Saturday, December 08, 2007

No excuses... none necessary

Whew! Whirlwind life lately, but really no excuse for not writing other than sloth. A well-earned sloth. Busy with school and boy and portfolios, grading, lesson plans, etc.... As of today, the grading and lesson plans are done.

I'm finished student teaching.

This weekend is all about the portfolio. I've got a 3-4 inch stack of papers to sort through. I kept a copy of everything I did. On Thursday I tracked down two or three diligent students who I know kept all their papers, and made student copies of most of my lessons.

So, no, I have yet to write that novel. Or a short story for that matter. But I've got a pile of lessons here. And I have to write "reflections" for my portfolio.

I do other non-fiction writing to avoid writing fiction. I'm too emotionally involved when I write fiction. I should just plunge in and fail miserably, and be humbled by it. Just like I took the plunge with my lessons and succeeded, with practice and effort I could succeed in fiction.

Some ideas about style. Keep sentences short. Open with verbs. Absolve the person whenever possible. Characters "said," never "explained" or any other adverbial accouterments. Adherence a struggle for word man me who wants to show off his vocabulary.

I'm 35 now. Wow! Feels old sometimes. I literally creak when I walk. My facial wrinkle lines are established. I don't care. I'm more handsome with age. My skin is healthier than ever. I still have all my hair. My face is less doughy looking than 10 years ago. I could lose 15 pounds, but who couldn't? Need to start running again. Give up the chicken wings.

Funny how certain life skills have helped me as a teacher. I had a very organized grade book with a little help from Nina, my cooperating teacher. She showed me how to set it up. But my past experience keeping score while watching baseball games helped me be more efficient and organize the information. Of course, I'm still a math dummy, despite my 'C' in Trigonometry this past summer. Most of my assignment point values were in increments of 20 points so I could figure out the grade percentage without a calculator.

I always had up to the minute grades for each student because I also entered the grades into Skyward, a grade-keeping software used by the district that allows parents to log in and check their child's grade on a moment's notice. We got to know whose parents checked when I posted an assignment to Skyward without entering the grades. The assignment was entered as a zero, and some e-mailed, called, or sent messages through their children asking about that 'F.' The number of inquiries was in single digits.

Skyward has a dizzying array of options. Its menu interfaces could be more streamlined. I didn't tinker with it too much. Nina took more time to learn many of its functions. Paul, the school's tech guy for the system, is on our team, so he was readily available to answer questions.

One thing I take a certain pride in is quick turnaround on grading papers. This alone gives students the impression that you care, that you mean business, that you expect them to meet their deadlines for work and you'll respect their timeliness with equal timeliness in return.

I realize I'm a mix of old school with modern education. My classes will read modern young adult fiction and will also look at classical literature across the entire epoch of western civilization. One thing grad school and net tinkering has taught me is the value of supplementary texts. Knowledge learned in a context is more easily recalled.

While I won't require my students to always read challenging texts, I will provide them bits of it either through quotes of the day or weekly book talks.

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Gawd. Gotta get away from school. It's all I think about these days.

Thirty-five is one of those signpost years. I look at the next 20-30 years of my life (if I'm lucky) as the productive years. I've learned some professional skills, had many valuable life experiences, but am steady on my feet. Now is the time to buckle down, be an adult, build up equity, devote my time and energy to a few worthy endeavors, establish roots, buy a house, be a steady, stable, guiding force in my son's life, and travel whenever and wherever I can.

Steady? Stable? Me?!

Yeah. I've learned to manage the wanderlust. Fatherhood, you know. It brings with it certain responsibilities. Even part-time. I look forward to finding a teaching job and settling in for a long haul. As much for me as for my son. Student loans need to be repaid.

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When I get back from Arizona, I will have about three weeks to get ready for the spring semester. In that downtime I plan to relax, maybe go on a five or six-day local winter backpacking trip (Ice Age Trail?), BIG MAYBE, I just thought of it now.

But I also need to plan lessons and write my syllabus for the section of ENGL 104 I'm teaching in the spring. I took the liberty of requiring them to buy Strunk and White's The Elements of Style. Considering all the liberties I take with language, it would be difficult to believe I am a fan of this book, but I am. I re-read it every couple of years or so. That's why I know to put a hyphen in re-read.

There I go again with the teaching talk. [Flicks hands.] Stop!

Also have to make amends with Founder's Memorial Library [I lost a book. Long story.], find out what texts I need for the spring semester, and get on the interlibrary loan bandwagon. I can count on one hand how many required textbooks I've purchased since I've been in graduate school.

This semester feels like a break from NIU. I hardly spend time on campus and have not gone to ANY campus events this fall. No concerts or sporting events. No time spent in the library or computer labs. The break from the university was welcome. I feel recharged now for the last hurrah this spring.

My grand master plan for the spring is to be a devoted, diligent academician. I want to immerse myself as deeply into my classes and teaching, read all required texts, write papers and present them at conferences [One of my goals as a grad student is to present three different papers at three different conferences. This would help me in the somewhat unlikely case I pursue a doctorate. Still, it's nice to have options and conferences are, I believe, an essential part of the graduate school experience. There, I've said it. Could this possibly be the longest side note ever? You've forgotten what the original paragraph is about, haven't you? It's essentially a winter Saturday morning musing. But I've found such prognosticating, repeatedly, if need be, actually leads to results, kind of like all that "Zone" bullshit popular in motivational psychology five years ago. You can find that zone if you constantly visualize what you want! Guh! Dreck. I hate to think I'm like that, but I guess I am. Naw, I'm just a listmaker and Central Scrutinizer (Frank Zappa Joe's Garage reference). I am vast, I contain multitudes. All and nothing. Whitman.], submit resumes, and get a middle school language arts or social studies teaching position by May.

"Pigs eat turtle eggs and turtles eat jellyfish, and now you get stung when you swim in the sea."-- Crash Test Dummies, "Our Driver Gestures"

Gotta change the name of this blog. I'm hardly living up to its current name. How about:

A Thousand Words TODAY

A Thousand Words whenever I Damn Well Please

A Deep Dark Well of Bullshit

Free Reggie!

The Realm of the Mendicant

Wanderlust

Greg/Ru's Search for Meaning

A Steaming Cauldron of Bullshit

A Thousand Words Written on the Head of a Pin

Windmill Chasers

The DeKalb County Interfaith United Walkers Club

Chicken Beak Wilderness

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