Category Archives: School

Friday Five: School

I’m pretty sure we’ve had this topic more than once, but I haven’t had any good ideas lately, either.

  1. What was your favorite subject in school? English, of course. That’s why I studied it in college (eventually) and taught it for two years.
  2. What was your least favorite? Science. I flirted with engineering in high school because I disliked computer science and the hard sciences more than I disliked engineering. Math was probably my second-least favorite, but at least it was never as messy as science. Science usually involves math; math almost never involves science.
  3. Did a teacher inspire you to go into a certain career? No, but since people always told me I’d make a good teacher, I tucked away various tidbits about what to do (give clear directions and write them down) and not to do (put desks in a circle).
  4. Did you enjoy a particular book in literature class? If so, which one and why? Almost all of them! I remember falling in love with Pride and Prejudice as summer reading, which was unfortunate because I could have used the experience learning it when I had to teach it later. I got to read To Kill a Mockingbird as a student before I taught it, though, which might have made up for the P&P letdown.
  5. If you could, would you go back and relive high school all over again? No. I did it once, and that is enough. I survived. There’s no need to break open the battle wounds that have healed.

I must say, though, those last three were some of the more interesting school questions I’ve seen in the F5 in recent memory.

The Friday Five

Friday Five: Growing Up

Hey, there’s a new F5! It appears to have been posted midday, but it didn’t turn up in my feed reader until 1:06 a.m., so I can only wonder what happened there.

  1. How many schools (up until college) have you attended, in all? Does that include college? I attended three elementary schools, one middle school, three high schools, one college for my undergraduate degree, and another college for my graduate degree.
  2. How many states have you lived in before the age of 18? How many countries? That would be past tense for me. I lived in just one state (Maryland), but three countries (the U.S., Japan, Germany, and then back to the U.S.). Since I turned eighteen, I’ve lived in two more states (Alabama and now Texas).
  3. Have you ever seen the hospital where you were born — where is it/what’s it’s name? I have, although I’ve never been in it. It was Malcolm Grow Medical Center on Andrews AFB in Maryland.
  4. Do you plan to live in the same state in which you were born, or somewhere else? Is that even possible if you’ve left the state already? I will always be a Maryland girl, but I don’t know if I’ll ever go back.
  5. Do you still talk to people from elementary school, middle-school [sic] or high school? I talk to no one from elementary school. I have a few friends from middle school I keep in touch with and other who I’m just superficially connected to on Facebook. I have exactly two high school friends I would actually want to see and spend time with, and they’re twin sisters. Most of my current friends are from college, ACE, or Austin.

Maybe the F5 moderators ought to edit the question submissions anyway. The Internet has made people more widely read, but if this is what they’re reading, it’s no wonder they can’t write. I would offer my time as an editor, but I’m not always reliable even with writing original posts my own blog and ACNM, so I guess I can’t really complain. I still want to complain, though.

The Friday Five

My Case for Cursive

As any of you who have seen me write in the last two years or received a snail mail letter from me know, I like to write in cursive. I was always good at it in elementary school, but I opted to print for most of my adult life. When I was in college, Maura gave me a beautiful journal for Christmas the second year we were roommates (I think). I decided to use it as a spiritual journal, and I decided that I would only write in cursive in my spiritual journal.

Wow, were those first couple of entries hard! I remember how to write all the letters, but my hand was definitely out of shape. I persisted, though, and eventually I got my cursive back. A few years later, I switched to using entirely cursive while I taught, with understandable exceptions for my students with dyslexia and my English language learners. I’m not cruel, just stubborn.

At work today, I was following up on my recent trip and checked out the Beloit College Mindset List from last year. The Mindset List summarizes the way each incoming class of college freshmen sees the world with the goal of helping professors understand their new students. The very first item on the class of 2014 list is, “Few in the class know how to write in cursive.”

mosiac compiled by Tom Magliery

What a shame! I realize that this isn’t the days of To Kill a Mockingbird, when Scout was admonished for knowing how to write cursive as a first-grader and told to only print until third grade. We’re beyond my grandfather’s day, when the mindset that adults wrote only in cursive led him to do so to this very day. We’re even beyond my father’s day, when whatever they taught him in school evolved into his odd half-capital, half-lowercase, half-printed script. (Yes, three halves; you have to see his writing to truly understand.) But the mere existence of people who wrote in cursive and the primary sources they leave behind still makes reading cursive, at the very least, a useful skill.

