Thursday, March 28, 2013

If you don't want to know my political views, avoid this post

Typically, I try to do a pretty solid job of staying neutral on political and religious topics on Facebook and in general conversation.  I like my friends.  I want to keep them.

Of course, this week, with the DOMA and same-sex marriage cases hitting the supreme court, no one is neutral.  Even those that are "trying" to be neutral, seem to be making a few snide comments about the thoughts of the "other" side. I will grant, some people are Switzerland.  Kudos to them.  Or maybe we've had enough Switzerlands, and it's time to stand up and say what you really think, no matter how unpopular it might be with your friends.


So let me start with this:  I support same-sex marriage.  I would be the worst person to fight against same-sex marriage because I'm horrible at marriage.  Of course, my current husband would probably disagree... but my ex-husband?  Yeah, he'll be the first to tell you that I'm not great at being married.

I had a friend tell me once that everyone should get a "starter marriage" that doesn't count to figure out what it is that they really want.  I got that, why shouldn't everyone?  And since I clearly don't have any of the answers when it comes to marriage, I'm willing to bet that no one else does either.  Personally, I don't care who gets married.  Man-woman, man-man, woman-woman, heck, if you want to dive into the world of poly-unions, go for it.  Let me repeat... I do not care.  So long as everyone is treated fairly and given legal protection, we should not waste time or energy telling each other who we can or cannot sleep with at night.

By wasting time and energy on this, we are, in effect telling people who gets their money after they die, who they can incur debt with, pay taxes with, who can visit them in the hospital when they are sad and need comfort and who can make decisions in their stead, ignoring the fact that someone else may know their wishes.  None of these things affect me, you or anyone else and will go a long way to making more people happy.

I read today something to the effect of: "So your religion tells you same-sex marriage is wrong?  Fortunately our Constitution tells us that we don't make laws based on your religion."  And I had one of those moments where I just wanted to yell out loud "YES!". You can believe what you want.  God?  Awesome.  All-powerful God?  Mystical, all-knowing elephant?  Cool.  Same-sex marriage, multiple marriage, eternal virginity?  All of those things are awesome... and completely separate from the US Government and its laws.

My studies of the Constitution thus far have been pretty pointless, but I have learned (drumroll and trumpets): The Establishment Clause.  Essentially, the government will not and cannot make laws supporting religion or giving moneys to religious institutions.  Doesn't matter which one.  Switzerland.  This is a time when Switzerland is acceptable.  The government needs to be a little more neutral and let people make the decisions they want to make.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Things my students said today... (moments of brilliance)

Today, my students met me with a level of amazement that I haven't seen for a while.  I used to want a Twitter feed called "stuff my students say".  Of course, that took a level of commitment and organization that I couldn't handle.  It also required a Twitter account.

The following are verbatim quotes from students - the first is a bit profane, but I think the profanity actually adds to the irony of the argument.

Student #1

Journal question:  What is one thing you would do to improve the American educational system & why?

Student (arguing outloud):  I'm not going to do this.  This is a stupid question, it's not entertaining and it isn't doing anything to help my education.  You complain that you don't do our work, maybe make the fucking work interesting.  I'm not doing this bullshit.

Later in the day, another group of students was doing a lesson in idioms and metaphors.. 

Explain the following idiom:  The girls were like two peas in a pod

Kid: Ms. Gandy, what's a pod?
Me:  It's the green thing that the peas come in.
Kid:  Oh - like the can?

(I then drew a picture)

Monday, March 11, 2013

Sometimes teaching is mind-blowingly weird...

Today, I had the dumbest argument with a student.  I put a two part journal question on the board and made sure to explain that the students had to answer both parts.  My no-exceptions journal requirement is 1/2 page of writing.  (As you read this, remember, I teach high school).

Student:  Does each question need to be half of a page?

Me:  No.  Just 1/2 page total.

Student:  So?  A full page?

Me:  No.  The total you need to write for the two is 1/2 page.

Student:  How about you just tell me how many sentences to write for each question.

Me:  I don't care.  I just need you to write a total of 1/2 of a page.

