180 Days: Day 59–St. Cecilia and the Shell

Today’s readings: 

Grade 10–Chapter One of Golding’s Lord of the Flies, “The Sound of the Shell”

Grade 12–“A Song for St. Cecilia’s Day, 1687” by John Dryden

Today’s lessons reinforced by students to the teacher:

Sophomores are more interested in playing with my conch than reading about one.

Sophomores do like to be read aloud to.

Seniors are more interested in reading the teacher’s annotations on a poem than looking up information and writing their own.

Seniors freak out at new poetic forms (odes are hard, I guess, especially the Pindaric form).

I will have to practice odes as much as sonnets with the kids.

Days like today, days where I’m diving into new units in all classes, are rare. I do find them enjoyable though. Despite the frustrations of kids not completing their readings, my students this year do seem genuinely intrigued by the reading selections. My sophomores are really stoked to delved into Lord of the Flies, while my seniors are slowly coming around to Dryden as they start to piece together how neoclassical values are demonstrated in the highly stylized, yet extravagant & superficial writings of the poets of that age.

By the end of each period today though, I had to prep them for a substitute teacher for tomorrow’s classes. I reluctantly will be out tomorrow to attend a California Writing Project conference at the University of California, Irvine. I hate to miss class again after being out for jury duty, but a colleague and I are representing 15 teachers at the conference and we need to bring back the goods to share. Frontloading is one of my best friends. When I know I will be out for only one day, I give the students their assignment ahead of time along with the stern reminders that I better get a good report from the substitute.

So today really was all about me using what decades of classroom experience have reinforced–kids will be kids, but they will rise to the expectation that I set for them, even if I do have to tackle it a couple of times with them. We will read chapter two tomorrow and we will read more odes–along with a little Pope for fun.

Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day, HWV 76 by Georg Friedrich Handel



180 Days: Day 58–Travel Day, Only Costs You Steps

My classroom is a quarter of a mile from the school office. The school library is right next to the school office. And each of my classes made a trip to the library today to trade books. So while I got my steps in today, my sophomores turned in Unbroken and checked out Lord of the Flies and my seniors turned in Hamlet and are back to using their Perrine’s Sound and Sense textbook for a quick look at neoclassicism. So in one grade, we traded Japanese POW camps for Hobbesian hell on an island. In the other grade, we traded Danish indecision for Augustan superficiality.

So after the not-so-power-walk back from the library (because what students are ever in a hurry when walking in the halls?) my sophomores spent time comparing Hobbes to John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau before delving into Golding’s dissection of the nature of evil. My seniors delved into the time period of these philosophers by examining the elements of neoclassical literature.

But in our 40 minute Tuesday class periods, it’s all we can do to complete anything. So the plethora of steps–6 trips to the front of the school and back to my room– and the discussion of man’s wickedness all day was luckily shortlived. Tuesdays always feel like the longest short days ever, but the kids stayed on target today making my life a lot easier. Tomorrow we start reading lit in earnest and it gets harder.

“Champagne Supernova” by Oasis from What’s the Story, Morning Glory?

“Slowly walking down the hall, faster than a cannonball…”


180 Days: Day 57–Goodnight, Dulce Prince

All of my students, sophomores and seniors alike, finished up their units today. Sophomores capped their Unbroken unit by listened to and analyzed the poems “Dulce Et Decorum Est” and “In Flanders Fields.” They also listened to and analyzed the Guns ‘n Roses song “Civil War.” I plan to connect the Unbroken unit to our next unit, Lord of the Flies, for comparison and a synthesis literary analysis paper by semester’s end. My sophomores are struggling with the concept of literary analysis right now, and while they complain about how hard it is, I think they do like how much more they are understanding about what they are reading. Luckily, they are excited about tackling Lord of the Flies. I’m glad that they are excited, but tomorrow I must take time to warn them of the disturbing nature of the story. Each time I try to warn my students though, experience tells me that it will make them like it more. For some reason, humans are drawn to rubberneck at the trainwreck. And in this case, the trainwreck is a group of boys descending into anarchy and murder.

My seniors bid adieu to Hamlet today. What a fantastic conversation we had in a continuation of our fishbowl seminar. This year’s AP group really dug the Danish Prince. But I am happy to move on. Not because I was ready to do so. I could’ve spent another three weeks on Hamlet with them, but that wouldn’t serve them well. So tomorrow we move on to the Restoration and into the Neoclassic Period–to Dryden, Swift, and Pope. I hope I don’t lose them in this period, as it is the most challenging year after year. But satire is always good to take us through to winter break. The next few weeks will be fun despite the heady literary works.

