Tag Archive | teaching

The Final Chapter on Teaching

colorful libraryThis is the time of year we all get excited about the holidays, except if you are a student and are coming down the home stretch with final exams leering in the near future. Last night was the last class that I will teach for the year; the two remaining class periods will include a practice test and then a FINAL exam.

We covered our final chapters last night, and I gave the students one final opportunity to raise questions on topics they still have failed to grasp. I can’t say I was surprised at some of the topics — like antecedents, appositives, comma placement, reflexive pronouns, and infinitives. I was surprised, though, when I learned some were still having trouble with coordinating and subordinating conjunctions. God knows why these parts of speech are so problematic.

I sure wish there was a magic bullet for these students. English, even when it is your first language, can be so tough to understand. Truthfully, I think the originators of the language wanted to keep outsiders out–kind of like an exclusive club with its secret handshake. Just when a person grasps a concept, there is always an exception. It’s a wonder how immigrants ever pick up our language. I’m happy I didn’t have to learn it; I was born with it. So I can be patient with students struggling with concepts we learned early on in the class.

The saddest part of this class session is the final curtain has fallen on my teaching. I need to devote more attention to Ken, as well as my writing. I have “fallen off the wagon” with my novel, and I want to devote myself to producing another good story by next spring. I also don’t want to deal with the cold and snow when my old bones creak. I would have been a very good bear in winter because I’d just like to hibernate until spring.

Yes, I’m closing this chapter of my life. I’m ending yet another career. Not surprisingly, the constant thread running through my varied careers has been writing. From now on, I will grow where I’ve been planted. I will write until I have passed this life and go on  to the next. Writing and reading take me away from my small living room in a small house in Mid-west America. I can travel anywhere I want to go from my recliner when my real life commands I must stay put.

Do I regret not teaching any more? Yes and No. I’m a little burned out when it comes to trying to excite students who have no curiosity. Students who watch me with a blank stare are impossible to reach. They have no desire to learn, and I wonder why they are in the classroom in the first place. No matter what I try, I don’t seem to be able to light a fire in these individuals. But I will miss those students who look at me with bright eyes and truly do their best work. Seeing their progression is a wonderful thing because I know they will succeed at whatever they decide to do after they leave me with a few more arrows in their education quiver.

Student Teachers

Tormented writerEarlier in the year, I gave my class a Mastery Test to see what areas they need the most help. After careful consideration, I decided to give them all a taste of their own student medicine and make them the teachers of one of the sections.

At first they were all okay with the idea, after all, how hard could teaching be? All a person had to do was stand in front of the class for a few minutes and write on the board. The class was divided into four groups and given class time to plan their approach to teaching their subject.

Last night was guinea pig night. The first group was up. I sat in the back of the room and tried to help them get through the embarrassment of teaching something they really didn’t take the time to understand; consequently, they totally confused the rest of the class. There was a lot of blank faces in the “audience” and perplexed faces on the four students trying to impart their lack of knowledge.

I think the experiment was a success. The team learned teaching isn’t as easy as they thought, especially when the class asked me to reinforce the ideas that the team was trying to “teach.” Hopefully, Group #3 who are up next in November will learn from the guinea pigs and do a better job of preparation.

I had hoped having the students “teach” would make them at least look at the book and try to understand the material. I’m really concerned that so many of the young students really don’t seem to give a rip about anything. Every class, I try to get them excited about the world around them, but there seems to be no curiosity.

I feel sorry for them that they don’t seem to find joy in learning new things. I understand basic grammar and sentence structure  is boring, but with creative assignments like having a chance to teach the class and have the ability to do it the way they chose would get their juices flowing. Instead, they crawled through the chapter and didn’t present anything fun or stimulating.

Oh well, we’ll see what the other groups do as the dog days of the semester crawl on. Hopefully, we’ll find one teacher in the masses. I hope the profession isn’t a lost art.

