Tag Archives: Humor

Wow – Where Did the Time Go! Or, Was I Procrastinating?

I meant to take a short break from writing… due to the busy time of the Holidays.  I reread my last post and, apparently, my student’s question about Thanksgiving and Christmas being the same break was a prophesy for me.   After I graded over Thanksgiving, I assigned another essay to be due before Christmas break.  I encouraged students to turn it in early for some extra credit, and five students did.  The rest, well, they validated the reason I do not give weeks to write an essay or create a project.  We work in class for 2-4 days and then it is due two days later.  This gives the kids a chance to turn it in early for some extra credit or ask me for help before the due date.  But I digress…

Of course, I have Romeo and Juliet essays to grade right now, but procrastinating by writing can be more fun.  See, I learn from the students every year.   The essays were due on Friday by 7:30 a.m.  and we did not have school.  The busses would not start due to the extremely cold weather we are experiencing.  Luckily for the students, our district began using Turnitin.com this year.

Little side story here: Eleven years ago several of us asked for the district to purchase a license to use the website.  However, we were told the money would have to come out of the English Department’s budget of $500.  Yes, you guessed it, the license cost more than that.  Evidently, none of the administrators saw a use for checking the originality of science, history, foreign language, and every other subject’s writing assignments.  Thus, while the English department was teaching proper citation of sources and how not to plagiarize, the rest of the school may have been fine with copying from Wikipedia, the bane of all researchers!  Never fear, we asked again around year six, and were told there was no money, which was true.  In fact, the district had to layoff dozens of teachers and two curriculum department administrators. Luckily, this year the Teaching and Learning Department, formally known as the Curriculum Department, has grown beyond pre-cuts days and saw the advantage to using Turnitin.com.  (I guess it makes one sound more intelligent or more powerful if the department has two names.)    

So far, only the English and Language Arts Department is using it, but I am sure the Math, Science, and the rest of the departments will learn how to use it during one of our weekly Professional Development meetings.  

Back to the main topic (Procrastination): My favorite feature of Turnitin.com is the time stamp.  I can have the submission deadline  be midnight or 7:30 a.m. or whenever.  I can then learn when the student turned it in.  I also do not have to deal with using instructional time to have students staple papers together (no one owns staplers), needing to print during class, and listening to excuses of forgotten folders containing essays at home.  Some students still have the excuses, “I couldn’t submit my essay” or “I do not have Internet” or “My printer was out of ink or broken, or “the dog urinated on my laptop.”  Therefore, I have instructed them to (A) email a copy to me or share it with me on Google Docs, (B) bring a typed or hand- written copy to class to give me as they explain the problem, (C)  print from our computer lab before school, or (D) take ownership of YOUR problem and solve it.  The reality is that 92.4%  of the excuses come about because of procrastination.  (I found that statistic on the Internet, so it must be true!)

Although, the company checks originality, it also enables teachers to grade the essays online.  There is an automatic grammar and punctuation checker; however, it is not always correct.  For example, it always indicates the title of the essay and the first sentence is a run-on-sentence.  Teachers are able to create their own comments; thus, no more writing the same comment over and over again.  We merely highlight the mistake and click the comment!  I am finding it an easier way to grade, as long as I have an Internet connection.

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Filed under 21st century skills, Education, Goals, Humor, Learning, Lessons from students, Measuring Student Success, Writing

It’s Not Always a Bad Day

Today did not start well.  I was blamed for a bad grade.

 

The Question Is What Is the Question?

The Question Is What Is the Question? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

STUDENT: Why did I get a zero?

 

ME: You did not answer the question.  Your answer was off topic.

 

STUDENT: I didn’t know what the question was.

 

ME: It was in your Reader’s Notebook packet.  You were to respond to Ch. 9-11.  See, it says that right here on the rubric.

 

STUDENT: But, it doesn’t have the question there!

 

ME: The question is in the Reader’s Notebook that I gave you.

 

STUDENT: But, Sally stole it from me.