And here’s a Good Night, Sweet Prince scene that I wouldn’t share with the students, but might laughingly direct them to for curiosity’s sake:

from The Big Lebowski

And this is the absolutely phenomenal reading of “Dulce Et Decorum Est” by English actor Christopher Eccleston (yes, the former Dr. Who puts on a clinic in how to read Poetry Out Loud).


180 Days: Day 56–TGIWF

Thank goodness it’s WRITING FRIDAY. Nothing is better than a day when my students are engrossed in timed writings all day while I’m still engrossed in getting caught up from 6 days of substitute teachers. Today gave me a chance to catch a breath. But today also gave me an awesomely large stack of essays to grade–probably one of my least favorite parts of teaching English.

Why do I hate grading essays? Because the majority of students are just awful writers. But that is precisely why I keep making them write more and why I keep having more to read. It’s a vicious cycle. On occasion, my student writers will give me a chuckle with an awkward thought or phrase. Other times, they really surprise me with their insightful claims. Most of the time though, I’m bored to the point of drooling. And I work diligently to break them from the mold in which they have cast themselves–the mold of giving me what they think I want instead of what they really have to say. Most of the time the hard part is tapping into what they have to say, as they think they don’t have much. Once the well has been tapped though, their thoughts and words overflow.

So I will spend some time in the next few days reading and assessing what my next steps are in helping them along the literary analysis path. Wish me luck. I’ll need it.

“Writer’s Minor Holiday” by Calexico

180 Days: Day 55–A Shirt and a Pass

Tomorrow will be a crazy day where large groups of students are out of class for 10-15 minutes at a time as the local photographer who takes all studio photos for our yearbook is on campus to take group photos of all of our 50+ clubs on campus. So the chaos began in earnest today in the lead up to what has become an exciting annual tradition to see which clubs have the coolest shirts and who has the most shirts and made it into the most photos. Students wear these club shirts like a badge of honor.

So lunchtime today my room was abuzz with students streaming in and out collecting t-shirts and passes for the two clubs that I advise: National Honor Society and Photo Club. It’s amazing how much students, teachers, administrators, custodial staff, etc. have to coordinate for groups of students to take a few pictures to be immortalized in the pages of a yearbook that will collect dust on a crowded bookshelf or be lost to the ages in a box of mementos. But it is important to our students and their sense of community. So we do it. And I skip lunch to make sure it works smoothly for the nearly 100 students in my two clubs.

Let the club games begin…we are ready!

“Mickey Mouse Club” by The Mouseketeers (and yes, our school has a Disney Club for student who love all things Disney…)

But the club I always wanted to join, but was never offered:

“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” by The Beatles


180 Days: Day 54–They Stood Up and Poetry Broke Out

Poetry Out Loud ruled the day in my classes today. I had fun moving around my room as groups of students recited their memorized lines to each other–a feat that many of them felt they couldn’t do, but surprised themselves when they did.

Many felt like a victory lap for just remembering the majority of their lines. Others wanted to compete for the rights to represent our classes in the school-wide competition for a cash prize. But in general, they performed better for each other than they would have done for me. It mattered to them to not look foolish in front of their classmates, and they genuinely wanted to not blow it. I was proud that my students memorized lines from John Ashbery and Margaret Atwood and Kate Bass (whose poem “Albatross” is absolutely amazing–and once my student who recited the poem understood the symbolism of the bird, it changed her whole interpretation and performance of the poem).

Here’s a student from past competitions who loaded her performance of “Albatross” on youtube:

There are so many beautiful poems in this world that help us to see the world through slightly different lenses. And most of the poems on the Poetry Out Loud website are accessible and meaningful to poetry novices. I had students reciting William Shakespeare and Thomas Hardy along with the plethora of modern poets. I was pleased to hear such a wide variety of choices coming from them.

I enjoyed watching my students spread their wings.

“Wings” by Birdy


180 Days: Day 53–The Best Laid Plans…Lead to My Laughin’ Place

My stress level was off the charts today as I tried to ferret through 5.5 days worth of papers left behind in a state of chaos by my plethora of substitute teachers from my jury duty stretch. My poor students keep having to put up with the “don’t go there” look on my face when they say, “But I put it in the basket.” They are growing wiser about my response: “Mixed in with all the other papers…this may take a while for me to figure out.”