Raising the Curiosity Quotient

bookwormAs we turn the page of the calendar to August, again all thoughts turn to school supplies—or so the ads on television make us want to believe. I swear you don’t even need a calendar any more because you can gauge the time of the year by what ads you endure on the “tube.”

I find it ironic these ads appear when my writing class is winding down. We have this upcoming week of classes and then a final the next week. On the 19th of August, my students will know if the work they did with me is worthy of passing onto the next class or whether they will have to repeat the course with a different instructor.

In three more weeks, the Fall semester will begin. I’m assigned to teach the same prep writing class, but at a campus ten minutes from my home, which will make any impending winter weather no threat. The educational cycle will repeat. Some students will excel, others will not. Some students will be inspired; others will sit like lumps waiting for me to pour the necessary information into their heads with little effort on their part. And like my class now, some will pass and others will not. And so it goes.

After teaching for two years, I have learned a lot. One thing is the curiosity level of most student is almost non-existent. If I can influence one thing in their lives, this would be it. I’d like to get them to wonder about the world around them and ask why are things the way they are, and what can they do to change them.  Most young people I’ve met seem to have no zest to learn or to ask questions about matters that affect them. Has their world made them so apathetic and discouraged at such a young age?

So as this semester ends and the next begins, I will spend the following sixteen weeks to try to turn on some little part of my students to show them learning is fun. I will try to open their eyes to see education is the key to unlock the doors of the future.  It’s a tough job, but I’m up for the task. My hope is at least one young mind will be switched on to have the curiosity toask “why,”  the persistence to get an answer, and the courage to fix what is broken,

Mondays and Antecedents

Garfield and MondayWell it was Monday again. As usual, I put off grading papers until the eleventh hour last night, so I had to get up early this morning to finish the job and post the grades on the school “blackboard” before I left to teach my nine o’clock class.

In the beginning of the semester, I put off grading papers because  the plethora of grammar and misspelling mistakes fill me with pain and show me how much work I have to do. By now, though, I am pleased to report most students have advanced leaps and bounds, and I enjoy hearing their stories. Why I procrastinate at this time of the semester, well, I don’t get it. I guess it’s just a bad habit I’ve fallen into.

Truly, I love this time of the semester with my folks. By now, I’m left with the people who really want to learn, and we’ve reached a level of trust. Today, we covered the different elements of pronouns. As I went through the text and stood in front of the room, I spied several heads looking at the test. Oh, no. Classroom, we have a problem!  I recognized some of the grammatical terms were perplexing them. OK, grammar has terms–after all, we have to call a part of speech by a specific term, otherwise we couldn’t communicate when we dissect sentences. A term like “Antecedent” threw them for a loop.

So, I shut the door and said in a quiet voice, “I want you all to know that this room is a safe place. If you don’t understand something, I’m not going to think less of you if you tell me you don’t understand. You are letting me know that I need to try again to help you turn on that little light in your head. If you’re having trouble, don’t you think someone else might be having the same problem? By asking a question, you’re helping your classmates and you’re helping me be a better teacher. And as long as I’m your instructor, I will do my best to help you learn.”  Everybody took a collective sigh of relief. It was like I recognized a huge elephant in the back of the room and had the audacity to talk about it.

Finally, a hand went up and the student said, “I’m sorry. I just don’t get this.” Then another student said, “I was having trouble, too.” We all laughed together and took another swing at antecedents. I felt confident when they walked out the door today of two things. One, I don’t think anyone will be afraid to ask a question going forward, and two, I had slayed the antecedent mystery.

It was a good day, wouldn’t you say?

Fleeting Fame Has Landed On My Blog-step

nov 2012 008I am SOOOO jazzed today — one of my posts, “A Day in The Life of an Adjunct Teacher” was “Freshly Pressed” on Friday.  Thank you, WordPress Editor, I am thrilled to receive this honor!

Every writer dreams of his or her work being read by thousands, preferably millions of people. We all dream of being famous. We do what we can to promote our work. That is why I am so excited about this recognition. Having one of your posts selected for this honor increases the number of people who follow what you have to say. Holy Exposure, Batman!