 

ME: You never told me you needed another one.  Plus, I wrote the topic on the board and explained to the class what was being asked.  You were here that day.  Why didn’t you copy it down?  Why didn’t you ask me if you didn’t understand?

 

STUDENT: But, Sally stole it from me.

 

I guess if you run out of excuses or blame, you just repeat yourself.

 

I walk away to get her a new copy of the Reader’s Notebook.  Fortunately, she did well on today’s writing assignment.

 

Later, I learned why one student struggles in class even though she sits right in front of the board where I write the homework assignments:

 

STUDENT: When did you get that large cupboard?

 

ME: It’s been there since the school was built 10 years ago.

 

STUDENT: No Way!  I have got to start paying attention, more.

 

Thinking of grades, I could only nod my head in agreement.

 

Then, she asked if she could go to her engineering class because she just noticed she forgot her books and binders there.

 

I could only nod my head in agreement again.  I wrote her a pass.  After all, I have had these moments, too.

 

However, my day continued to improve.  After writing creatively for a class period, I had this conversation with a student:

 

STUDENT: I think I got carried away.

 

ME: Why? What were you writing about?

 

STUDENT: I wrote 600 words on having a monkey as a pet.  I started with some background scientific information and then went into a story.  I will continue it tomorrow.

 

ME: Excellent!  Good luck with it.

 

And during the last class, a student shared the start of an amusing story that he began in class and continued at home.  So far, his first four pages (he only had to write two) describe a man waking up late and locking himself out of his house when he went to get the morning paper.  I look forward to reading more of it.

 

What kind of day did you have?

 

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Do or do not!

A long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away I began my teaching career.  I like to think that I was the Yoda to the younglings in my classroom.  Remember in The Empire Strikes Back when Yoda tells Luke Skywalker, “No! Try not. Do. Or do not!! There is no try”?  It seems like Yoda is telling Luke to not try, just do it.  He must have had a Nike endorsement.

When I first began teaching, I had students write rough drafts, peer edit in class, and write a final copy.  Then, I noticed that their editing skills were weak.  True revising was not occurring.  Plus, freshmen prefer to use the time to socialize instead of do work.  I was incredulous! I am so glad all of the committees I have been on have not been like that.

So, my thoughts of students actually revising their essays into literary masterpieces on their final copy flew into hyperspace faster than the Millenium Falcon can jump into hyperspace.  I felt like Yoda, saying, “Do or do not!”

Within weeks I realized that that was not exactly what Yoda meant. Students had to learn how to be better writers by making mistakes and revising, revising, and revising, not writing perfectly the first time. In fact, I have rewritten this blog six times now. 

Ironically, Yoda’s words are an absolute, and as Obi-Wan Kenobi told Anakin in Revenge of the Sith: “Only a Sith deals in absolutes!”  Of course, Obi-Wan’s words are an absolute, but his meaning is that the dark side only allows the person to see everything as right or wrong, good or bad.  A Jedi knows that there are many shades of right and wrong.  But I digress.  To really understand what Yoda means, you have to see it in the context of the movie http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q3hn6fFTxeo

Yoda wants Luke to have a positive mental attitude.   This will lead to success.  Not just trying.

I recently wrote about one young man who set a goal for himself to get an A.  Last grading period he had a B-.  Last week he began a daily competition with another student to see who will achieve the higher grade.  I am happy to report they both have an A.

Lizzie is another student who has improved.  Last nine weeks she failed.  She was apathetic and not doing all of her assignments.  After she got the report card, we discussed her strengths.  She also discussed the ramifications of her lack of effort with her parents.  It seems she has changed her mind faster than a clone trooper asking Obi Won about two droids.  Lizzie is doing all of her work and currently has a B.  She does not see any assignment as difficult.  She has unlearned the negative way of thinking and now has the confidence to do the work.

Now if I can only get Carl to achieve a C.   

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I Thought Thor was a Character in a Movie!

Thor, the god of Norse mythology. "Thor's...

