my DNA.
-- Sure it is! You just have to get in touch with your inner violence!!


Four words that strike fear in a teacher's heart:


Oh, shit. When? If it was after school, I was probably singing to myself like a moron, or dancing. Possibly talking on my cell phone and making funny faces. If it was before school, I was probably speeding (the speed limit on 40 is 75, so I'm crusing close to 90 some mornings), maybe yelling at the radio, possibly brushing my hair, and definitely looking sleepy/zoned out/cranky.

This morning....

Walt: Ms. Backes, I saw you driving!
Me: Great.
Walt: On the way to school! You were, like, passing all these semis!
Me: Um....
Walt: You drive a lot faster than my mom does, Ms. Backes!


And on another note entirely....

Me, last night, trying to describe the kind of person I'm looking for in my life:

They have to be earnest, but not too earnest... you know, idealistic, like in theory, but not in practice. They have to be the kind of person who would like their life to involve getting up at 5:30 am to drink tea and mediate, but doesn't actually go through with it very often because they're too hungover or too busy accidentally driving into their house. Wait. I mean, I just can't deal with people who are too nice, too pure, you know? I need a little less, let's talk about our feelings and a little more, eh, fuck you.

Roommate: More fuck you?

Me: Yeah. Like, they have to be idealistic but also cynical... you know, hope for the best but then have a very perverse, sick sense of humor about everything. Someone who isn't easily offended. Like this guy tonight, he was all "I need absolute peace and harmony to tap into my creative spirit," and I'm looking for more mental illness than that, you know, more "Hypercolor is like Osama bin Laden: they both disappeared." I mean, that!

Roommate: ..... what's "hypercolor"?

Me: It's, uh.....well jesus, it's.......oh, Grinnell ruined me!

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