I started blogging last year in August at the suggestion of my publisher. Miranda told me blogging was a great tool I needed to use to promote my writing. I was leery to blatantly blab about my novels, but then again, if I don’t say anything, who will? Eventually, though, I talked about other things–like teaching and writing, my husband’s MS and every once in a while, I’d get up on my soap box and yell about something. Over time, my blog evolved, and I anticipated writing a post everyday.

Little did I know I would enjoy blogging so much. The best part of the medium is learning about other writers from around the world. In a strange way, we all are connected by this new blogosphere in ways we wouldn’t enjoy without technology.

However, with recognition comes responsibility. I agree with Jules Renard, a French writer who said:  Fame is a constant effort.  I expect now I must raise my writing to a new standard because more eyes will read what I have to say. There’s a certain pressure that goes along with such recognition. Like a zillion emails showing up in my In-Box this morning. I haven’t had that many emails since I left a corporate setting ten years ago!

So, my dear friends and loyal followers, as well as those of you who are just getting acquainted with me, you have my promise I will give you my best on a given day. Some days will be good others, not so much. It’s the best I have to offer.

A Day in The Life of an Adjunct Instructor

great teacherIf you have been following me for a while, you know I have been teaching writing as an adjunct instructor at the local community college for the past two years. I’d like to share something that happened in my class yesterday. I have a couple of darling male students who wanted to play the game, “Stump the Instructor.”  I realized what they were doing right away because I’ve been down this path before. I’m happy to tell you, the game was over as soon as it started when I flat out told them, “I don’t know everything. Look it up.”

I continued the class by telling him, “I don’t know everything about everything. But I know more about writing and English grammar than you do, otherwise you wouldn’t be sitting here.”  Done.

I think teachers who set themselves up as omniscient beings are asking for trouble. Even grade school children go to work to prove their parents and teachers are wrong about something. This is the very reason I tell my classes I don’t know everything. I tell them I make mistakes once in a while. I do so because it makes me human, and a better teacher.  My role is to coach and guide them through the class, instead of parking myself on some know-it-all pedestal. I want my feet firmly on the ground to connect with my students. I do this by sharing it wasn’t so long ago I was sitting in their seat. I tell them I was an adult student just like they are now, and say I understand they have other responsibilities in their life, which can throw a monkey wrench into their worlds once in a while. In the next breath, also share I graduated from college Magna Cum Laude in four years with two children and a part-time job. In other words, I subliminally say, “There are no excuses. If you want an education,  you will find a way to get it done.”

I know one of the best things they can do for themselves is to show up. When they are in class, they have the benefit of my experience. I give them tips on how to approach an exam, how to take good notes, and encourage them to ask “why?” As we go through the textbook from week to week, I try give them memory aids I’ve made up. Like ABIOOTU, which is my made up word for all two-letter prepositions. Then there’s the tried and tested, “I before E, except after “C” jingle.” And once in a while, I come up with something new. I before E

Yesterday as I stood at the white board explaining the difference between infinitives and prepositional phrases beginning with the word “to,” I had a spontaneous inspiration. I said,  “Here’s a Barbara tip  — the “V” in the word INFINITIVE tells you “to” is paired with a VERB, where as, the word PREPOSITION has an “N” so in this case, “to” is paired with a NOUN.” I realized I am a  frickin’ impromptu genius!

I love when my creativity has the chance to inspire others who want to learn. I even love teaching  students who still are lumps of clay, not sure if they want to learn. But I despise students who come to class only to collect their financial aid and have no intention of learning because they not only want cheat the system. Little do they know, they are cheating themselves, too.

So on it goes, from one class to another, from one textbook chapter to the next. Learning happens somewhere in the process. I can only hope that some of the things I try to teach will stick.

