15 December 2007

Pygmalion From The Start

If you are semi-read, or work in the education field, you have probably heard of the Pygmalion Effect, or the Self-Fulfilling Prophecy. If you have not, it is basically what the latter title suggests. If I assume my students will not get a concept, chances are pretty good that they will recognize this doubt in my teaching the lesson, and in turn, they will not get the concept. I expected them not to, so why should they try?

Recently I found out my student teaching placements; both are near-by districts, and both are fightingurban settings. This is good. I want to get a job in The City come next fall, and this as close as it gets. The first district is more local than the other, and some of the individuals I work with at my job beeping groceries have graduated from that district. We have discussed my student teaching briefly, and some customers have heard where I was going. Most customers have a comment, and they all lie along the same idea - I will need help. I have received comments like "God bless you" or "Good luck with that one. You're going to need it." No one has offered me a positive response like "Oh, that will be a good experience."happy

It also goes beyond the customers in the local area. In talking to individuals who have never set foot in this district, or even the town, I have heard them begin to demean the students and the district. Where does this bias come from? Is it because it is an urban district? Is it that it is a seemingly troubled city? Why this unfounded bias?

I am not suggesting that these kids are angels, nor am I suggesting that they are devils, but this is the only response I receive from customers - from the public. Perhaps maybe this has something to do with the possible negative attitudes of students in these schools? Maybe a fight breaks out once upon a time, and suddenly there is talk with in the community at how the school is going down hill, and it's expected that more fights, and more issues come to light, and it happens.

Maybe I am giving the district too much credit without actually stepping foot in the building, but regardless, we must remember that when we have low expectations, and it becomes publicly known that our expectations are low, the results will be low.

10 December 2007

Last Class

Today marked the last class of the class for whom I was TA'ing, and the source of stories found in this blog. Do not fear, for next semester I will be student teaching, and continuing work on my Graduate Assistantship, so undoubtedly I will have more to share.

Anyway, today's class was spent going over the final exam students will be writing a week from today, and I led the discussion. For the final, students are required to use two texts, one an article from Harper's that I mentioned earlier, and the other being an outside source which the students have found perusing the New York Times, or one of the texts assigned through out the year. Students will begin by summarizing one of the arguments presented by Crister (Harper's), and then proceed to have a conversation between the two pieces and their own opinions. It was my task today to help students get a grasp on the Crister article.

The article was a bit lengthy, and Crister presented a few different arguments, all of course supporting his main idea. I began by asking students to offer up what they deemed his major argument to be, and as it was more-or-less spelled out for them in the sub-title, they nailed it pretty good. We then moved on to discuss his other arguments. Most students seemed occupied with viewing the article through an animal rights lens, and so I attempted to gear the discussion in that manner.

In the end it seemed students understood what was going on in the article, and I was allowed to present a diagram of ethics that I stole from Roderick Frazier's The Rights of Nature. Undoubtedly, ethics professors would probably find fault or dispute the diagram, but none-the-less I find it to be an interesting one that makes students think about their world and - in the end - hopefully make them better humans. A lofty task no doubt, but I truly feel the diagram helps.

EthicsThe diagram, as you may be able to see from my notes, looks almost like a cross sectional view of a tree that is ever expanding through time. At the center of the circle is the Magna Carta which limited the powers of the King. As time progressed, these powers became more limited, and rights became more distributed through the populace; gradually moving down through the classes. I forget the details between the Magna Carta (1215), and the Bill of Rights (1791). As society progressed, rights were given out further to include African-Americans, women, people of color, and it is here that the diagram was applied to animals. The outer circles began to include animals, mainly mammals, those that are larger in size and are somewhat resemblant of human kind. We then progress to include all mammals, and then to the other Animal Kingdoms, and so on until possibly one day we include the entire Universe as having basic rights of existence not to be impeded upon by human behaviour. These circles concerning non-humans are dotted as there is still progress to be made, but the ideas exist, and there are actions towards giving rights to these bodies - PETA, ALF. There is really no knowing how far or in depth these rights may expand. Currently our scientific paradigms tell us animals do not think or communicate in such a way as to place them on level with human kind, but as paradigms are constantly changing - after all it was not so long ago that the bumps on your head told of your intelligence - we cannot say just how far these rights will one day extend.

As a side. If you note in my diagram I had wrote "Black Men" then scribbled out "Black" and wrote "A.A." This was not a slip of the racist sort, for at the time when Black people gained rights it was mostly in recognition of African American men. However, according to my most recent knowledge, using the term "African American" to describe Black people is racist as it assumes that all Black people are from Africa.