In the meantime, progress reports are coming up. And I have to get this mess of papers–which were left strewn across four tables in a variety of stacks with no notes and extra copies of handouts missing or buried only goodness knows where. And alas, I’ve discovered that many of my lesson plans were disregarded or not completely followed. So here I sit tonight with a headache refusing to look one minute longer at the mess that will sort itself out over the next few days. The silver lining–I’m back with my students. I’ve got the rest of the week planned out to patch up the lost time. I’m going to work to take my frown and turn it upside down. Because the kids are worth it.

“Everybody’s Got A Laughin’ Place” from Disney’s Song of the South


180 Days: Day 52–The Heartwarm & The Heartbreak…

I returned to school today after being gone nearly two weeks for jury duty (with a holiday weekend thrown in for a dash of extra time). I wanted to hug each and every student as I have never missed my students so much as during the 5 days I was out for jury service. The five days were harder on them than one would normally think though. I mean, what kid didn’t look forward to an “easy” substitute teacher day? Except, I don’t leave easy lessons. I leave a version of my regular lesson that is often poorly explained by the substitute, if the sub follows the plans I leave at all–and I highly question their ability to follow multi-step directions at times. So I had a positive day with my students. We analyzed Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War”.  And the students loved the song which was presented as a poem first. We read it, looked at the rhythm, listened to the rhyme, looked up the allusions, etc. Then I asked them if Louis Zamperini, the hero of Unbroken, would agree with the song’s speaker or not–then they had to back up their claim with evidence from the text. For a group that had just come back from a long holiday break and a heartbreak from the previous week (more on that in a minute), they were focused and engaged. My heart was warmed and full after today.

As for my students’ heartbreak: one of my students passed away the weekend before Thanksgiving. I was still serving jury duty, but contacting school daily to ensure that his classmates received the support and understanding they need in these difficult days of mourning. Today, my students refused to sit where their fallen classmate sat–all day long despite the fact he may not have been in their class. A makeshift memorial has sprung up at his seat. Students added post-its with messages, pictures, origami, and artwork throughout the day. Despite the heartbreak of losing this vivacious young man so unexpectedly, my students and I all agreed today that we are in this life together.christian memorial

The above picture is from the Celebration of Life this weekend at our school. Our community has rallied around the mourning family (his grandfather is a colleague) and our students.

“I’ve All I Need” by Liam Gallagher from As You Were

“…It’s not goodbye
So dry your eyes
Come rain or shine
I’ve all I need and more…”


180 Days: Days 46-51–Jury Duty, I’ve Been Grinched!

I know it’s cheating to post multiple days at once, but I’ve not been in class to write about my experiences or students. I was called to jury duty this week and I have fallen into a pattern of going to court. Driving to school after court and school is over to write the next day’s lessons and try to make them as meaningful as possible while I’m out of class for the unforeseeable future.

So I keep assigning articles to read and essays to write. In the meantime, I feel I’ve been Grinched. And I miss my students terribly…

And I’ll be thankful to return to them after Thanksgiving.


180 Days: Day 45–Keep It Simple Week Ain’t So Simple, and I Ain’t Ready

I sighed a breath of relief over the weekend when I found out that I would not have to report for jury duty today. But I do have to call every day this week and still face the possibility of having to go in to serve one day or one trial. So we started an assignment that would take both today and tomorrow to complete–and it turns out the students are far more challenged by the assignment than they expected. All it told me was that students didn’t do their required reading. I gave the quiz I promised them on the weekend reading from Unbroken. But the questions were open-ended and required students to provide direct quotes from the text as evidence and provide analysis of each quote. I’ve never heard so much belly-aching about having to actually open a book and find answers (be careful about wishing for those open book quizzes, folks). Needless to say, today was a trudge through 51 minutes of hard work reading and re-reading passages from a book for academic engagement rather than simple reading pleasure.

I purposely made today’s assignment a two-day assignment because I know I’ll have to write lesson plans for either me or a substitute for one if not more days this week. I already have a half day substitute planned for an appointment tomorrow–barring getting called into jury service. So making two sets of plans –one for me, one for a potential sub–makes keeping it simple a necessity, but it’s not simple for me to actually achieve. It’s double the work in prepping. It’s even more than double if I want the work that students do to be meaningful and practice skill sets.

So here’s to hoping I don’t have jury duty…

“Keep It Simple” by Tove Lo