Image via Wikipedia

It’s President’s Day! A time to honor our leaders. A time to challenge our future leaders with the study of past leaders. Tomorrow, students begin presentations to share a myth from Greek or Roman mythologies and a mythology other than Greek or Roman.

What caused this desire to research? The freshmen have finished learning about Odysseus. During class discussions, they felt Odysseus’ leadership skills were a 7 on a scale of 1-10 and 10 being the best. He would have scored higher, they said, but it was his fault all his men died. After all, it was Odysseus who didn’t listen to his men and made them stay to meet the Cyclops. Sure, the story shows us how brains defeats brawn. Sure, we realize that with brains, we can accomplish great feats. However, the story also shows us that we should not taunt the other person when we win. Odysseus’ taunts cause the big bully, Polyphemus to pray to his father, Poseidon. And, the prayer for the destruction of all of Odysseus’ crew is answered. So, according to the students, it is all Odysseus’ fault. So, the kids wanted to see how other cultures defined leadership skills. Ok, they didn’t come out and say they wanted to this. I had to read their minds.

Besides learning about leadership, one of the objectives is for students to learn about all of the allusions or references to mythologies in our world. I enjoy seeing a student learn that the word martial comes from Mars, the Roman god of war. Of course, marital is also derived from the god of war. Coincidence?

This year’s big epiphany was when Tyler was researching Norse mythology. I was expecting him to realize the names for several days of the week come from the Vikings. However, his big “Eureka!” moment came when he saw the god Thor: “I thought Thor was a character in a movie!”

At this point, I will take any discovery. Do you have any “Aha!” moments you have witnessed and would like to share?

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Compassion

I teach at a public school, so I do not teach religion at all.  At school we emphasize the Golden Rule: Treat others the way you want to be treated.

Sunday at church, our pastor discussed compassion.  He told a story about a man from the city who came to a fork in the road.  He was trying to decide which road to take when he noticed a farmer in the field nearby.  He asked the farmer, “Does it matter which road I take?”

The old farmer replied, “Not to me it don’t.”  I know.  It is incorrect subject verb agreement.  I am writing in dialect.

It took a moment for the joke to settle in.  The pastor wanted to share with the congregation that we should care about one another.  His sermon reminded me of this anonymous story I use in class to teach parables:

The Mouse Trap Parable

A mouse looked through a crack in the wall to see the farmer and his wife opening a package.  “What food might it contain?” he thought. He was aghast to discover that it was a mousetrap!

Retreating to the farmyard, the mouse proclaimed the warning, “There’s a mousetrap in the house, there’s a mouse trap in the house!”

Chicken clucked and scratched, raised her head and said, “Mr. Mouse, I can tell you this is a grave concern to you, but it is of no consequence to me; I cannot be bothered by it.”

The mouse turned to the pig and told him, “There is a mouse trap in the house.”

“I am so very sorry Mr. Mouse,” sympathized the pig, “but there is nothing I can do.”

The mouse turned to the cow, who replied, “Wow, Mr. Mouse, a mouse trap; am I in grave danger?  No.  Good luck to you.”

So the mouse returned to the house, head down and dejected, to face the farmer’s mousetrap alone.

That very night a sound was heard throughout the house, like the sound of a mousetrap catching its prey. The farmer’s wife rushed to see what was caught. In the darkness, she did not see that it was a venomous snake whose tail the trap had caught. The snake bit the farmer’s wife.

The farmer rushed her to the hospital. She returned home with a fever. Now everyone knows you treat a fever with fresh chicken soup, so the farmer took his hatchet to the farmyard for the soup’s main ingredient.

His wife’s sickness continued so that friends and neighbors came to sit with her around the clock. To feed them, the farmer butchered the pig.

The farmer’s wife did not get well, in fact, she died, and so many people came for her funeral the farmer had the cow slaughtered to provide meat for all of them to eat.

We are all connected and when one of us is in trouble, we need to help.  We need compassion and empathy for others.