Barbie & Chuckie – A Little League Summer

Sunday Morning Story Time – Another romp with Barbie and Chuckie

book clipart

Barbie and Chuckie – A Little League Summer

Copyright 2013 Barbara Celeste McCloskey

Second grade was finally over, and both Chuckie and Barbie were looking forward to a long, fun summer with no school and no homework before they had to face third grade in the fall. They made plans for climbing trees, riding bikes, swimming, and baseball.

Today, Barbie and Chuckie rode their bikes down to the park to get the permission slip for Little League baseball. They each reached for a form and Chuckie was the only one who was given the form from the head coach.

“Hey Mister, you forgot to give my friend, Barbie a slip.” Chuckie said to the adult coordinator.

“Baseball’s only for boys, kid. She can’t play.”

“But that’s not fair. She can hit, field and even slide into home as good as any boy.”

“She’s a girl, kid. Rules are rules.” The man said and then turned away from Chuckie.

Chuckie looked at Barbie and realize that she was almost crying. “Come on, Barbie. Let’s go home.” He put his arm around her.

Barbie was still stinging from her rejection. “I think that dumb ol’ coach thinks I’m just supposed to sit around and play with dumb dolls all summer.” Barbie said as she kicked the dirt with her tennis shoe.

Chuckie laughed. “Yeah, that’ll be the day.” He paused before he said, “I don’t think I feel much like playing baseball this summer.”

“Don’t be silly, Chuckie. You like baseball. You should play.”

“But it won’t be fun without you out there.”

“Sure it will be. We’re best friends, but that doesn’t mean you have to give up something you like to do just because I’m a dumb ol’ girl.”

“I would.” Chuckie said with pure honesty.

“I know you would, but that’s silly. After all, you’re a boy and you can’t go to Brownie Day Camp.” Barbie reminded him.

Chuckie thought about it. “I guess you’re right.”

“And I’ll come to your games and cheer for you.” Barbie smiled.

“More like you’ll yell at me to run faster, hit better, and slide lower. I can hear it now. ‘Get in there and swing, Chuckie’.” Chuckie laughed.

Barbie laughed, too. “Last one home is a rotten egg!” She jumped on her bike and pumped her legs as fast as they would go.

“Hey no fair! You’re supposed to say, ‘ready, set, go!’ before it’s a fair race!” Chuckie yelled.

“Oh, quit whining, little boy.” Barbie laughed as the wind blew her hair back. Before she knew it, Chuckie was beside her and in another moment he led the race. He always did.

A few weeks after the Little League fiasco, Barbie and Chuckie were in the park swinging on the swings.

“Next week I’m going to Brownie camp.”

“Yeah, I know. You tell me about every five minutes.” Chuckie teased.

“I do not.” Barbie defended.

“Do you get to ride a bus like we did when we went to swimming lessons last year?”

“Yeah.”

“That’s neat. What else do you think you’ll be doing?”

“I’m not sure. I know I have to bring a sack lunch.”

“Do you have to wear your uniform?”

“Nah. Just shorts and a top.”

“Hmm . . . so you don’t know anything about what you’ll be doing?”

“Well, not exactly. Mrs. “Z” our Brownie leader said we’ll learn new songs and make stuff like lariats.”

“What are lariats?”

“I don’t know. But she also said we’ll learn about plants in the woods, so we don’t step in poison ivy.” Then she said, “One cool thing we’re going to learn to do is build a fire for a cookout.”

Chuckie’s eyes were as wide as jumbo marbles. “You get to build fires? Wow! My Mom would beat me silly if I ever touched a match!”

“We have to build a fire to cook stuff like hot dogs and marshmallows on a stick, Chuckie. We’ll learn how to do it safely.”

“Yeah. you better, or ol’ Smokey the Bear will eat you if you start a forest fire.” Chuckie laughed. “I wish I could go to camp with you.”

“I know. But no boys allowed.”

“Why is that, Barbie? Why do we always have to be separated?”

“I don’t know, but it sure seems like the older we get, the more stuff we can’t do together.”

“Yeah. Getting older kinda stinks.”

