20 January 2005

Okay, stop. Just for a moment. Ponder this question:

** When you're writing a paper, how do you know which parts of a source to quote and which parts to paraphrase? **

I'm trying to teach my gifted class to write a paper. Today was our last day in the library, at the end of which I collected their notes (2 pgs), their quotations (1 pg), and their references (3, at least one non-internet).

The most common thing I heard today was:
"Ms. Backes, I can't find any quotes."

Um, what?

Or, "Ms. Backes, can I quote this?" (pointing to a passage that says something like, "So-and-so was born in New York on May 6, 1890.")

I tried several times to explain how you pick good quotations, but it felt a lot like trying to teach someone how to drive stick-shift. I mean, you just know when to shift, right?

...luckily the world of Plans with all its wonderful friends and alumns was there for me, and helped me to clarify my thoughts. I'd share the brilliant handout I finally prepared for my class, but my email's down, so you'll just have to imagine its greatness.


I learned yesterday that this is the last year of gifted blocks, which means that IF I get to teach any gifted classes next year (not a sure thing, apparently), they'll be seventh grade only, and not tied to any history classes. This has its benefits and drawbacks, of course, but the balance in my head is sad. I had this dream of putting together my fantasy enriched class -- a scholastic dream team, if you will -- comprised of some of my sharpest seventh graders. Next year I won't have any 8th graders, apparently, and that makes me sad. Sometimes I feel that my 8th graders are the only ones keeping me sane.

...maybe I should ask to bump up to 8th grade. Then I could fail all the kids I don't want to deal with next year and take all the fun kids from this year. Why yes.... (insert evil Mr. Burns noise here)


In an email from my mother today:

"If the temperature doesn't start climbing above zero and if the sun doesn't make an appearance soon, Sylvia Plath will be reenacted in our kitchen..."

Mm hmm. At least I come by it honestly.

Adventures in Middle School


(variations on a theme)

Jules: (playing with a yo-yo) ....and I can walk the dog.... around the world....
Others: Ooooooooh!
Me: Wow, Jules, that's impressive.
Mr. King: That used to be really popular, yo-yoing.
Me: Yeah, back in the old days.
Jules: Yeah, like fourth grade!
Me: Oh! I was thinking the old days like the sixties!

Dale: Do you like my graph?
Me: Does it have a title?
Dale: Um.....
Me: Otherwise I have no frame of reference for what you're graphing.
Dale: Well, each bar is a subject...
Me: Yes, I see that. Subject 1, subject 2.... but what were you testing?
Dale: Um.... Here's hot, and here's cold.
Me: What. Were. You. Testing.
Dale: I forgot. I had a title, but I couldn't get it on the graph.
Me: Why don't you print one out and cut & paste it onto your graph.
Dale: (utterly perplexed) What?
Me: What.
Dale: How can I cut & paste AFTER I printed the title out?
Me: Okay. First you take a scissors. You CUT around the title that you printed out. Then you get some rubber cement or tape, and PASTE the title onto the paper.
Dale: (astonished) WOW, that's a great idea!
Me: See, cut and paste. That's where the phrase comes from. In the old days we actually had to use scissors and glue.
Dale: That was a long time ago, huh.
Me: NO!

Me: Okay, Feather, I brought you some of Natalie Goldberg's books, but you have to be careful because they're my own books, not the library's.
Feather: (opening the copy of Writing Down the Bones and reading) Molly Backes. Madison. Fall 1995. Is that you?
Me: Yes.
Feather: Why does it say "Fall 1995"?
Me: That's when I bought it.
Feather: You bought this book in 1995? That's like, SO LONG AGO! I was only.... three years old then!


Why it's never okay to listen to old KDIC tapes in my classroom (when students are around, at least):

(End Phil Ochs, "Pleasures of the Harbor")

Me: Yeah....
Kevin: Yeah, you probably should have had a six-pack....
Me: I'm going to have to have, like, a retroactive pitcher. Like.... tonight.
Kevin: Well, that's what the pub is for.
Me: Actually, right now. You know, do you just want to take over for the next forty-five minutes?
Kevin: Yeah --
Me: Maybe I'll just go --
Kevin: Yeah, you know, Bunny's is open...
Me: Rabbitt's....
Kevin: Rabbitt's.....
Me: (laughing)

(Cue Elliott Smith, "Between the Bars")


7th period.

Me: Did I tell you guys the parable of Point-of-View yesterday?
Class: No! Tell us!
Me: Okay. Well, when I was a freshman in college, I lived in a room maybe one third this size.
Ivy: Like, the bedroom was?
Me: Oh, no. It wasn't a fancy dorm like you see on TV. It was one room for our beds, dressers, desks, bookshelves....
Class: Oh my god! That's so small!
Me: Anyway... I lived in this tiny room with a roommate, who is now my best friend. But back then we didn't know one another. We were put together alphabetically. Her last name is Brown.
Jay: What's your last name?
Me: Backes.
Jay: Oh yeah! I, uh... forgot for a moment.

