Rhetoric and photo essays

As much as I travel and as much as I would love to say that I know a lot about photography, I really don’t. I know some basics, a few tricks, and how to turn the camera on, but photography is not one of my best skills. That being said, I love it and I love how people use it to tell stories. What can I say? I’m an English teacher, so of course how the story is told is one of my favorite parts.

In my AP class, we’re learning about rhetoric and how it applies to more than just the AP exam or essays we write in class. I usually try not to give homework over a holiday, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity for them to use rhetoric in a way that was outside of writing or reading a story or an essay. So we learned about visual rhetoric and I made them do photo essays over their Christmas break. I put together a website for them to compile their essays; the essays are due this week, so we should be updating the pages soon. The kids can see how many people look at the site; I wanted them to be able to take ownership of what they’ve done. Anyway, there is a more solid explanation of how we set it up if you go to the site, but please check it out. Like I said, I’m not a photographer, let alone a photagraphy teacher, but I like when stories can be told in different ways. Plus, I like to see my kids have fun and be creative. 🙂

Here’s the link to the class website.


Teaching portfolio

Last spring I made my first ever video resume. It was a lot of work to figure out at first, but worth the effort in the end. I’ve realized that in order to keep up with the market, I need to not only integrate technology into my lesson plans, but my job applications as well.

I’ve always had a teaching portfolio. They make sure you develop one before you finish teaching school. But my teaching portfolio back home was a 3″ fancy notebook full of papers and pictures and cds of videos. True, it has that personal touch of student work, but it is a bit cumbersome to bring with to interviews. So after seeing a friend’s online portfolio, I decided to do the same.

I used weebly.com to make my online teaching portfolio and while I used the free version, I was still able to make it look professional. I could add lesson plans, photos of the class, handouts, presentations, my teaching philosophy, and my new video resume. It’s amazing! I feel like a grown up.

You can check out my new and improved teaching portfolio here. 

Turkey Time

“Uncertainty is always a part of the taking charge process.”

— Harold Geneen

It’s amazing how life can change so quickly. This time last week I was looking for jobs in Denver and wondering what my Labor Day plans would be. Today, I’m organizing suitcases and sending in paperwork to accept a job offer at a private school in Istanbul. I leave next Thursday (sadly, this turkey on a Thursday does not come with stuffing and casserole) to visit family on the East coast and then hopefully ship out by September 1st. It gives me just enough time to throw things together (the to-do list grows each day instead of shrinks) and not enough time to think about what I’m actually about to do. Continue reading

The answers lie in the questions

I’ve wanted to be a teacher since Ms. King’s fourth grade class at Bill Hefner elementary. Ms. King, if you’re reading this, you were the shit and I thank you for helping realize that I was that kid.

I was that kid who asked my teachers for leftover worksheets or overheads so I could go home and teach my stuffed animals all about sentences. I would line them up, each with a pencil in hand, in front of the chalkboard my stepdad made me.  I was that kid who would lend out my books to friends, fake glasses posed on my nose as I cataloged which book they’d borrowed. I was that kid who wanted to get in front of the class and show everyone that I knew how to do things. I still am that kid, but I have found that that kid has more ideas and passion than I originally gave her credit for.

It is no secret that there are problems within the school system, but it seems to be a secret to the administration on just how to fix those problems. After receiving my BS in English Education and learning just how I was supposed to impart knowledge to the future administration, I decided that public school was not going to be where I made change happen. There were simply too many papers and tests and board members in the way of everything I wanted to try and everything I thought was useful for my students. So I tried a new route and realized that I wasn’t the only teacher having this problem.

When I taught Composition at ECU, I found that a majority of my students were not only intimidated, but often confused by the idea of creative license. What a novel thought for an instructor to not only genuinely ask for your opinion, but allow you to structure it in more than one way.  At the beginning of a new semester, my students would repeat similar questions and sentiments:

“This needs to be five paragraphs, right?”

“I’m not really sure how to write a thesis.”

“You can start a sentence with ‘and’?”

“I thought you should never begin or end on a quote.”

“I was always told that you can’t use ‘I’ in your papers.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever actually written a research paper.”

“What’s analytical writing?”