“Not really. We’ll just have to teach each other all the stuff we learn when we’re apart.”

“Good idea. But so far, you know more about baseball than what I’ve learned.” Do you think you could help me hit better by pitching me some?”

“Sure. What’s the problem?”

“I whiff a lot, and then the kids laugh.”

“Are you watching the ball all the time? You’re not closing your eyes again are you?”

“Well,” Chuckie didn’t want to admit he was afraid of the ball when it was coming toward him.

“Come on, Chuckie. That little old “hard rocket” is a lot smaller than you. It won’t kill you. You’ve got a helmet on when you’re in the batter’s box.”

“I’m just afraid, Barbie. And if you tell anybody, I’ll kill you personally!”

“I’d never tell. But I’m going to help you get over your fear. Come on. Let’s go play some baseball.

The two kids got on their bikes, went home, picked up their baseball gear, and then pedaled back to the park.

“You stand there at home plate, Chuckie, and then I’m going to throw the ball so it hits you.” Barbie commanded.

“On purpose?”

“Just stop being a wienie. I’m not going to hurt you.”

Barbie did a pitcher’s wind up and let the baseball fly. It hit Chuckie in the arm.

“Hey!” Chuckie yelled. “That hurt! What are you doing?”

She threw another one that hit him in the hip. “Cut it out, Barbie!”

She threw another ball that hit him in his butt.

Chuckie ran toward her with his fists up. “You hit me again and I’m going to pound you! I swear it Barbie! Girl or no Girl!”

Barbie was laughing. “See, you got hit by a baseball –three times—and you didn’t die did you?”

Chuckie was still fuming. “What?”

“I had to show you, if you got hit, you wouldn’t die. Yeah. I hit you. And you’re still standing. Would you have believed me otherwise?”

“Well,” Chuckie paused. “You didn’t have to be mean about it.”

“I’m not mean. Now get back in the batter’s box. Watch the ball come out of my hand. Pretend you’re seeing it slow down like in the cartoons.”

Chuckie walked back to the batter’s box rubbing his butt.

Barbie was still busy giving him orders. “Hold the bat up and get ready to swing. And when the ball is right in front of you, swing—with your eyes OPEN! I know you can do it, Chuckie.”

Chuckie kicked the dirt. He pounded the wooden bat on the ground and assumed the batter’s position. Then he set his jaw tight and glared at Barbie. She let the pitch go and he watched it flying toward him. He thought about Barbie’s instructions, after all, she could hit the ball further than anybody he knew.

He watched the ball get bigger and bigger as it got closer and closer. In a split second, it looked as big as a grapefruit, and he swung the bat with all his strength. He watched with unbelieving eyes as the ball sailed out into the outfield.

“Run, Chuckie. Don’t stand there! Get to first!” Barbie was jumping up and down. That was the the furthest Chuckie had ever hit a ball.

Without thinking he took off and ran the bases all the way around.

Barbie laughed as her friend rounded the bases with his superior speed. She yelled, “And the crowd went wild!”

He jumped on home plate and pretended he was his favorite baseball hero—Eddie Mathews who played for the Milwaukee Braves. He yelled. “I did it, Barbie! I did it!”

“Yes you did. And before we go home, you’re going to do it a dozen more times.”

“Okay, coach. I’m ready!” Chuckie had confidence he could hit it out of the park every time.

“The two little friends practiced all afternoon and Chuckie felt ready for the tryouts next week. As they were leaving the park to go home for supper, Barbie said, “After I get home from Brownie camp tomorrow afternoon, let’s work on your throwing.”

“What’s wrong with my throwing?”

“We’ll you’re not the most accurate kid on the field.”

“Good point. Fielding it is.” Chuckie jumped on his bike and smiled at his best friend. “And you have to promise me you’ll teach me something you learned at Brownie camp.”

“I think you’re trying to turn me into a teacher, Chuckie.”

“Well, you gotta admit it. You’re pretty good at it.”

Barbie smiled. She was happy, even though she was a girl.