Today, I decided to try to evaluate my lesson on compassion with an alternative assessment idea that I created:  After each class I pushed a kid down the stairs.  Nine out of ten kids (or 90%) helped him.  My lesson was a success and others felt good about being compassionate.

A straight flight of stairs, at Porta Garibald...

Image via Wikipedia

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Just Another Normal Day

The final computer-generated Yoda as seen in t...

Image via Wikipedia

“Hey, that is like Star Wars!”  yelled Mo.  Her face lit up brighter than the stars when the Millenium Falcon jumped into hyperspace.

“Wow, correct you are”, I said in my best Yoda voice.  Why?  First of all, I am a Star Wars geek.  Second Mo and several other students saw a connection between an Irish legend and story from a galaxy far, far away.  We English teachers live for these “Aha!” moments.

See, one of the legends I have students read is about Fionn Mac Cumhaill, leader of the Fianna, a band of Irish warriors.  In the story, Fionn studies with Finegas, a Druid and the King’s Poet.    When Finegas finally catches the Salmon of Knowledge, Fionn cooks it for him.  However, one scale of the fish lands on Fionn’s finger causing him to put it in his mouth to relieve the pain of the burn.  Thus, Fionn  gains all of the knowledge in the Salmon and Finegas realizes this fulfills an ancient prophesy.

So, what exactly caused this “Aha!” moment?  I had shared that Fionn is similar to King Arthur and Finegas is similar to Merlin.  Apparently, this comparison ignited Mo’s mind like an exploding Death Star.  She mentioned that it is like Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kanobi.  Other students began to chime in with comparisons.

“There are swords and light sabers!” shouted that normally quiet kid who always wears camouflage.

“And the Fianna are like the Knights of the Round Table and the Jedi,” added Brandon.

‘Wait!” exclaimed Shania, “the stories are like Harry Potter, too!   Harry has a mentor, Dumbledore and he has a wand, which is like a sword.”

“And Finn Mac Cumhaill, Star Wars, King Arthur, and Harry Potter all have the letter A in them!”  shared Andy.  Why do all of my classes have one kid like this?  I refrain from answering, “Take a good look at the letter now because you will never see it on a report card.”

Nonetheless, the discussion continues for a few more minutes about epics, heroes, and what we learn from legends.  The bell rings and the kids move on to their own stories where they are the heroes and advisors.  Except for Andy.  He asks me, “What is the average velocity of an unladen swallow?”

“African or European?” I respond matter-of-factly.

“I don’t know,” Andy replies, then he screams, “Arrrg!” and rushes out the door.

Just another normal day in the freshman experience.

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It’s great to be back!

A stereotypical caricature of a pirate.

A very strange thing happened to me at school on the last day before the winter break.  My retina became detached.  I wish I could say it was due to an old sports injury, like an elbow to the face in basketball, a hard hit as I threw the winning touchdown pass in the championship game, or an errant pitch during a little league game.  However, most who know me would scoff at the fabrication.

See, (get it – I used an eye reference as a transition) even though I am helping coach my third grader’s basketball team, I just learned that if a foul is committed when the player is taking a shot, then he gets to go to the foul line.  For forty years I had I not been able to figure out why players sometimes only got to pass the ball in and why they sometimes got to shoot a foul shot.  I thought it was some sort of mathematical equation.  However, with football I know the rules.  I know the strategy.  When I played, I knew what I was supposed to do as an offensive lineman.  However, knowledge is not always THEE answer.  Ability would have been beneficial.  Meanwhile, in baseball, I held the record for being hit by pitches.  Nonetheless, I can’t say this caused my detached retina.  I was never hit in the head and little kids don’t throw that hard.

Well, back to the true cause of the injury.  It just happens.  It is hereditary.  I get to blame Mom or Dad.