This NYT article from April draws a lot of the same conclusions I do about cursive. I reasoned that, perhaps my students could get by with print and word processing, but knowing how to read cursive is essential. Some things, such as those pesky confidentiality agreements on the SAT and ACT, don’t allow print. At the very least, you have to have a signature. I even had two students whose cursive was phenomenally better than their print. They tended to retrace their printed letters in a very strange way–you can’t do that writing in cursive. I hate to see such a beautiful and historical skill disappear. Heck, even calligraphers get business during wedding invitation season!

This may be a 21st-century world, but if the 17th century still matters, we’re going to need people who can look at the Declaration of Independence and have no greater confusion than that tricky F-that-looks-like-an-S situation.

Food Fight

Around the country, school years are coming to a close. Back when I was in elementary, middle, and high school, no matter the country, we started school on the last Monday of August and finished in mid-June. The 16th was a popular last day of school. Despite years that included such natural disasters as tree-splitting typhoons, April snowfalls, and blizzards that shut down school for a week, I never even had to do a make-up day.

After I went to college and met students from dozens of cities, I realized that the academic year regularly ended in mid-May for millions of other students, mostly from private schools. It just had never been so for me. I only went to public schools, so being released before the end of May during my senior year of high school was incredibly liberating. However, because of the aforementioned late end, we didn’t walk until well into June. This and other experiences made me realize that not all schools are created equal. The differences run deeper than state standards and city budgets.

Recently, there has been a significant but important debate rising around a Chicago school that has banned lunches brought from home. Two issues are central to this debate: the power limitations of public school administration and the rights of parents of public school students.

Considering my potential children, my background with schools, and my many friends who already have children (none of whom are school-aged yet), this discussion drew me in. I completely understand the reasoning behind the ban. Only a few years ago it was almost unimaginable that vending machines and sodas (even those brought from home) could be banned in elementary schools. It seemed ludicrous when I was in middle school that public schools would ever implement uniform policies, yet I graduated one year before my own alma mater made the switch. Teachers and administrators often see students for much more time than their own parents do, and trying to get them to make better food choices is part of their responsibility as teachers (and as decent human beings). If a teacher provided junk food and sweets more than occasionally, he or she would be irresponsible. This is a swing farther in the direction of encouraging student to lead healthier lives.

image by Ben+Sam

However, I disagree with the principal’s decision in this case. With any other school, parents could choose to simply take their kids elsewhere. But public schools are supposed to be for everyone. Three primary points should be noted from the Trib article. First, the policy has apparently been in place for six years, but it is only making headlines now. This is curious. Shouldn’t the quality have been improved by now? Secondly, no other schools have been identified as having similar policies despite the principal’s claim. Shouldn’t she or the reporter have checked into that? Finally, there is little mention of the cost to parents. When uniforms are an issue, inexpensive, logo-free clothing is usually an option. (And clothes in general aren’t cheap.) With a ban on inexpensive brought-from-home lunches, parents are literally forced to send money or not feed their kids. If they don’t want their children to go hungry, they have to hand over the cash for something the kids might not even actually eat. It doesn’t seem far between a parent refusing to pay and allegations of negligence. I want to hear more on this last aspect.

As do many things in my life these days, this story also contains a religious aspect. During my first year teaching, my school’s campus minister sent home a letter before Lent. In it, she explained Friday abstinence (literally 90% our students were not Catholic) and the fish or cheese pizza that would be served until Easter. Most interesting to me was that she requested that students who brought their lunches from home (a clear minority) not bring meat on Fridays, either. Having only been to public school and therefore never seen anything like this letter, I found it intriguing and entirely appropriate. She made clear that the school would be following Catholic teaching and encouraged parents to support this even for their non-Catholic students, but she didn’t mandate anything. She chose the high road: principled but kind. This Chicago principal could stand to take a lesson from that campus minister. If you’re serious about acting in loco parentis by improving students’ health via lunch, then make the lunches so healthy and attractive to students’ taste buds that they will prefer them to Mom’s. Otherwise, let them have a choice.