Student:  So, I need to write a full page? (I thought at this point he was kidding, but he was not)

Me:  No.  Just 1/2 page.  (At this point even other kids are trying to help me)  Is part of this unclear?  I'm not sure what you're missing.  I just need you to write 1/2 of a page.

Student:  Why are you calling me stupid?  Why can't you just tell me what you want??

Me:  I just want 1/2 of a page.

Student then screams and bangs his forehead on his desk.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Teaching is not what it used to be...

So, it is Sunday afternoon and I'm a not-so-well-earned break from writing my appellate brief.  To my credit, I have been working for about 90 minutes without distraction.  For me, that's amazing - many days I cannot get through 9 minutes without distraction.

But, I am distracted - back to what I really wanted to talk about.

I have found in the past year that teaching is no longer what it once was.  At least not for me.  We see funny cartoons, like this one:  (

 And this one:

Both of these cartoons make you giggle... you think "ha!  Teaching is tough, but it's not impossible.  I'm sure teachers enjoy what they do."

And you know what, you're right.  Most teachers love teaching.  There are some that don't.  Some teach because they can't think of something else that they would like to do more, or because they cannot secure a job in the field they want.  But, that said, most teachers love teaching.

But here's the problem.  Teachers don't teach.  At least they don't do much of it.  I can hear it now.  Lot of people (all 15 that read my blog) saying:  "Oh my god!  I knew it!  Teachers don't teach!  That's why our students are failing.  That's why we are falling behind!"  (Actually, not a lot of people that read my blog are thinking that, about half of them are teachers and know where I'm going with this.)

What teachers do is administrate and manage.  We spend at least 1/2 of our time on any given day dealing with the minutia of educational bureaucracy and the management of students that have not yet figured out how to behave in public.  I teach high school.  That second part shouldn't really be an issue.  But, it is.  If I ever had a class like this, I'd have a heart attack and die:

 What I actually have, is a classroom that looks more like this:

Despite this, and despite the fact that most of my students read at least 2 years below grade level, have little to know family support and spend more time in and out of juvenile hall and the detention center than 90% of people in America, I'm supposed to teach them Hamlet.  Not just teach them Hamlet, but make them appreciate Hamlet a la Dangerous Minds, Freedom Writers, Stand and Deliver, Blackboard Jungle and Remember the Titans (granted, Denzel is a coach).  But, people do not seem to understand that these are the EXCEPTIONS.  How many teachers have been able to pull of these miraculous transformations with just the power of their minds and their inspirational souls?  Like eight.  That's why they get movies.

Most do not understand that our lives are the first act of these movies - maybe pieces of the second acts in which a few students turn it around and have a light bulb come on.  More often than is reported, it's the devastating part of the second act in which one of our students is killed or arrested because of something senseless.  Where boys spend all of their time making sure everyone "knows" how tough they are, even if that means shooting someone to prove it.  Girls have no idea what they are doing or how to get there, so end up depressed, promiscuous, suicidal.

No teaching course in America prepares a teacher for the devastation of a dead student.  Not the just the horrible tragedy of a car accident or disease, but the senseless, world-altering jolt that comes from a student being gunned down in his living room while playing Grand Theft Auto on his XBox.  Nothing prepares you for the realization that your student is not just absent from your class, but in prison for the next decade for shooting someone during a fight.

The truth is, most university teachers have not taught in those classrooms, at least not long term.  In five years, my numbers are still pretty small - 1 murder, 1 "other" death, and 5-7 serving long-term prison sentences (that began while a student) for class A/B felonies.  Less than 10 kids doesn't sound too bad, but when you put into perspective that most teachers may go through their entire careers without a single one... and I have averaged two per year.

A lot of people ask me why I still teach.  And a lot of days I really have to think about it.  But then other days, someone does me the favor of reminding me.  Earlier this week, out of the blue, I got a Facebook message from a former student (I won't use the name, but the student is welcome to claim her note).  In part, it read:

I was just looking through my friends list and decided to drop you a line. (:  I always had such a great time in your class. You are my favorite teacher of all time. I wish college professors were more like you!  I'm thankful to have had you as a teacher. (:

These things mean the world to me - and for that matter, to any teacher.  I'm not sure how long they keep us afloat in the storm that we are fighting, but they are a life raft, without doubt.