On the last day of school before the holiday break, I was having trouble seeing out of my right eye.  The lower part was black and I could not see short people, which is my entire family.  I was having trouble reading, but I did not let that deter me from visiting Wikipedia to try to self diagnose my problem.  As an educator, I do not fully accept Wikipedia as a valid source, but it is a good starting point for research.  This philosophy was validated as I read that I could be suffering from a detached retina or hemorrhoids.  Further research confirmed it was an eye problem.  I called the optometrist and he told me to come in right away.  Next thing I know I am met with serious faces from all and they give me more tests than a student has during exam week.  Needless to say, I failed.

Since I failed, I had to go to remediation.  So, off I traveled to a retina specialist. More tests.  More failures.  Then, some good news.  If I would have waited until after Christmas to come in, I would be blind in the right eye.  Apparently there is a small window for surgery to work.

After a successful surgery, I feel disappointed because I only get to wear an eye patch for one day.  I was looking forward to being a pirate for a couple of weeks.  I was practicing all of my pirate jokes like: “What is a pirate’s favorite subject in school?  ARRRT!”  ARRG, twas not meant to be matey!”  Instead, I spent the next two weeks with a gas bubble on my eye preventing me from seeing out of it.  I also had to lie on my face or right side all of the time.  And, no reading or writing.  I am an English teacher!  I live to read and write!  I swear, If I wasn’t prone to seasickness, I would have run off to become a pirate.

After the gas bubble dissolved,  I no longer had to keep my face down; however, reading and writing was still too difficult. I had to be off work for three more weeks.  After two days, my wife was begging me to go back to work.  My absence makes her heart grow fonder.   You should hear about the parties she throws when my summer vacation ends.

Although my right eye is a little blurry, and it will always be this way, I can return to work.  I may have to make a few changes, like have the kids type papers in size 14, or write bigger on the board, so I can read it from the front of the room.

I decided to change my blog a little.  I really missed the students and want to try to focus on my memories from the classroom over the last twenty three years.  Also, I am going to publish on Mondays and Thursdays instead of every day.  I need the extra time to remember anecdotes.

I would also like to thank those who sent “get well wishes.”

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Things that make you wonder…

Have you ever wondered?  Of course you have.  Perhaps you wonder how the deer know to only cross at those yellow signs on the road.  Perhaps you wonder why black olives are packaged in cans and green olives are packaged in jars.  Or, perhaps you wonder how everyone seemed to know Lassie was barking because Timmy was in trouble.

I enjoy wondering.  My love for reading has allowed me to wonder what it would have been like in a different time and place.  My desire to visit new places all of the time has encouraged me to wonder what it would be like to live in that location.  And, I wonder why people act the way they do.

People’s actions are like character’s actions in a story.  When I teach literature, I focus on why characters behave the way they do.  Sometimes we can explain it; sometimes we cannot.  For example, it is difficult to explain why the jury found Tom Robinson guilty in To Kill A Mockingbird.

However, it is easy to explain why Heck Tate said “Bob Ewell fell on his knife” at the end.

Recently I have been presented with some strange behavior by students that have made me wonder.  Perhaps one of you can explain these teenager’s logic.

1. I went into the boys rest room to wash my hands and noticed someone sitting on the floor in the stall.  Fearing he was regurgitating his math lesson or the school lunch, I asked him if he was ok.  He came out of the stall and tried to lie.  He finally confessed to be cutting his class, which was in the media center.  Since when did a boys bathroom floor, where aiming to hit the toilet is not a priority, become a “cooler” place to be than the library?  In 23 years I have never seen this way to cut a class.

Stainless Steel Stalls

2. I was walking down the hallway to the lunch room.  I never get school food, for I am trying to live a long life.  However, today I did not pack my lunch.  I stopped a young man who was breaking our dress code and asked him, “what class are you in right now?”   He responded, “I’m going to get some food at the grab and go line.”   I said that I wondered when the grab and go food line became a class.  So, I asked him again and we proceeded to his class. He did not pass go, collect $200 or buy any snacks.  I wonder why someone tries so hard to attract attention to himself then complains about getting in trouble.  When you scream, people tend to notice.  