These students were in college—many of them even took AP English. And through no major fault of their own, they were victims of American public school narrow-mindedness. Now before I go any farther, let me qualify that statement: I am in no way placing complete blame on the public school teacher. I have been there and understand how hard it is to be creative and demonstrate variety when you have objectives and deadlines and supervisors to deal with. That being said, I have encountered too many teachers and too many of their students who are stuck in conventional ways and rules when it comes to language and writing. Language is ever evolving; the instruction of it should reflect that.

So when faced with those questions and statements of rules and regulations, I would smile and shake my head slightly. Forget it, I would respond. Forget everything you have ever learned in high school about writing. Here, you are not writing for an end of year test. In my class, you will not receive a zero on your paper if you repeatedly make the same grammatical mistake. (I won’t be happy, but you won’t get a zero.) Here, your content and conventions will be weighed equally.  When you leave my class, if you forget everything else, remember at least these three things:

1. Always ask questions

I could not stress this enough. Always, always, always ask questions. No questions, no answers. At the heart of every great piece of writing lie questions. Questions about the world and how we respond to it. Even if you think you already know the answer, it is vital to know what question you are answering. The answer to life may be 42, but what is the question??

2. What’s not there is just as important as what is there

Say I give you a picture of a house with a girl in front of it. You describe it to me in great detail—the girl and her dress, the house and its faded curtains and open, empty garage, the overgrown yard and what appears to be a broken tractor in the background.  But what’s missing? Where are her shoes? Why is the garage empty? Why is no one else in the picture? No other houses? There lies the story.

3. The best of writers were the ones who challenged the rules

What I teach my students is not set in stone. The rules I tell them are more guidelines than anything else. I give them tools to help them and show them how to best use those tools in various situations.  If they figure out how to use those tools in new ways and apply them to new situations, then I have done my job. If they decide to acknowledge what I’ve given them, but change the way things are done, then maybe I can learn something new from them.

It takes me at least whole semester to convince my students that I don’t know everything and that’s ok, but that I will share what I do know and that writing isn’t such a horrible thing once you’re allowed some wiggle room.

So all this rambling leads me to my questions (for it is imperative to always ask questions):

  1. How can we change the system when the system won’t acknowledge what it’s doing wrong?
  2. How can we convince teachers that variety is essential to learning and that what we teach today might not apply tomorrow?
  3. How do we help our students keep that excitement for learning that many of them had when they first started school?
  4. How do we know that what we are teaching them is what they really need to know?

I have opinions for each of these questions, but not necessarily answers. I’m a teacher—I don’t always have all the answers. But I’ll be damned if I don’t keep asking questions.

Always keep it interesting

Six ways to keep students interested:

One of my younger sisters doesn’t really share my passion for reading and writing. To her, I might as well speak Greek when I’m discussing words or literature or most of my favorite things. Love each other as we do, there are times when we have such few similarities that we question whether or not we’re actually related. That being said, she recently posted on my Facebook wall the following quote:

“Essays are like skirts–long enough to cover the subject, but short enough to keep it interesting.”

How great is that?! Of course, being the English nerd that I am, I immediately asked her to cite her source and tried Googling it when she didn’t. Apparently, it’s quite the common saying, because I couldn’t find the origin. Thanks Google–your overwhelming database of useless knowledge has proved useless to me once again.

I think the part about this quote that both pleased and disturbed me the most was the latter half. It disturbed me mostly because I often think of my sister as if she is still 10 years old and don’t want her thinking of why short skirts are interesting. But on the other hand, this part of the quote pleased me because, well it’s awesome and it leads me to a few questions: 1.Why hadn’t any teacher said this to me before? It would have become my motto. 2. Then again, when is this an appropriate message to use? I would love to use this with my students, but I know some of their parents would disapprove. And 3. If I did use it with my students, how many of them would actually get it and how many would just giggle or give me blank looks? Now stay with me, because this leads me to my ultimate question:

How do we keep it interesting?

As a teacher I constantly try to remain enthusiastic and a step ahead of what other teachers are doing. I look up new strategies, pay attention to what others do, research fun activities, and try to think outside the box–all because I enjoy learning and want my students to enjoy it as well.  Of course there are lots of ways that I think would be cool to present or apply information and skills, but there are always obsticals (check out the Banned Books on ALA if you don’t believe me). Continue reading