2nd period.

Jax: Ms. Backes, this is hard and I don't want to do this and does it really have to be due tomorrow?
Me: Jax? Shut up. You're smart and you can do it. Get to work.
Kristine: How come the word "Jax" is always followed by "shut up"?


7th period.

Me: Can we start complete sentences with the word 'because'?
Class: NO!
Me: Until when?
Class: College!
Me: Good. Get to work.
Jay: Can we start complete sentences with 'Well, because'?
Me: No.
Jay: I'm looking for loopholes here.
Me: That's not one.
Jay: Can we start a sentence with, 'I think so-and-so BECAUSE....'
Me: Yes.
Jay: Is that a loophole?
Me: Um... yes.
Jay: Awesome! I LOVE loopholes!!

5th period.

Tauscha: (running in) Ms. Backes Ms. Backes!
Me: Hey, Tash, what's up?
Tauscha: We took those tests today, you know? The reading ones?
Me: The NWEAs? Okay.
Tauscha: I scored on the EIGHTH GRADE LEVEL!
Me: Wow, Tash, that's great!
Tauscha: Guess why! Because I thought of you, the whole time! I tried to remember every single thing you told us all year, and that's how I got so good!
Me: Well.... I'm speechless, Tauscha! I'm so proud of you.
Tauscha: It's all thanks to you, Ms. Backes!


My gifted students are having a hard time distinguishing between "notes" and "quotations" for a paper they're writing about artists and writers in New Mexico.

So today I made samples of a page of notes, a page of quotes, and a page of references. To do so, I made up a bunch of imaginary research on Alison Brown, quoting references like "Influential Intersections," by Holly Peterson in the October 2004 issue of The Langan Leader, ed. Sally Conforti; and "Somewhere Between New York and Heaven: The Early Influences of Alison Brown," by Lucy Furr, in The Journal of Awesome People, Vol. 27, Issue 3, Feb 04, pgs 42-48......

With quotations like, "Taken from [Robert] Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, her answer to questions too small in scope was, inevitably, mu." (Peterson, 86)

Nothing like a bunch of weird inside jokes to make my day happy.



1st period.

TT: Mad cow disease has been spreading through Canada. Let's just hope it doesn't make it down to the US.
Dale: Why not?
TT: It would be terrible for the beef industry, not to mention the fact that people can get it.
Dale: (horrified) WHAT?
Karma: DUH, Dale.
TT: Does anyone remember what it's called when people catch it?
Jerrod: Mad people disease!
Me: I had that once......
Dale: Really? What happened?
Me: Grrrrr!
Dale: Aaaaaahh! Ms. Backes is a mad people!


7th period.

Darlene: Ms. Backes, may I ask the class a question?
Me: No.
Darlene: Please? It doesn't have any cuss words.
Me: No.
Darlene: Please? It's not bad.
Me: No.
Darlene: Okay. Who is the most considerate person you know?
Entire Class: NOT YOU!

6th period.

Ron: Ms. Backes, did you know that police officers have, like, the highest suicide rate?
Ray: Yeah, and then doctors!
Angelique: Yeah, because the pressure's so high.
Me: Well, I wouldn't be surprised. They're stressful jobs.
Cass: (slyly) Yeah... and third is dentists!

2nd period.

Emmy: Ms. Backes, who painted the Mona Lisa?
Me: Da Vinci. Why.
Emmy: See! I told you! Karma thought it was Edison.
Karma: Because he was gay.
Me: What? He wasn't gay. He invented the telephone.
Jill: I thought he invented the lightbulb.
Me: Whatever. He definitely didn't paint the Mona Lisa.
Karma: I thought Benjamin Franklin invented the telephone.
Me: No, Alexander Graham Bell did.
Jill: You just said Edison did.
Me: (patiently) No, Edison invented the lightbulb.
Jill: WHAT. You're contradicting yourself!
Me: All I'm saying is that Edison wasn't gay.
Karma: Yes he was!
Emmy: No, Da Vinci was.
Jill: Aaagh! This conversation makes no sense!

3rd period. Mr. Laney & I are walking down the hallway together.

Mr. Laney: ...and I have to bribe kids to learn grammar.
Me: Bribe, hmm? That's smart....
Mr. Laney: (to kid in hallway) Where's your pass?
Kid in hallway: Uh... in my pocket.
Mr. Laney: Let me see it.
Kid: (slowly backing away) Uh.....
Mr. Laney: Where are you supposed to be right now?
Kid: I don't know.
Me: Are you lost?
Kid: No, I have to go to the bathroom.
Mr. Laney: You need a pass.
Kid: It's in my pocket.
Mr. Laney: Really?
Kid: Uh.....
Mr. Laney: I'm gonna kick your ass, little brown kid!

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