Tomorrow we have outlines due.  I wonder what creative excuses I will encounter.  I am certain that I will get five students saying “I didn’t understand the assignment” even though we spent two class periods working on it.  I will probably hear three students tell me “I forgot it at home or in the car.”  Of course, one or two students will tell me that they were typing it and left it on the printer.  I do wonder if I will get “my brother got mad at me and lit it on fire, again.”

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Lessons for Marriage and Parenting from Star Wars

A few months ago my children found my high school yearbooks.  After seeing my pictures, they decided I was a nerd.  However, I was never a nerd, nor am I one now.  Honest.  In fact, for a few months in 1995 I was even suave and debonair enough to fool my future wife.  Along this journey that started in a galaxy far, far way, I have learned a few things:

1. When picking up women, make sure there is little competition.  Han Solo won Princess Leia’s heart.  The only competition on board the Millennium Falcon an Old Jedi, a twin brother, a walking giant hairball, an annoying droid, and a rolling vacuum.  When I met my wife, I was the only single guy at the Euchre Party.  I was her Han Solo rescuing her from the Death Star.

2. Jedi mind-tricks work.  I can never seem to find the droids I am looking for.  No matter what I may be thinking, my wife always has a way of making me agree with her.

3. When you think: “I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” you are probably right.  I have never been in a dire predicament like being in a garbage masher or giant slug.  However, I have been too close to crying child who either blows out his diaper or vomits all over me, the dog, and the carpet.

4. Wookies and some people are poor losers.  I have yet to lose an argument with my wife because I am a poor loser.   Unfortunately, this characteristic has been inherited by my youngest son.  He is a sore loser when I crush him in War, Go Fish, Sorry, and every other game.

5.If one of your family members disappears, expect a trap.   In Cloud City, C3PO knew Darth Vader and his storm troopers were there but he disappeared before he could warn anyone.  When my daughter was an infant, my wife would disappear.  Immediately the little baby would scream and cry until Mommy returned.

4. Yoda is right: “Do or do not.  There is no try.”  Luke doesn’t believe he can lift his fighter out of the swamp.  He is right.  You have to believe to succeed.  We have learned to make the kids do the chore right.  They get to keep doing it until it is done correctly.

5. Do not negotiate with bad guys and children.  While Leia is held prisoner on the Death Star, Moff Tarkin and Darth Vader ask her where the secret rebel is.  She reveals the location to save the planet.  They blow it up anyway.  Negotiating with children works the same way.   You give them a cookie and then they want a glass of milk.

Yes, Star Wars has helped many of us “cool” people face what life has to offer.  The Force is with us!

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Three Steps to a Better Vocabulary and a New Job

Times are tough.  Everyone is competing for jobs.  Some folks have had to take less-than-desirable-jobs in order to pay the bills.  Do not have trepidation or anxiety.  There is a way to get a better job!  Increase your vocabulary!  Here are three easy steps to accomplish this:

1. Get motivated!  You have to want to communicate effectively.  We learned new words when we were children in order for our parents to understand our whining better.  Then, most of us grew up and became lazy.  I guess most folks are content with being called “nice.”  What spouse would like to share the same adjective as a necktie, shirt, or haircut?

2. Read!  And take the time to look up unknown words!  I loved to read Sports Illustrated when I was a kid.  Rick Reilly was my favorite contributing writer.  I had to use a dictionary when I read his articles to understand his humor.

3. Use a new word correctly in a sentence three times during the day.  For example, tell your boss, “But Mr. Scrooge, it’s Christmas Eve, only an impudent, malicious, old man would make us work.”  Later, when he tells the Salvation Army, “Bah!  Humbug,” remind him, “Sir, you are an uncaring, impudent excuse for a human being.”  And when it is finally time to go home to the family, yell at him, “Take this job and shove it you impudent man without a soul!  I ain’t working here no more!”

I can guarantee that finding the right motivation, reading more, and using new words every day will increase your vocabulary and lead to a new job!

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