01 December 2007

No More Grading

As the semester is wrapping up, my responsibilities to this English 101 class are wrapping up as well. This past Wednesday (I know I am behind, but my Internet has been spotty at best) I had prepared for the last of our group conferences with the students. I was only supposed to have two groups, but a last minute meeting and a cancellation from The Professor required me to do the latter of her meetings. The first two of my meetings went as planned. We talked about the drafts; the direction they were going, and how to get them back on track or keep them moving in the proper direction. Unfortunately, the third group is the most difficult group, and this is not simply because they are at the end of the day.

The group consists of some decent students, but the thing is, they are quiet. Eerily quiet. This makes for any discussion difficult. They do not like to answer questions that I ask, and giving their individual opinions is unheard of. Instead of a group discussion, I am forced to pose questions and prod them gently with a heavy club to illicit an answer.

It is frustrating trying to lead a group discussion when the only one who really wants to talk or seems interested is yourself. Not only is it rough because you are seeming to have conversation by yourself, but it is also difficult as you begin to feel unappreciated. I am led to believe that their silence is a display of their uninterestedness, and in turn their lack of concern for the material and their papers. While it may be that some students feel this way, I am sure that not all quiet students simply do not care. As a teacher, it is important that we keep this last thought in our head and not allow ourselves to get down on our craft for it will only hinder our ability to teach.

26 November 2007

To The Farmers Market

The Troy Waterfront Farmers Market is one of the finest farmers markets I have ever seen, and the first time I had gone was last weekend. This is November. It was inside and it still had at least thirty vendors peddling vegetables, meat, fruit, dairy products, yarn, soaps, breads, wines, and who knows what else I missed. It is held in the Uncle Sam Atrium on Third and Fourth Streets in Troy, New York, and it is a fabulous experience that you should participate in should you get the chance. It meets every Saturday from 10 to 2.

It may seem odd that I bring this Farmers Market up when it seems like it has little to do with TA'ing or teaching English. Well, it is not odd. It does have a purpose. One of the state ELA standards is concerned with students ability to read, write, listen, and speak for social interaction. Another states that, "students will read, write, listen, and speak for information and understanding."

In class today, we talked about an "extra credit" project as well as the final exam. The extra credit project will revolve around the Farmers Market. Students are being asked to attend in one of two groups, the first attending at 11 with The Professor, the other attending at 1 with myself. We are asking students to talk to the farmers and even other patrons. Yes, it is college, but the state standards are still something of importance, and we are covering them with out even trying. On top of this, we are encouraging a college community to integrate with the local community. As this was not a goal of my undergraduate university of study (that I spoke to the former Dean of Students about) - St. Lawrence University - it is something that I feel is deeply important to fostering a higher-learning community.

In regards to the final exam, students will be writing an essay concerning the article from Harper's that I found and shared with The Professor the other day, and another author - probably one we read previously in class. I helped create the final with out even intending to do so. Hooray for collaboration of a sort.

25 November 2007

Jude in the Classroom

The other day I posted a list of books that I need for this class that I am undertaking independently. I have some further information about that, but I'll get to it later.

This past vacation I spent a good deal of time reading Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy. Now I am not done with the book; in fact, I am probably a good quarter of the way done, but I am beginning to really like what Hardy has to say. In the first part the main character - Jude - decided to study on his own and become a scholar; unfortunately, his plans were way-laid by a woman. It was not that he had fallen in love with the woman of mention and decided to marry her, but she wanted to become betrothed and in turn lied to our hero Jude and told him she was pregnant. Jude, being an honourable young man, married for the pregnancy as it was the proper thing to do; however, in the end, it turned out she consciously lied.

Students are not usually big into reading, so it is important that we find novels that fit state guidelines, but at the same time, have qualities that interest them. While Jude the Obscure may be a bit of a difficult text for high schoolers, I think some of the males may take to it as this image of a woman lying about pregnancy, or in fact, becoming pregnant, in order to keep a man from leaving is something they may have seen in their lives.

With that said, I will get back to the first few lines I spewed forth. My list has begun to dwindle. I ordered Jude the Obscure, and The Professor gave me Waugh's The Loved One. Also, I would like to make a special mention of thanks to my friend the Semi-Gleaner who gave me a copy of Forster's A Passage to India which he acquired illegally in Italy. (The publishers of this edition noted on the front cover that it is illegal to re-sell the text anywhere but the United States.) On top of all these texts seemingly falling into my lap, I have the Sixth Edition of Norton's English Literature, which has both Wilde's, and Beckett's works in it.