Post a Day at WordPress

Missing English

As the school year ends (and so quickly! I feel like it’s barely Christmas!), I realize that, for the first time ever, I will be working at the same job and place all summer that I worked at all year long. Granted, with fewer students around, my day-to-day responsibilities will change, but this is a significant life step for me. The students at work who are becoming teachers have finished their college lives entirely, since they are not even taking exams. I, too, don’t have exams, but this year, I don’t have to grade them either. Grading on the beach in Pensacola last Memorial Day was a pretty sweet gig, but it was still work. It was predictable. For the previous eighteen years, I had either taken a break from school, switched from full-time school and part-time work to full-time work, or switched from teaching all day to going to class all day. It was how my life worked.

Now, everything is different. For the first time in ages, I will be returning this fall to the exact same job in the exact same place. What’s more, I will never have left it, even if my hours and duties are different until August. I have no idea how I’ll adapt.

It’s times like these that I miss teaching. Don’t get me wrong: I am glad to be free of those endless piles of papers. I am glad that I don’t have to know (sometimes from the direct admission of students to my face) that much of the work I assign goes uncompleted, books go unread, and many students hate everything about English, including me. I am glad that I am not overworked and underpaid. But I miss watching students struggle to finally grasp concepts they’ve been working on for ages (sometimes literal ages through several years of school). I miss hearing insightful comments from those few students who really got it. I miss being paid at all to share something I love. (Okay, I still do that.)

photo by Eli Reusch

Despite all the detractors (language warning), I still think English is important. There’s a reason it usually remains the only course that is required in every year of school, whether it is disguised as “language arts” or pigeonholed into composition or niche literature courses. We need language to communicate, even if it does get mangled into txt spk. We judge people based on their poor writing and speech, even when we’re not great at it ourselves. I doubt that will ever change; it’s in our nature. We have to teach what we expect capable adults to know. I saw a flaw in the American education system, and I tried to fix it. I couldn’t. I will support anyone who can.

Mama Mary

I’m coming up dry in trying to find a clever way to introduce today’s post. It’s straight from The Daily Post at WordPress, which instructs me to write about the smallest thing near me.

I was a bit dismayed to find that the closest small thing to me was a candle or my iPhone, about which I have already posted. I opted to go for this plaque on my wall, which is just a bit wider than my phone.

It’s a hand-cast plaque made in Ireland (Dublin? Cork?). After I finished ACE, I went back to campus for graduation. At the commencement Mass, each of us graduates was given one of these plaques as a present, just as we had earned Christ the Teacher medallions after our first year. It was one of the first things I hung in my apartment, right after the crucifix a random priest blessed for me when I bought it at the National Shrine Shop. I tucked last year’s palm behind it because ₀ well, where else am I going to put it? My walls are still pretty bare. At least I remembered to get the important things up!

Post a Day at WordPress


Forget catching up. I hate doing it, even when it’s all the ZENIT posts about the Holy Father’s visit to the UK. I’m jumping right in on this one. (Maybe it’s time for an October resolution to blog more? Those always work out so well for me.)

At 5 p.m. Mass tonight, Fr. Jaime asked us if we remembered the fourth grade. I had to think for a second, but eventually I remembered that year, and living in Japan, and Mrs. Clark. Then, reading about God breathing the breath of life into Adam during the creation of man in Good News about Sex and Marriage just now, I thought back to our pageant. I don’t think we called it that, but that’s what it was. Maybe there were some skits, but it was mostly recitations of poetry. I had “The Creation,” by James Weldon Johnson. I don’t remember how it began [link added later], but it ended, “And God blew into him [Adam] the breath of life. And man became a living soul.” Very relevant to my reading.

Finally, I remembered the costume my mom made for me. I could tell that the speaker wasn’t God, and how would I have dressed up like Him anyway? We settled on a big white bed sheet, purchased for the occasion, and my mom sewed sleeves into it. It as very simple and very white. It only occurs to me now that what we’d dreamed up was a rough approximation of an alb. Even before I made my way back to God the first time, He was leaving signs for me.

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